The Inaugural Event
It was not a show of rioting that compelled Parliamentary figures to come down to Punchbowl at sunset on the 25th of September. And it was not a threat from extremists that sparked strong comments about Muslims from politicians. And it was not youth crime that attracted the media to Sydney’s inner west. It was an exhibition of moderation and the coming of a new generation of Australian Muslims lead by the guidance of Darulfatwa into a positive future based on Islamic teachings and moderate approaches.
That Monday evening marked a turning point in the history of Muslims in Australia as Darulfatwa held its first Awards Ceremony Dinner to honour the fifty graduates who completed Al-Azhary Imams Course, developed and delivered by Darulfatwa over a four month period in 2006. The Azhary Imam Course and its graduates were the highlight of the evening and the subject of the speeches; given this unique course was plainly and clearly tailored to address the current global and national issues of extremism, social integration and the proper Islamic theology.
The event, hosted by Darulfatwa’s chairman His Eminence Sheikh Salim Alwan Al-Husainiyy, was marked by a spectacular turnout of dignitaries to the Candlelight Reception Hall in the heart of Sydney’s south west; all too keen to signature the first in a continued series of graduate Muslim leaders and teachers in Australia.
The attending dignitaries included:
– Parliamentary Secretary for Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs Mr Andrew Rob,
– Mrs. Barbara Perry representing NSW Premier Mr. Morris Iemma
– Federal Minister Mr. Micheal Hutton representing Shadow Minister for Immigration Mr. Tony Burke
– Member for Legislative Council, Dr. Arthur Chesterfield Evans
– Consul General of Bangladesh Mr. Anthony Khoury
– Islamic Charity Projects Association President Dr. Ghayath El-Shelh
– Community Relations Commission Chair, Mr Stephan Kerkyasharian
– NSW Director for Multicultural Affairs (DIMA), Mr. Gavin McCairns
– NSW Board of Studies President, Professor Gordon Stanley
– University of Technology Sydney, faculty of law, Joseph Azizi
– Muslim Community Radio President Haj Mohammad Mehio
– Al-Amanah College, Haj Mohammad Al-Dana
– NSW Police, President of the Police Swimming Club, Lindsey Rogerson
– Scout Australia, Graham Winner and John Selwood
– Mayor of Bankstown, Tania Mihailuk
– Supreme Islamic Council, Jabr Al-Jaffi
– Representatives from more than 29 community organizations.
– Several media groups including the ABC and UBI
In the welcoming and opening message, the MC Mr. Saad congratulated the Chairman of Darulfatwa, His Eminence Sheikh Salim Alwan, for accepting his new appointment as deputy chairman of the World Wide Ashraaf Association, in a conference in Egypt early September 2006, expressing this to be the reason for his absence from the Muslim Imam Conference in Parliament House in Canberra.
The evening was a powerful message to the extremists who assume themselves invincible to the truth. Resounding in the speeches delivered was the important role of knowledge and the acknowledgement that Darulfatwa is the coming Muslim headship in Australia, steering the community to moderation, social integration, establishing identity, and to demolish extremism and terrorism in Australia.
Dinner was first served to the guests and the fasting Muslims, accompanied by the live vocal performance of Australia’s first Muslim choir from Al-Amanah College as the group of primary boys and girls bravely took the stage in their school uniforms.
Speaker: Sheikh Salim Alwan Al-Husainiyy
After his eminence Sheikh Salim Alwan graciously welcomed his guests, he spoke of the importance of knowledge and its role in preventing extremism. He assured that Darulfatwa will stay in the forefront of the fight against odious extremism and the horrors of terrorism.
He also said:
“Lately we have seen bad comments against Islam in the media. It is clear why Muslims are angry. We call people to show respect in addressing Prophets. We reject any slandering of our Prophet Muhammad, and we ask for such comments to cease, because they stop harmony and help terrorism. As Muslim Australians we join hands with all Australians and we will do all we can to protect this country from extremism.”
His inaugural speech was received with a standing ovation.
Speaker: Prime Minister John Howard, represented by Mr. Andrew Robb
Mr Andrew Robb rose to the occasion delivering a personal message from the Prime Minister which identified the integral role Darulfatwa plays in working to, suppress extremism and spread Islam, harmony and toleration in Australia.
Andrew Rob said:
“The Prime Minister said: ‘It gives me great pleasure in extending my best wishes to all those attending the Darulfatwa graduation of Imams and leaders. Darulfatwa plays a central role in the Islamic community working to increase the community’s awareness against extremism and its effects on our national security. I commend the group for the work it has done in relation to the education and promotion of Islamic life throughout the community and in promoting harmony and tolerance throughout the nation. It is in every ones interest to continue to promote harmony and mutual understanding between the Australian community and the broader Islamic community. The work undertaken by Darulfatwa contributes significantly to this goal.”
Speaker: Parliamentary Secretary for Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Mr Andrew Robb
Mr Robb’s enthusiasm towards the proactive and head-on initiatives of Darulfatwa in preparing the next generation of Australian Muslim leaders by knowledge, was transparent throughout the evening. After congratulating the Muslims on the blessed month of Ramadan, he acknowledged the importance of Al-Azhariy Imams Course, by virtue that it is Australian designed and based, all the more to serve integration in Australia.
“I congratulate the Council [Darulfatwa] on having the wisdom to recognise the importance of having spiritual leaders who clearly understand the environment in which they are operating…[this] means that you will be far more effective in instilling confidence in Australian Muslims…that they [Muslims] can be equal and committed members of the Australian community, while being true to their faith. This ability to teach Islam in English and in an Australian context is crucial, given that 50% of the nearly 360,000 Muslims in Australia are under 25 years of age…most are born in Australia…and for most, English is their first language. So, I think this course is a concrete and positive example of Australia’s imams and Muslim leaders, building community cohesion and unity.”
Mr. A. Robb to the Graduates
Mr Robb addressed the graduates of the course; congratulated them for their achievements and assigned them to the mammoth task ahead.
“You are part of the future leadership of Australian Muslims…Leadership involves humility…listening… an awareness of others. Many times in the time ahead you will be called upon to make that decision that affects others…to give advice…to offer judgements…. To do this effectively will require this humility and this awareness of others.”
Mr. A. Robb on Leadership
Mr. Robb spoke with passion and strong conviction about leadership in Australia; the type that manifests in everyday life, in being role models for society, in business dealings and other endeavours, the type of leadership that also allows women to exert their skills and abilities to help build societies. In essence, the type of leadership that Darulfatwa is nurturing and fostering in Australia, to the acceptance of the Australian and Islamic ideals.
On this he said:
“Leadership involves confidence. You must carefully think about decisions before you make them. But once you’ve decided, you must be at ease with yourself and have confidence with your decision. Leadership involves strong resolve…courage…and vision.”
Mr. A. Robb for Muslims
For Muslims, the pinnacle of his speech was when Mr. Robb acknowledged a separation between Islam and terrorism as he spoke about how extremists have negatively affected even the Muslims community, stigmatising Muslims and causing members to withdraw, lose identity and inertly see themselves as victims.
“The time ahead of you is full of challenges, but also ripe with opportunities…Yet the challenges that you confront are caused by extremists in the name of Islam who want to take the world back to the dark ages. As a non-Muslim I take great hope from the fact that there are many more Muslims around the world who want to see Islam prosperous with modern societies…who want to see Islam again in the forefront of science and art, culture, literature and all the rest.
“The terrorist actions have generated anxiety in the broader community, and the actions have unfairly stigmatised so many Australian Muslims prompting alienation and isolation for many.”
Mr. A. Robb on Solutions
Finally, he stated solutions to these problems and challenges; solutions that he commends Darulfatwa for imparting.
In his words:
“There is a real need to build confidence in the Australian Muslim community especially among the young,…in their sense of identity as Australians who happen to be Muslim. You need to help them get on the front foot and not to see themselves as victims….And to bring on the potential of these young Muslim Australians to be leaders and role models in business, sport, arts and in every field of endeavour.
There is wonderful talent amongst the young Australian Muslims right around the country. It needs to be fostered and there’s an urgency about that because of the circumstance. They have the capacity to take us to a new level to solve the problems. There’s real opportunity out there. I’ve observed many outstanding women [in the Muslim community]. I think it would be important for the graduates here tonight in your leadership roles in the years ahead, to think how you can tap into and promote the contribution of women in dealing with the current changing environment. Finally can I reaffirm the appreciation of the government as expressed by the Prime Minister in his message, for the High Council in developing and offering this course.”
Darulfatwa Video Clip
The jubilant evening proceeded with all eyes turned to the screen as a video clip demonstrated the inception of Darulfatwa, its services and goals, introduced by a grand musical introduction of Darulfatwa.
Speaker: Mrs. Barbara Perry, representing NSW Premiere Morris Iemma
Darulfatwa’s Al-Azhariy Imams course remained the pinnacle of the evening and the magnet of commendations from federal government and shadow leaders as each dignitary speaker in turn recognised its integral role in forming the future of Australia.
Mrs. Barbara Perry added praise to Darulfatwa and the contributions of the Muslim community in their efforts to building communities.
She asserted that:
“Everyday there are people who achieve great things and have achieved great things in these areas [south west Sydney]. I go to the schools and I see young children learning together. I see young adults at university studying to become lawyers, doctors and dentists. These are the stories on a day to day basis that don’t get highlighted. It is ashamed that this positive impact is lost sometimes on our community. It is for this reason that this course is such a vital opportunity and the aims of this course are so important: a professional development course that teaches Islam in the context of life in Australia, denounces terrorism and the criminality associated with that and promotes participation in the community.
This says to me, we all have a different past but share a common destiny-to build a proud and harmonious community.”
Speaker: Federal MP Mr Hutton, representing Shadow Minister for Immigration Mr Tony Burke
For Mr Hutton, it was the words of profound insight by Darulfatwa Chairman Sheikh Alwan that left a resounding and lasting impression as he commended Darulfatwa in tailoring an academic module addressing topical and global issues.
Mr Hutton said:
“ …they will in fact be participating in something that’s very important and that is providing Australian trained imams, not only for our mosques, but also for our schools and work places, so that people brought up in Australia, taught in Australia, schooled here, developed here with an understanding of the Australian community that is completely intimate; will be the increasingly modern face of Islam in Australia. That’s very important. It’s providing an Australian set of skills rather than importing them. Its extremely important because the very nature of Darulfatwa and the nature of the organizations that are part of the Islamic High Council of Australia is to emphasis peacefulness, temperance, tolerance and moderation and to emphasis the fact that the Islamic communities in Australia are fundamentally part of the very fabric of modern Australia and that’s its your intention to be a knitted part of that fabric.”
Mr Hutton made particular reference to the course modules praising their relevancy and topical value to Australia and world issues, adding:
“They reflect the very nature of the Australia we’ve faced at the moment…and the very nature of the world we’ve faced in particular after 2001.”
Mr Hutton Quotes Sheikh Salim Alwan
Exemplifying the value of this much needed course to produce one strong community, Mr Hutton quoted what he described as, important and profound insights by Sheikh Salim Alwan in his extended speech that, ‘the hearts of the youth are like containers, if we don’t fill them with truths, corruption ideologies will then seep in to fill the vacuum’.
“This is absolutely true…substitutes will tend to be extremism”, he added.
I would like to congratulate Sheikh Salim Alwan and members of Darulfatwa for having the foresight and determination to put this course together…This will embed the relevance of the Muslim communities in Australia as part of a deep and rich fabric of Australian life.”
All eyes turned then to the moment of waiting as Sheikh Salim Alwan and Mr Robb joyfully handed the certificates of recognition to the first fleet graduating from the second of a series of complementary courses. The graduates included Muslims if diverse backgrounds coming together from Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Fiji, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Jordan Egypt, Bangladesh and Indonesia. Graduates approached one by one to receive their certificates by name, before a group photo was taken.
Ending the night in the grandeur style of eminence and as a symbol of appreciation to the responsiveness of the Australian Prime Minister and the attendance of Mr. Andrew Robb, Sheikh Salim Alwan presented the Prime Minister and Mr Andrew Robb each with a trophy to commemorate this grand event and the achievements to follow.
During Side Talks
After the last item on the Agenda at 8pm, Muslim Community Radio reporter interviewed dignitaries. The following is their response and impression of the evening, off stage.
In the words of the Parliamentary Secretary for the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs Mr. Andrew Rob:
“It has been a wonderful night and also a very positive night. I was really impressed with the number of people that have done the course and the number of women who done the course, which is wonderful. And there is a strong resolve around the room and confidence which, I think is really important in these times and I have been impressed with the whole tone if you like, the positiveness about them, the confidence about them. So tonight sort of confirmed what I’ve experienced so far and I am really pleased to see the very progressive program that people studied through this course and you know, it really bodes well for the future. Yes.
Words are important but, to me I look at the body language and the frame of mind and the confidence and the sense of conviction when people talk about what they are doing. That is what fills me with great confidence and hope about what I have seen here tonight. There is that resolve, that confidence, that sense of conviction, people are at ease with what they’re doing and when they talk about the things they’ve been studying and the importance of integration and the importance for this community itself to tackle terrorism and to take responsibility, that’s what I like about this. It’s that they’re not waiting for the rest of the community to give permission. They’re taking the problems head on and I think when that happens, everybody else with respond accordingly and everybody else will be very grateful. We’ll get cohesion and harmony the sorts of things that are very important. What is happening is very strong leadership, very progressive programs and activities. There is a confidence about the community here which convinces me that this is strong leadership, this is the direction things should be heading and it should fill everyone with great hope. Just keep it up.”
In the words of Member of Parliament, member for Auburn, Mrs. Barbara Perry:
“It was a very spiritual night, indeed it should be because we’re honoring the graduates who are going to go out and spread the word of Islam in a way that talks about Islam’s spirituality and I’ve got to say it was very impressive, clearly it states the dignitaries that were here tonight to be with you and to share the evening, is evidence to me is very clearly that there is great respect for what Darulfatwa has achieved in relation in particular to this course.”
In the words of the Community Relations Commission Chairman, Mr. Stephan Kerkyasharian:
“It is very exciting to see young men and women, Australians of Islamic background taking this wonderful step of going through an education program in an Australian context and they’re just living proof that religion and being an Australian can be in harmony and therefore it is not a question of conflict, it is not a question of Islam being something of alien to Australia but rather a harmonious part of it. So I congratulate those young men and women today, who have taken this course, who have in fact started a journey on making Islam a harmonious element.”