Will the real Sheikh Shady please stand up?

Sheikh

It has not been a good few days for Sheikhs in Australia.

First the Shiite hit the fan, after a few individuals armed with all the investigative resources of Google discovered that a Shia cleric, Sheikh Farrokh Sekaleshfar, who has several years ago called for executing homosexuals and who only last month was preaching at the Orlando mosque frequented by Omar Mateen, was currently delivering guest Ramadan lectures at the Imam Husain Islamic Centre in Earlwood in inner west Sydney.

Despite Sheikh Sekaleshfar’s protestations that his remarks referred to a highly specific and theoretical situation – “When does this question of death theoretically arise? It arises in particular scenario and it’s such a small probability that I’ve never even heard of such a scenario arising, where in such a country, with such a mandate, where the rule of law is Islam, there where homosexual couples … commit anal copulation in public — no-one does that” – his was forced by the publicity to leave Australia.

Then, two days ago, it transpired that one of the invitees to the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s inaugural Ifar dinner to mark the month of Ramadan, Sheikh Shady Al-Suleiman, holds some rather colourful Sharia views about adulterers, homosexuals, Jews, and even New Year’s parties (“it’s worship of Satan”).

Some have initially asked whether the bureaucrats who had compiled the invitation list to the dinner perhaps don’t know how to use Google to check out the potential guests. On the other hand, Sheikh Al-Suleiman is the president of the Australian National Imams Council, the peak body for some 95 Sunni imams working in Australia, so it’s pretty difficult to leave him off the invitation list for a dinner involving key Muslim community leaders.

The host, Mr Turnbull, subsequently told the media: “I do regret his invitation… If I had been aware he had made those remarks about homosexuals and gay people, he would not have been invited.” But also: “It is also wrong to seek to define the views of all 500,000 Muslims because of the opinions expressed by one person, by one cleric.”

Perhaps better question than the level of Googling skills at the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet is to what extent the views of the national president of a peak Imam association are representative of the 95 Imams represented by the Council.

So while it is indeed “wrong to seek to define the views of all 500,000 Muslims because of the opinions expressed by one person, by one cleric”, it is not entirely far-fetched to expect that the leader of an organisation reasonably faithfully reflects the views, beliefs and ideas of the said organisation. For example, it is not entirely far-fetched to expect that the leader of the Liberal Party reasonably faithfully reflects the views, beliefs and ideas of the Liberal Party. OK, that might be a bad example, but you know what I mean.

So we are faced with this dilemma: if Sheikh Al-Suleiman’s Sharia beliefs are not representative of, and are at odds with, those of Australian Imams and the Australian Islamic community in general, why is he the president of the national peak body of religious preachers? If, however, his Sharia beliefs are representative of, and are consistent with, those of Australian Imams (though not necessarily “all 500,000 [Australian] Muslims”) then I would venture to argue that we have a much bigger problem in this country than we would like to admit.

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