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)