On Tuesday afternoon, I was forwarded a copy of an anonymous email from three Muslim sources. This in itself is nothing special — Muslims are recipients of sh-tsheets as much as members of even the most mildly political group. But what made this email strange is that it concerned an upcoming election at the Lebanese Moslems Association (LMA) which manages the Imam Ali ben Abi Taleb mosque in Lakemba and employs Sheik Hilaly and other imams.

The LMA’s constitution contains a provision that only adult males entitled to a Lebanese passport are eligible to have full membership and voting rights. Which raises the question — why was the same email sent to my three sources, two of whom are women and one of whom is an Anglo-Australian man and all three of whom live nowhere within 300km of Lakemba?

The email referred to Sheik Hilaly calling up “the Anti-terrorist unit … on Tuesday; They (Hilali and his mob) are accusing the ‘young boys’ at the Mosque of being extremists and potential terrorists”. The email also referred to Sheik Hilaly’s sermon last Friday when he allegedly described a group of young Muslim men as “Taleban in Lakemba”. The email claims Hilaly used terrorism fears to play LMA politics.

“These are our children he is talking about, our husbands, and our brothers. How can a Shiek [sic.] make such FALSE accusations. These people he is accusing are innocent — his accusations can lead to long term jail sentences for these innocent people who have families to support.”

So why was the email distributed so widely? An election was coming up. LMA elections are always hotly contested affairs, especially given the large amounts of real estate and other assets the LMA owns. Though time and again, the LMA has shown a complete unwillingness to deal with PR issues. Go to the LMA website and try clicking the box marked “MEDIA PRESS RELEASE”.

Hilaly is again in hot water, this time over kicking down a door inside the mosque and then allegedly accusing another person of causing damage to the door. His explanation wasn’t too convincing, and all he has in his favour is that the report was from A Current Affair, a program with not much of a reputation when it comes to accuracy.

Hilaly’s antics could be seen as him resisting generational change in the LMA. Certainly during his catmeat fiasco, LMA executive members (all of whom were 2nd and 3rd generation Lebanese Aussies) distanced themselves from Hilaly and openly expressed a wish to be done with him. LMA elders opposed these young men.

Hilaly is also accused of using Machiavellian LMA politics to protect his position. As an employee of the LMA, Hilaly should be above politics. Yet Hilaly isn’t the first imam to play politics. Imams are in a precarious position, often with no written employment contract and no job description, and expected to juggle conflicting instructions from an executive frequently in a state of civil war.

Hilaly’s catmeat speech was more than likely leaked to The Oz by a sectarian opponent from a rival mosque. Such an opponent could not have had access to the mosques video. When members of the executive are leaking videos to the media and sending out sh-tsheets across Australia, it seems likely that Hilaly’s days as senior imam at Lakemba are numbered.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey