“During my presence here it was very, very quick. Because they went really, really hard with (preaching) their beliefs.”
By Richard Kerbaj in The Australian, with thanks to Sr. Soph:
HARDLINE international students have wrested control of a major NSW mosque, ousting the local cleric amid accusations the group is rapidly converting followers to extremist Islam.
Up to 150 university students from Saudi Arabia, Algeria and Egypt who follow the fundamentalist Wahabbism ideology were central to the overthrow at the weekend of the executive board of the Newcastle Muslim Association.
Deposed association president Yunus Kara yesterday accused the students of pushing for new leadership of the port city’s mosque in order to advance their own extremist agenda and continue “brainwashing” local Muslims.
“The international students have used their puppets to come forward and dictate,” Mr Kara told The Australian.
“They’re driving them to whatever ideology that (suits them). Their ideology is extremism … but they teach under the banner of Islam.”
But the association’s newly elected treasurer, Michael Cawley, denied the claims of the ousted leadership, accusing them of labelling opponents Wahabbis.
Mr Cawley, a convert, said the international students were merely visitors to the mosque and had no control over the new leadership.
“Basically, what happened is anyone who didn’t agree with the (former) president’s point of view were labelled Wahabbi,” said Mr Cawley. “It’s unfair.”
Newcastle Mosque’s deposed imam, Bilal Kanj, who was also voted out on the weekend, said while the students openly denied their Wahabbi beliefs and radical Koranic interpretations, they were converting people during prayer group meetings and other religious gatherings.
“If you were to ask them, they will deny they’re Wahabbi,” said the Australian-born cleric, who moved to Newcastle three months ago to work as a full-time spiritual leader.
“They play it very discreetly. We’ve been studying them all of our life and we know how to spot them very easily.”
Mr Kara said the international students were aged between 20 and 30, and were known to make home visits to members of the port city’s 600-strong Muslim population to preach their beliefs.
This home preaching may suggest that the appointment of a new imam is not an immediate priority of the new leadership.
Mr Kara said radical students had gathered more support over the past two years after they had begun to flock the mosque in larger numbers.
He said an absence of proper religious leadership at Newcastle Mosque over the past 30 years – prior to Sheik Bilal’s appointment – also meant the students could exploit the void to spread their own ideologies.
Sheik Bilal said the students were becoming more proficient at spreading their isolationist messages.
“During my presence here it was very, very quick,” he said.
“Because they went really, really hard with (preaching) their beliefs.”