Workshop one highlights
The first workshop for the National Imams Consultative Forum (NICF) was held over 4th-5th December at The University of Melbourne. A total of 22 imams from around Australia attended the workshop. The attendees were a national group, including 9 participants from Victoria, 4 from New South Wales, 3 from Western Australia, 2 from Queensland, and 1 each from South Australia, the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory.
The workshop was opened by Sheikh Abdul Azim al-Afifi, President, Australian National Imams Council; Mark Duckworth, Executive Director, Citizenship and Resilience, Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet; and Deputy Commissioner Graham Ashton, Victoria Police. An introduction to the workshop and the NICF was given by Professor Abdullah Saeed, Sultan of Oman Chair of Arab and Islamic Studies and Director of the National Centre of Excellence for Islamic Studies (NCEIS) at the University of Melbourne.
Over the course of two days participants engaged with a number of speakers, both local and international, with expertise in various aspects of radicalism, extremism, and community re-integration. These included Dr Muhammad Haniff Hassan, from the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, and Dr Pete Lentini and Kate Barrelle, from the Global Terrorism Research Unit, Monash University. Participants also heard a number of speakers from Australian Federal Police and Victoria Police, who presented aspects of government policy on terrorism and details of past counter-terrorism operations. Imams also engaged in a fruitful group discussion on the importance of a community re-integration program being implemented by the Islamic Council of Victoria.
Some of the issues that emerged through discussion were:
- There is a need to understand the causes of political violence and terrorism
- There is a perception that Islam and Muslims are unfairly singled out by the media and/or law enforcement
- There was interest in understanding how Australian terrorism legislation works
- There is a need to clearly distinguish between mainstream Muslim beliefs, and beliefs or ideologies associated with extremism
- There is a need for government to listen to the community and adopt inclusive language
Download Muhammad Haniff Hassan's Presentation Slides on Countering Violent Extremism in Singapore
Watch Muhammad Haniff Hassan's presentation on video:
Workshop two highlights
The second workshop for the National Imams Consultative Forum (NICF) was held over 20th–21st April 2013 at the University of Melbourne. A total of 20 imams attended, including 7 from Victoria, 3 from New South Wales, 2 from Western Australia, 3 from Queensland, 2 from South Australia, and one each from Tasmania, the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory.
The workshop was opened by Professor Shahram Akbarzadeh, Deputy Director of the National Centre of Excellence for Islamic Studies, and a welcome was given by Sheikh Mohamadu Nawas, Public Relations Representative of the Australian National Imams Council.
Over the course of the weekend, participants engaged with a number of local and international speakers as follows:
- Professor Scott Atran (Centre Nationale de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris, via video conference), addressed a range of issues including the factors leading to violent radicalization, the social and educational backgrounds of those attracted to extremism, the importance of ideology and jihadist narratives, and the types of interventions that are likely to be successful in countering radicalization. Watch the presentation here:
- Mr Colin Milner (Special Adviser, Regional Communities Outreach Program, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade) spoke about Australian regional and international policy initiatives to counter violent extremism and radicalization in the region and more broadly.
- Imam Afroz Ali (President, Al-Ghazzali Centre for Islamic Sciences & Human Development) discussed the process of radicalization from his experience as a community leader and gave examples of initiatives that have successfully brought about a personal change in individuals formerly socially alienated or attracted to extremism. Watch the presentation here:
- Dr Abdul Haqq Baker (Lecturer in Terrorism studies at the University of St. Andrews’ Centre for Studies in Terrorism and Political Violence, via teleconference) discussed the experience of working with young people at risk of radicalization in the UK context, giving examples from the STREET (Strategy to Reach Empower and Educate Teenagers) initiative in London, including actions taken to gain the trust of young people and deconstruct radical narratives. Read Dr Baker's presentation on 'Violent Extremism and Counter-radicalisation: Experiences from the UK'.
- Dr Abdul Rahman al-Hadlaq (General Director of Ideological Security Directorate, Ministry of Interior for Saudi Arabia) detailed the Saudi government’s extensive rehabilitation program for former extremists, including in-house programs as well as community re-integration, and touching on the reasons why young people are attracted to extremism.
- Associate Professor Mohamad Abdalla (Griffith Islamic Research Unit, Griffith University), gave an overview of the experience of Queensland Muslim community leaders, who have so far been able to work together to head off any potential threats of extremism or radicalization among community groups, as well as initiating a number of important research projects in the area. Download A/Prof Abdalla's presentation on 'Strategies dealing with radicalisation and extremism in Queensland' and sample khutba (sermon) he provided workshop participants on 'Islam and Democracy' and 'Advice to Australian Muslim Youth'.
- Mr Rod Wise (Deputy Commissioner, Corrections Victoria) provided an overview of the issues that have so far arisen, and the lessons learned, in managing individuals detained and/or convicted on terrorism charges in Victorian prisons, and steps taken to address these issues.
- His Honour Richard Maidment SC (Judge of the County Court of Victoria) outlined his view on the need for counter-terrorism laws in Australia, as well as giving a frank assessment of the successes and failures in their implementation to date. Read Judge Maidment's paper on 'Australia's Anti-Terrorism Laws - The Offence Provisions'.
Workshop three highlights
The third workshop for the National Imams Consultative Forum (NICF) was held over 22nd – 23rd June 2013 at the University of Melbourne, Parkville. A total of 21 imams attended, including 10 from Victoria, 3 from New South Wales, 2 from Western Australia, 2 from Queensland, 2 from South Australia, and one each from Tasmania and the Northern Territory.
The workshop was opened by Professor Abdullah Saeed, Director of the National Centre of Excellence for Islamic Studies and began with a recitation of the Qur’an by an Imam from the Forum.
A welcome was given by Sheikh Abdul Azim al-Afifi, President of the Australian National Imams Council. Sheikh Abdul Azim stressed the importance of the NICF workshops in bringing Imams together to discuss issues concerning Muslims, the position of Imams as community leaders and the role they play in shaping the future of Islam and Muslims in Australia.
During the workshop participants heard from and engaged with the following speakers:
- Mr David Irvine AO, Director-General, Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) gave an overview of the functions of ASIO and its operations over the past 60 years. Mr Irvine provided examples of ASIO’s current operations in relation to countering terrorism and the importance of community leaders in promoting communal harmony. Read a transcript of Mr Irvine's presentation here.
- Mr Nasir Abas, former Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) member shared his experiences of how and what drew him into the terrorist organisation, and how and why he renounced his association with JI and began assisting the Indonesian Police and government in combating terrorism. Click here to watch a recording of the session.
- Mr Maajid Nawaz, Co-Founder and Chairman of the Quilliam Foundation, UK recounted time spent in his youth as a leadership member of a global Islamist group and the factors that led to his radicalisation. Maajid then described his gradual transformation towards rejection of extremism and withdrawal from his former group, Hizb ut-Tahrir.
- Sheikh Abdul Azim al-Afifi, President of the Australian National Imams Council engaged participants in a discussion on the different meanings of jihad and offered examples of non-violent forms of jihad in the Australian context – such as engaging in interfaith dialogue, taking part in the Australian political process and assisting in humanitarian efforts. He noted the need to engage with Australians who were drawn into the conflict in Syria and the associated negative effects on society. Finally, he argued that there are many peaceful ways of assisting victims of war, and peaceful means will in the long run gain many more supporters than violence. Read a summary of Sheikh Abdul Azim's session here.
- Professor Abdullah Saeed, Director of NCEIS, University of Melbourne facilitated a hypothetical scenario involving a situation of potential radicalisation within the community. It was noted that young persons who become radicalised may not respect mainstream imams as figures of religious authority. Participants discussed possible approaches and points of intervention by community leaders in partnership with law enforcement and other authorities in order to prevent a negative incident occurring.
The third workshop took on a more practical approach overall and provided participants with the opportunity to discuss and deliberate on issues arising from previous workshops. These included a unified stance on issues affecting radicalisation and Muslims in the Australian context; questions regarding the definition of jihad in the Australian context; the image of Muslims portrayed in the media and how it should be addressed; and recommendations for the future direction of the Forum.
Workshop four highlights
The fourth session of the National Imams Consultative Forum (NICF) was held over 23rd – 24th November 2013 in Melbourne. A total of 26 imams attended, including 12 from Victoria, 4 from New South Wales, 3 from Western Australia, 2 from Queensland, 2 from the Northern Territory and one each from the Australian Capital Territory, South Australia and Tasmania.
The workshop was opened by Professor Abdullah Saeed, Director of the National Centre of Excellence for Islamic Studies and began with a recitation of the Qur’an from one of the present Imams. The passage recited was from Chapter 14 (Abraham), verses 23–27.
A welcome was given by Sheikh Abdul Azim al-Afifi, President of the Australian National Imams Council. Sheikh Abdul Azim reiterated the important role that the NICF has to play in constituting a valuable forum for Imams from around Australia to discuss important recent developments on the world stage and the appropriate response of Imams and Australian Muslims. Sheikh Abdul Azim encouraged the Imams to undertake their deliberations with diligence and sincere intent.
A welcoming speech was given by Dr Ibrahim Abu Muhammad, Mufti of Australia. Dr Abu Muhammad welcomed the Imams attending from around Australia and made a number of important points, including that:
- The Muslim community in Australia regards the safety and wellbeing of Australia as part of the Islamic values of protecting the fundamental rights of all people to hold any belief they choose, without fearing reprisal or aggression from anyone. Through these principles and values, Islam lays the foundations for a strong unified society.
- This is illustrated in the verse in the Quran that says “And do not insult those who call to other than Allah, causing them in turn to insult Allah without knowledge. Thus we have embellished the works of each nation, then to their Lord is their return, and He shall inform them of what they did.” (Q. 6:108)
- The first step in care and love for one another is to first rediscover each other, to gain insights into each other’s thoughts and beliefs. We will then discover how much alike we are in values and humanity, and how destructive stereotypes of subduing and destroying each other are in the end mere stereotypes.
- For Muslims Australia's multicultural makeup is a source of strength and a cause for pride amongst peace- and freedom-loving democracies around the world, and we call upon friends, brothers and sisters to take part in keeping Australia safe and united.
During the workshop participants heard from the following speakers:
Sheikh Abu Ayman Muhammad Omran, Imam of Ahlus Sunnah wal Jama’a Australia addressed the present Imams on a number of issues. While reiterating his support for the Imams’ forum, he noted that supporting bodies such as the NCEIS and the government should go beyond their support for holding such forums and should also support the imams in engaging directly with young Muslims to disseminate Islam’s message of justice and peace. Sheikh Abu Ayman also put forward a criticism of some of the questions for discussion on jihad that were circulated prior to the workshop, as they could be seen as offensive and one-sided by some. He also counselled Imams, Muslims, the Australian media and the Australian government to maintain their perspective, and also urged the Australian government to apply the same moral standards to human rights abuses wherever they occur. He reminded Imams that they were present to challenge themselves to promote a good understanding between the Imams, the community and the government.
Mr Roger Wilkins AO, Secretary of the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department gave an overview of Australian law as it relates to the recent conflict in Syria. He noted that because of the position the United Nations has taken regarding the Assad regime, it is not permitted under Australian law to fight for the Assad regime in Syria; likewise, because it is generally illegal to fight on behalf of non-state actors, it is not permitted under Australian law to fight in Syria for any armed opposition to the regime. The present imams also engaged the speaker in discussion on questions regarding sending funds to family members in Syria. Although details needed to be clarified, it was confirmed that sending funds to family members is permissible as long as it can be known with a reasonable level of certainty that the funds will not be diverted to armed groups on either side of the conflict.
Discussion on Jihad: An in-depth discussion was held on the notion of jihad or struggle in the Islamic tradition and whether the rules provided in traditional Islamic jurisprudence apply to a range of modern conflicts and situations.
Scenario: A hypothetical scenario was presented involving a situation where a member of the community seeks to travel overseas to engage in armed conflict. Participants discussed the religious, legal and social factors involved at various stages of the scenario and possible approaches that could be taken by community leaders.
The fourth session of the NICF differed from the last three in that it focused less on external speakers and took a more deliberative, consultative approach overall. Participants had the opportunity to discuss important issues among themselves and to freely express points of difference, as well as clarify the obligations arising under Australian law as well as traditional Islamic norms.
Discussion of Resolution on Protecting Australia Against Terrorism
Following on from the sessions on the understandings of jihad, the Imams deliberated a number of issues of concern to Muslims that have arisen overseas, including in Syria, Egypt and elsewhere. Discussion revolved around two points, namely a) that it is forbidden under Islamic norms for Muslims who are resident in or citizens of Australia to unlawfully engage in physical violence or harm against anyone in Australia; and b) that Muslim citizens and residents of Australia are bound to protect Australia against attack.
Please click on the following link for more information: Communiqué: NICF position regarding recent international events affecting Muslims
Future Directions of NICF
Professor Akbarzadeh and Professor Saeed led a discussion on the future of the Forum. All Imams expressed the view that the continuation of the NICF is desirable and beneficial. The unanimous decision was for the NICF to continue into the foreseeable future. A number of ideas for future directions were put forward, and there was general consensus that future activities should strive to involve and engage with the Muslim youth, and involve activities in other states, as well as researching and producing resources on issues of concern for Muslims in Australia – to be made available on the NCIF website.
Additional Links on Syria
Fact Sheets on Syria: To find out more about the situation in Syria, including what you can do to help, view the government's fact sheets on ongoing violence in Syria. (Available in English, Arabic and many other languages)
Workshop five highlights
The fifth session of the National Imams Consultative Forum (NICF) was held over 8th – 9th March 2014 in Melbourne. A total of 20 imams attended, including 5 from Victoria, 4 from New South Wales, 3 from Western Australia, 4 from Queensland, 2 from the Northern Territory and one each from South Australia and Tasmania.
The workshop was opened by Professor Akbarzadeh, Professor in Middle East & Central Asian Politics at Deakin University.
A welcome was given by Sheikh Abdul Azim al-Afifi, President of the Australian National Imams Council. Sheikh Abdul Azim stressed the importance of the NICF workshops and the continual attendance and participation of Imams from around Australia. Sheikh Abdul Azim shared a personal anecdote about a family in which a young father travelled to Syria to fight and died there, leaving his wife and two young children behind in Melbourne. He shared the many problems caused to the family left behind, including difficulties in obtaining a death certificate and accessing many services.
During the workshop participants heard from the following speakers:
Ms Clare Birgin, Director, Counter - Terrorism Policy, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade commenced her presentation by offering assistance to the grieving family Sheikh Abdul Azim mentioned. Ms Birgin gave an overview of the situation in Syria, which she described as currently the world’s worst humanitarian disaster, and the strong concern that the Australian government has for the people of Syria. She highlighted the number of deaths and damages caused, with hundreds of thousands of children traumatized and affected by the situation in Syria. Ms Birgin informed the participants of the humanitarian contribution Australia has made to support Syrian civilians. Australia is among the leading countries in the world to have extended help and support by providing over $110 million dollars of humanitarian aid since 2011 to Syrian civilians and refugees, including food, water, shelter, and medical assistance. Ms Birgin addressed the legal issues of joining the conflict in Syria on either side and encouraged people who wish to aid or contribute to do so via humanitarian aid. Organisations that are recommended for Syria in particular are the World Food Programme, UNICEF, and the World Health Organisation. There is currently no Australian Embassy in Syria, which makes it difficult to help Australians who travel there for humanitarian purposes but get into difficulties; hence, the Australian government discourages individuals from going to Syria for any reason. Ms Birgin also proposed that a roundtable discussion could be held with other senior officials from DFAT.
Mr Andrew Zammit, Researcher, Monash Global Terrorism Research Centre addressed the involvement of Australians in the Syrian conflict. Mr Zammit gave a brief background to the Syrian conflict. Of the 10,000 foreign fighters who are estimated to have entered the conflict in Syria, around 100–150 are Australians. There have been 10 reported deaths of Australians in the conflict, most of whom appear to have been involved in an armed group in some capacity. Mr Zammit discussed possible motivations for travelling to Syria, including radicalisation through social media, the continuing prominence of the conflict and the failure to resolve it through diplomacy, and the promise of religious rewards. He concluded that for now, Australia might not be under threat, but this could change if jihadist groups in Syria begin to see fighting the West as a priority.
Imam Afroz Ali, Managing Director Seekers Hub Global – contributed a pre-recorded address to the NICF workshop, focusing on his personal experience of visiting a Syrian refugee camp in Turkey. His first-hand account painted a complex picture of the events happening inside Syria, based on interviews with nearly 500 refugees. In particular, he noted that Syrians themselves do not support violent conflict as the best means for resolving the current situation. He also drew attention to political and financial motivations behind the activities of some armed groups in the conflict, and the complexity of the situation on the ground, which needs to be understood better by those at a distance from the conflict. Imam Afroz’s videocast may be found at this link, and a written report concerning his fact-finding visit may be found here.
Sheikh Shady Alsuleiman, Imam of United Muslims of Australia shared a personal perspective on the Syrian conflict and its impact on Australian Muslim youth, with particular attention to the New South Wales experience. Sheikh Shady noted his personal connection to Syria, having studied there for six years, and referred to the oppression faced by Sunni Muslims under the Assad regime. Sheikh Shady discussed the impact of the conflict on Australian Muslim youth, and acknowledged the intentions of many are to help the oppressed in Syria. However, the relative lack of awareness in Australia of the difficult conditions in Syria and other countries overseas may lead to simplistic assumptions about being able to participate in the conflict. Sheikh Shady also referred to the frustration felt by many that the international community has failed to bring an end to the conflict, despite the catastrophic loss of life.
Sheikh Shady encouraged his fellow Imams to cover topics such as jihad in sermons in order to correct misperceptions and present an authoritative perspective on the issue. He encouraged open debate and urged imams to listen to the aspirations and emotions expressed by young Muslims. He mentioned that young people need alternative messages and particularly positive messages that point toward positive action. Sheikh Shady concluded his presentation by reflecting on the significant developments experienced by the Muslim community in Australia, with high hopes for what the future holds for the community and more broadly.
Associate Professor Halim Rane, Griffith University gave a presentation entitled ‘Challenging media stereotypes: suggestions for Muslim leadership’. Professor Rane commenced his presentation by noting that most Australians are quite sceptical of the media, and don't always believe what they see or read in the newspapers. This should be encouraging for Muslims, since most media coverage of Islam remains negative. Professor Rane discussed common problems in media portrayal of Muslims, including stereotyping, generalisation, sensationalism, and a negative focus, as well as explaining some of the reasons why it tends to be this way. This includes journalistic competition, a need to attract an audience, and lack of experience in dealing with the Muslim community. Professor Rane suggested that Muslim leaders consider carefully when it is appropriate to respond to the media, and in what form. He suggested that requests for interviews be referred to experienced, credible spokespeople who will relate to their audience.
Chief Superintendent Steve Cotter, Deputy National Coordinator, Prevent gave a presentation on the UK government’s approach towards violent extremism and terrorism in all its forms. He reminded the audience that political extremism, including right-wing extremism, constitutes a significant element of the problem. Superintendent Cotter gave an overview of the range of interventions that the Prevent program uses, including at the ideological level, through presenting alternative viewpoints, utilising community mentors including imams, as well as redirecting young people’s energies towards activities such as sport within a supportive environment. He also addressed the experience of Prevent with the Syrian issue, noting the importance of discouraging individuals from going to Syria to fight both from a legal perspective as well as in order to prevent harm being done to them or their families. He encouraged all those who would like to help to do so via humanitarian aid.
Associate Professor Mohamad Abdalla, Griffith Islamic Research Unit, Griffith University, gave an overview of some of the issues faced recently by the Muslim community in Queensland, in particular with regard to Australians travelling to Syria. He underscored the importance of a united and consistent approach among community leaders, especially in dealing with security agencies, in order to counter negative community perceptions. Queensland Imams have agreed to collectively meet and discuss crucial issues and make joint statements. Professor Abdalla concluded by stressing the importance of having discussions as a community in order to take a clear and open stance on issues including fighting in Syria. During discussion support was expressed for a clearer public stance to be articulated on issues such as Syria, by imams who have expertise in the area.
Workshop 5 NICF Statement
The Imams present discussed the situation in Syria and agreed to release a statement condemning the continued violence and advising Australians not to travel to Syria to fight, but rather to donate money and engage in the political process to seek an end to the conflict.
The statement can be found at the following link.
Future Directions of NICF
Professor Shahram Akbarzadeh led a discussion on the future of the Forum. All imams expressed the view that the continuation of the NICF is desirable and beneficial. The unanimous decision was for the NICF to continue into the foreseeable future. A number of ideas for future directions were put forward, and there was general consensus that future activities should strive to go beyond the imams’ forums and reach out to involve and engage with Muslim youth, the community at large. Such activities would be conducted in other states, with a number of imams volunteering to take responsibility for coordinating activities in their state. The imams also expressed interest in conducting the next NICF workshop in Canberra, which will provide an opportunity to meet government officials and members of Parliament.
Workshop six highlights
The sixth session of the National Imams Consultative Forum (NICF) was held over 24th – 25th June 2014 in Canberra. A total of 24 imams attended from around Australia.
The imams were welcomed to Old Parliament House by Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Social Services, with special responsibility for Multicultural Affairs and Settlement Services. Senator Fierravanti-Wells addressed the imams and acknowledged the contribution of the Muslim community to Australian society. She thanked them for coming and wished them a blessed Ramadan ahead.
The workshop was formally opened by Senator the Hon. George Brandis, the Australian Attorney-General. The Attorney-General welcomed the imams and acknowledged the critical importance of their leadership, their efforts and their commitment to the safety and security of all Australians. He thanked them for their role in supporting and engaging with the Government on issues of national security and gave the imams his assurance that the Government would consult with community leaders in developing security measures dealing with Australians fighting overseas. The Attorney-General also acknowledged the significant humanitarian crisis in Syria and its impact on many Australians with ties to the region. He reiterated the Government’s support for the Muslim community’s efforts to help victims of the conflict, while stressing the importance of utilising reputable and bona fide channels, such as United Nations agencies.
Sheikh Abdul Azim al-Afifi, President of the Australian National Imams Council also welcomed the imams and gave a response to Senator Brandis’ address. In particular, Sheikh Abdul Azim made the point strongly that the imams who participate in the workshops do so sincerely and of their own accord, out of their responsibility as leaders of the Muslim community, and their religious duty to ensure the safety and security of all Australians, Muslims and non-Muslims.
Senator Brandis was joined by Mr Justin Bassi, National Security Adviser, Attorney-General’s Office, and Ms Jamie Lowe, First Assistant Secretary, National Security Law and Policy Division, Attorney-General’s Department, who engaged the imams in a dialogue on national security issues for the remainder of the session.
The NICF was next addressed by Mr David Irvine AO, Director-General of Security and head of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. Mr Irvine thanked the imams for inviting him to address them again, for their wisdom and leadership, and for their continuing engagement with the government on national security issues. He acknowledged the humanitarian situation in Syria is of significant concern, and said that the Government wants to make it easier for Australians to assist financially provided it is done through recognised and legitimate channels. He addressed the imams’ concerns regarding the Government’s power to cancel passports and stressed that it is not exercised lightly or arbitrarily; it can only be done once clear thresholds have been satisfied and the decision can be challenged in the courts. He thanked the imams for their efforts to make young Australians more aware of the dangers of traveling to conflict zones overseas. Finally, he stressed that ASIO’s role is to protect all Australians, and as part of this it takes threats to the Muslim community from anti-Muslim groups very seriously and works closely with police to ensure any violations of the law are prosecuted.
The imams visited Parliament House, where they were greeted during Question Time by the Prime Minister, the Hon. Tony Abbott, and the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Bill Shorten. The Prime Minister welcomed the imams, saying that he welcomed and cherished their contribution to building a country which is a beacon of hope and optimism for people from around the world.
The final session of the two-day meeting took place at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The imams were welcomed by Ms Clare Birgin, Director, Counter-Terrorism Policy. Mr Miles Armitage, Ambassador for Counter-Terrorism and Assistant Secretary, Counter-Terrorism Branch, first addressed the imams, providing a snapshot of the current threat of terrorism from the Department’s perspective, divided into four areas: the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Central and South Asia, and Africa. Each poses particular challenges and risks for Australia. Ambassador Armitage also referred to the work Australia does through the United Nations, especially the Security Council, of which Australia is currently a member.
Sheikh Shady Alsuleiman, Secretary of the Australian National Imams Council, thanked the Department on behalf of the imams for hosting them, and made a number of points regarding the issue of counter-terrorism from a community perspective. In particular, he called on his fellow Imams not to shy away from topics such as jihad when speaking publicly, so that an authoritative mainstream community voice is heard. He called on the Government not to follow the media in portraying Muslims as extremists. He strongly rejected any claim that imams had failed to prevent Australians going overseas to fight in Syria; rather, that the opposite was true. Finally, he drew attention to the issue of Australian government intervention in Muslim countries, and cautioned that any intervention should be weighed carefully in order not to damage community perceptions of Australian involvement in the Middle East.
Ms Rachel Morris, Director, Levant and Iran Section, Middle East Branch gave an outline of Australia’s diplomatic engagement on the Syrian conflict. The Syrian crisis represents Australia’s largest current ongoing humanitarian contribution, and Australia is consistently among the top donors to the international relief effort. Australia has so far provided over $130 million for food, shelter, education, emergency services, and medical supplies to those both within Syria and refugees in neighbouring countries. Syria has been a diplomatic focus for Australia during our term on the UN Security Council, and we co-authored Resolution 2139 on the humanitarian situation. Australia has co-sponsored a number of resolutions in the UN General Assembly and the UN Human Rights Council expressing international concern about the situation in Syria. Australia has also provided $2 million for the destruction of the Assad regime’s chemical weapons. Finally, Australia implements autonomous sanctions in relation to Syria, which include targeted financial sanctions, travel bans, an arms embargo and restrictions on trade in certain sectors, and which make it an offence to fight for either side.
Finally, Mr Allaster Cox, First Assistant Secretary, South-East Asia Maritime Division, outlined Australia’s engagement in South-East Asia, highlighting a number of long-standing programs encouraging people-to-people links between Australia and a number of South-East Asian nations, in particular those with significant Muslim populations. Mr Cox also referred to Australia’s contribution to resolving conflicts involving Muslims in South-East Asia, including its commitment of $6 m to assist the peace process in Mindanao, and $9 million in humanitarian assistance to communities in Rakhine State in Burma and to help bring about a resolution to the ongoing tensions affecting the Muslim minority there.
During discussion the imams raised a number of important points, including the importance of using appropriate terminology in dealing with issues affecting the community. The imams stressed that the problem of radicalism cannot be dealt with only by security policy, but must also be tackled at an ideological and grassroots level. The imams made a case for greater recognition and support for the difficult work they do, often being attacked by the media as well as some parts of the community. They called on the government and politicians not to join in these attacks, and rejected recent comments made by police in New South Wales suggesting imams were not doing enough to counter extremism.
The imams also raised the issue of Western foreign policy, including economic policy, and its role in contributing to tensions, a sense of disenfranchisement, and conflict in parts of the world. Finally, the imams called for greater cooperation between the community and the government, and suggested that the government do more to support inter-civilisational dialogue, including appointing an Ambassador for Peace in addition to the Ambassador for Counter-Terrorism.
Workshop seven highlights
6th November, 2014
Workshop eight highlights
6th - 8th December, 2014
Day two of the workshop was concluded with discussing the public forums to take place during 2015. The format of the one-day public forums throughout different states and territories within Australia were discussed. Various imams were selected to act as ambassadors of their mosques and community organisations to take lead of the forum within their district.
The third day of the workshop was allocated to media training titled 'The Religious Leaders Media Training' which was coordinated by the Australian Multicultural Foundation for Imams across Australia to build their skills, confidence and networks in relation to working with media. The sessions included information on how the media works and interview techniques and tips, and how to engage with the media. The imams had practical experience on camera and radio being interviewed with feedback following each interview.