Last night, I found myself in the audience of an ABC TV show Difference of Opinion. Jeff McMullin and his team had gathered together what he described as a “youthful” panel which included the Australian Christian Lobby head Jim Wallace. Jim insisted Sheik Hilaly, as Mufti of Australia, reflects the views of Muslims in some institutional fashion. Perhaps in the same manner as Cardinal Pell’s views represent those of all Catholics? My Catholic mother-in-law probably wouldn’t agree.

Ultra-conservative Christian lobbyists and their political allies love talking about the threats posed by “them” Muslims to “us” Westerners, often doing so on the basis of minimal knowledge and maximum hubris. Sometimes they make claims about the powers allegedly exercised by the likes of Hilaly without even bothering to read their own websites.
Sadly, the antics of Hilaly and others of his ilk provide them with plenty of ammunition. But it doesn’t do anyone any favours to suggest Hilaly plays the role of vicar or pope of some fictitious Islamic “church”.

Indeed, even the President of the Lebanese Moslems Association (LMA), Tom Zreika, told me yesterday afternoon he has little or no control over Hilaly, who wasn’t on the LMA’s payroll and shares use of the mosque office with other sheiks. At best, Hilaly is an honorary imam who leads the prayer services from time to time.

Zreika has done more than any other Sydney mosque leader to sideline Hilaly. Zreika’s law firm acted for the new National Board of Imams, drafting their constitution and looking after their legalities. He also produced a document suggesting how the new board might define the various roles Australian imams could play.

Now Zreika has issued a press release which suggests distribution of donations for Lebanese victims of the conflict with Israel last year was primary responsibility of Sheik Yahya Safi, with Hilaly only playing a minor role assisting in the distribution. The only documentation Hilaly has produced is hand-written records of recipients on a Rydges hotel room pad. Among those recipients is believed to be a radio station with close ties to Iraqi dissidents.

As if radio stations need food, clothing and housing!

Hilaly knows his predecessor, the late Sheik Khaled Zeidan, was removed from the position of imam of the Imam Ali Mosque in Lakemba during the early 1980s in part because of allegations of financial irregularities. As a jurist of Islamic sacred law, Hilaly should also know the necessity of keeping written records of funds he holds on trust.

This really is kindergarten stuff. Hilaly should have known better. Let’s see if he provides any documents.

Peter Fray

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