The Irrelevant Men's Club


There are two really exciting events coming up in the Aussie Islamic calendar. And, as is the case with most organised religious events, both are dominated by blokes.

The first is the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC) elections, timed to coincide with its congress in late April.

And who are these guys?

They are the peak body of middle-aged men who apparently speak for anyone who has anything to do with the Aussie version of the world’s most disorganised form of organised religion. (They claim to speak for all Muslims. Unless, of course, you decide to start modelling underwear, in which case the AFIC leadership will outlaw you regardless of how many days you spend in a Bali prison cell with your head covered.)

Thanks to Bill Leak.

Clause 26 of AFIC’s constitution sets out the selection criteria for nominees wishing to fill the elected positions of President, Vice-President, Secretary and Treasurer. The other positions are appointed. Each of the criteria is different except for the first word. Subclauses (a), (b) and (c) begin respectively with ‘He must be ,’ ‘He has served ,’ and ‘He is not in receipt of any ‘

AFIC hasn’t had a female executive member for over 20 years. And the last female executive member was appointed, not elected.

In case you’re wondering, AFIC is an umbrella body of nine councils representing various Australian States and Territories, including Christmas Island. Only accredited delegates from each council can vote on who gets to rule the halal roost. The average Muslim punter doesn’t get a vote and cannot even attend the meeting as an observer.

The councils are interesting creatures, frequently changing shape to suit the powers-that-be in the AFIC. In the past 5 years, AFIC has fallen out with the Islamic Council of NSW. It then endorsed the Supreme Islamic Council of NSW, before falling out with them and creating a third council.

Before this third council was officially named, Muslim Sydney-siders already called it the ‘Super-Supreme Council of NSW’ and now all three competing councils are collectively labelled the ‘Pizza Councils.’

The amazing thing about AFIC’s newly endorsed council is that no one quite knows who runs the show. Try dialling their number as it appears on their website good luck if someone picks up the phone. Or send an e-mail to the address taken directly from the AFIC website and it bounces back as having ‘permanent fatal errors.’

But I shouldn’t say anything nasty about AFIC. After all, they are the PM’s favourite Muslims. Howard knows that, when he wants to pass legislation giving ASIO the power to lock people up if they are associated with terrorism, he can always rely on the AFIC to rubber stamp his proposals in public.

The PM would rather deal with middle-aged men with poor English skills than with, say, the former CEO of Citigroup, the current Managing Director of a major telecommunications company, or even a senior bureaucrat responsible for implementing immigration policy.

The reality is that these last three guys are more reflective of mainstream Muslim Australia than most of the PM’s favourite Muslims. They won’t react nonsensically to every alleged criticism of Islamic culture. And the next time the PM or the Treasurer want to wax unlyrically about the burqa or sharia law, their only response will be to point in Commissioner Cole’s general direction.

The PM relies on the AFIC to make sure those nasty critters known as ‘imams’ are kept in line. This is absolutely crucial for national security. After all, we cannot have a bunch of guys unable to speak English and hardly able to draw a crowd of 1000 each Friday, corrupting our English-speaking Aussie Mossie kids by turning them into terrorists!

Which brings me to the second huge event on this year’s Islamic calendar.

As I write, the AFIC is holding its National Summit of Imams. I’m not sure if any TV channels are providing live coverage of what promises to be a sectarian football game that would match the best stoushes held at Sydney’s Anglican Synod.

Howard and other senior ministers want a system of accreditation for imams. During a recent visit to the UK, Phillip Ruddock observed that imams should give sermons in English, not in Arabic or Urdu. (My Urdu-speaking mum will be so upset! Then again, most Urdu-speaking mosques probably wouldn’t let her through the front door. She has to use the separate entrance, usually out the back at the end of a dark lane, where she has to dodge used needles and inebriated street people.)

The National Summit of Imams was meant to be in mid-February, but had to be delayed after some nasty people of the female persuasion complained about the absence of women at the summit. (Female imams! What would the Jensens say?)

The Summit will be attended by the Mufti, Sheik al-Hilaly, who also doubles as the adviser to the AFIC on youth affairs. Now that makes sense: a non-English-speaking imam in his 60s advising a group of middle-aged male migrants about young people in Australia.

What is the role of the Mufti in Australia? Apart from spitting the halal dummy at the prospect of his role becoming redundant should a National Council of Imams be formed, I don’t quite know. Nor, dare I say, does the Mufti. Or his employers.

Not that the elderly Sheik has no role to play whatsoever. He did, after all, have a hand in what our Foreign Minister described as the ‘Team Australia’ effort to free Douglas Wood from his Iraqi captors.

According to an article by The Australian‘s Richard Kerbaj, there is a push to get rid of Sheik Hilaly as Mufti. At least, that’s what the elusive President of the Super-Supreme Pizza Council (properly known as the Muslim Council of NSW), Na’il Kaddoumi, reckons.

Sheik Hilaly appears to have made a few too many enemies over the years. Mosque leaders aren’t used to having imams who speak out on controversial social or political issues. In fact, the only thing Hilaly has in common with the rest of the subservient imams is his inability to speak English.

One Imam told me that Sheilk Hilaly is not even qualified to pronounce fatwas (the literal meaning of the word Mufti). His major qualifications are apparently not in Islamic law but rather in Islamic literature. (Imagine John Howard appointing Colleen McCullough to the High Court bench.)

So there you have it: Australia’s 300,000 Muslims from over 60 different nationalities, more than 40 per cent of whom were born in Australia and are under 40, are being represented by a bunch of middle-aged and muddle-headed migrant blokes with poor English skills.

It’s a pizza well past its use-by date with perhaps too much cheese and all the wrong toppings!

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.