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.