Andrew Robb had some home truths to tell imams on Saturday at the launch of the National Conference of Islamic Leaders. His comments reflected his complete lack of understanding about the roles imams play in mosques.

Mainstream Islam recognises no priestly hierarchy. Anyone can lead a service, though most mosques have a resident religious scholar known as an “imam”.

Robb commences his address by declaring local mosque imams to be “the spiritual leaders of Australian Muslims.” Yeah, right.

The average Aussie Muslim would be lucky to attend the mosque twice a year for the two feast days (each known as Eid, Hari Raya or Bayram, depending on where your family comes from). Even ones who go to their local mosque regularly will be unlikely to understand the sermon anyway. Aussie mosques are generally run along linguistic lines, leading to differences between ethnic groups on the role of mosque imams. But they are almost never regarded as spiritual leaders. And rarely do they speak the language of most Aussie Muslims — ENGLISH!

Robb then ignores the opinion of both his Attorney-General and the Federal Police Commissioner (not to mention the best available evidence of suicide bomber profiling by Professor Robert Pape) by repeating the mantra that terrorism is basically an Islamic phenomenon: “And, because it is your faith that is being invoked as justification for these evil acts, it is your problem.”

Actually, it isn’t just Islam being used to justify terrorism. It is generally a cocktail of wider factors including foreign occupation, Marxism (in Nepal and Sri Lanka) and other forms of nationalist and religious separatism (e.g. PKK). Yet we don’t see Robb lecturing Tamils or Kurds in the same condescending tone.

Later in his speech, Robb backtracks by suggesting:

Terrorism is not part of orthodox Islam, and it’s an obscenity for terrorists to invoke Islam as a justification for their evil acts. There is much you can and must do to condemn their words, their actions and their blasphemy.

Er, what else can they do that they haven’t already done, Mr Robb? They have already issued and signed a joint letter condemning terrorism after the London bombing.

Read more at Yusuf’s blog here.

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW