Once again, the infantile rants of Australian imams make international headlines. Saudi-trained Sheik Faiz Mohamed’s hate-filled lectures have been exposed in the UK Channel 4 documentary Undercover Mosque.
It was only a matter of time before Faiz Mohamed would be caught out again. Readers might remember Faiz as the young firebrand who described women who dressed a certain way as being “eligible for rape”.
So why is it that these kinds of Sheiks have a following among young people? The Daily Telegraph claims Faiz’s Global Islamic Youth Centre has some 4,000 followers. For Martin Chulov, no stranger to exaggeration, this number of followers was enough to describe Faiz’s centre as “the nerve centre of Islamic youth in Sydney”.
In fact, Sydney has numerous centres servicing young Muslims and Muslim converts. Many are run by sensible young imams such as American-born and Turkey-trained Na’eem Abdul Wali.
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Why are the centres run by radical Saudi-trained sheiks so popular? Without meaning to reinvent the wheel, the answer is simple – mainstream Muslim institutions run by first generation migrants are disinterested in providing facilities for young people and converts. The middle-aged men who dominate these institutions maintain mosques that function as cultural museums reminding them of what Pakistan or Lebanon or Turkey was like when they left for the good life down under. Mosques typically employ imams unable to speak English and unable to convey Islam in a manner relevant to young people in 21st century Australia.
Centres like GIYC fill a vacuum left by decades of disinterest of mainstream mosques and institutions. Many have the resources (petrodollars) and support from Saudi institutions and financiers to run activities and send young men to be trained in Saudi institutions.
Even more scandalous is the fact that at least one of these financiers (responsible for arranging at least three young people I know to Saudi Arabian seminaries) is close to the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General.
Thankfully, serious inroads have been and are being made to combat Saudi-style Wahhabi Islam in Australia. One excellent initiative is the Australia-Indonesia Institute’s Muslim Exchange Program. But more needs to be done to ensure young Aussie Muslims are able to find the necessary theological and cultural tools to adapt their faith to mainstream Australian life.