"Women uncovered meat" Mufti replaced by Imam who was lauded for bringing Islam to Australia
June 11, 2007
Changing face ... the new Mufti of Australia, Sheikh Fehmi Naji el-Imam, right, with Ahmad Allouche of the Islamic Society.
MIM: From radical Islamist to legal Islamist -two sides of the same coin. The Aussies appear to have awarded Sheik Fehmi due dhimmitude for bringing Islam to both Muslims and non Muslims by establishing the first Islamic Society in Victoria and his da'wa efforts aka "multi -faith undestanding".
Sheik Fehmi's services to multiculturalism, the Muslim community and multi-faith understanding Sheik Fehmi's services to multiculturalism, the Muslim community and multi-faith understandingearned him membership in the Order of Australia. The National Australia Bank named a scholarship after him to enable an undergraduate student to continue postgraduate studies in finance and economics. Sheik Fehmi came to Australia from Lebanon in 1951 and helped form the first Islamic Society in Victoria and build Melbourne's first mosque, in North Carlton.
Linda Morris Religious Affairs Reporter
DID he jump or was he pushed? Sheik Taj el-Din al Hilaly has lost the role of mufti of Australia to the nation's longest-serving Muslim cleric.
The controversial Sydney imam, who last year embarrassed many Muslims by comparing women to uncovered meat, reportedly stepped down from the honorary title.
Sheik Fehmi Naji el-Imam, the general secretary of the Board of Imams of Victoria and a highly respected imam, will replace him for two years.
The change of leadership, the first for Australia's Muslims since the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils awarded Sheik Hilaly the honorary title, was widely applauded by Muslims and non-Muslims.
After a closed meeting yesterday, the Australian National Imams Council announced Sheik Hilaly had "gracefully declined" to accept another term in the role he has held since 1988.
But the Herald has been told by one source that Sheik Hilaly lost a direct vote to retain the title by five votes to two. The vote had followed months of internal negotiations to pressure him into making a dignified exit, the source said.
A key supporter of Sheik Hilaly, Keysar Trad, said he was disappointed because the sheik was best qualified for the job. "Whilst Sheik Fehmi is a friend of mine and has served the community for a very long time, the issue is about qualifications and being able to answer those difficult religious questions," Mr Trad said.
"We shouldn't just replace Sheik al Hilaly because that's what public opinion dictates. I believe there was an incredible deal of political pressure. What I've seen so far strongly indicates the Federal Government had a hand in influencing the decision, and if that's true so much for the separation of state and religion in this country." Mr Trad said he expected Sheik Hilaly to remain as senior imam of Lakemba mosque and as religious adviser.
The loss of the title greatly reduces Sheik Hilaly's status and sidelines him in Muslim politics.
A mufti is a scholar who interprets Islamic law and can declare fatwas, or legal judgements. Under pressure to sack Sheik Hilaly, the new Australian National Imams Council considered yesterday whether it should abandon the role of mufti.
The council decided to keep the figurehead role and announced Sheik Fehmi's appointment for a two-year term. Sheik Fehmi would work with the Council of Islamic Jurisprudence and Research under the umbrella of the council for the "benefit of the Muslims and the broader Australian community", a statement by the council said.
"We recognise the great services that Sheik Taj el-Din al Hilaly has provided over the years and we pray for his good health."
A spokesman for the federal Labor leader, Kevin Rudd, said yesterday: "Every religion has the right to choose their own leader and Labor respects that right for all religions.
"However, in recent times it has become obvious that Sheik Hilaly was not serving the interests of the Islamic community or the community more generally by remaining in his position."
A professor of sociology at Monash University, Gary Bouma, said no other Australian Islamic leader commanded such broad respect as Sheikh Fehmi. "He is old and frail but to have him in that role, even for a short period of time, would be a good move. For at least 30 years he has been the universally acknowledged leader of Muslims in Melbourne, embodying some of the finest virtues of Islam.
"He's generous and compassionate and in a sense he's the dalai lama for the Muslims, he's that kind of person. He has set the tone for Islam in Melbourne as open and tolerant and unambiguously Muslim."
Sheik Fehmi's services to multiculturalism, the Muslim community and multi-faith understanding earned him membership in the Order of Australia. The National Australia Bank named a scholarship after him to enable an undergraduate student to continue postgraduate studies in finance and economics.
Sheik Fehmi came to Australia from Lebanon in 1951 and helped form the first Islamic Society in Victoria and build Melbourne's first mosque, in North Carlton.