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Different sheiks shake the culture

It's on between Taj Din al-Hilali and Feiz Mohamed

IT is easy to see how, to the untrained ear, one controversial outburst from a Muslim preacher is indistinguishable from the next. The themes, after all, tend to be disconcertingly similar: women, Jews (or unbelievers generally) and militancy. But sometimes it takes rapid juxtaposition for any nuances to become apparent. And in recent weeks, such juxtaposition has been sadly abundant.

While NSW Premier Morris Iemma attempts to bully the federal Government into banning isolationist political group Hizb al-Tahrir, which this week called for the establishment an Islamic superstate across the Muslim world, the commonwealth is more concerned with the now notorious Sydney pair, Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali and Sheik Feiz Mohamed.

Both snatched the spotlight this month with almost surreal tirades against various non-Muslims. Both were lambasted previously for speeches in which they drew a connection between skimpy clothing and rape. And, unlike Hizb al-Tahrir, both have some semblance of a following. Yet instructive differences are emerging even as they echo one another's sentiments.

Hilali was transformed in the public imagination from a figure of loathing to a figure of fun. Once, the sheik's commentary was received with the horror reserved for radical ideologues. But his bizarre, recent diatribe on Egyptian television about Australia's convict heritage and the dishonesty of Britons inspired a markedly contrasting reaction.

The Prime Minister found it funny. So did the Foreign Minister. The Opposition Leader dismissed Hilali as mad.

Gone was the once pervasive sense of gravity. When men's magazine Ralph dubbed Hilali the "Islamic Seinfeld" in awarding him funny man of the year for his "absurdist comedy", it was merely being pre-emptive. Mohamed, though, is an entirely different prospect. His recently publicised call for Muslim children to be inducted into martyrdom was more directly adapted to inspire trepidation. Which it duly did.

When Britain's Channel 4 brought to light his comments, Cambridge Islamic scholar Abdal Hakim Murad warned generally that such ideologies in "the ghettos of British Islam could one day prove fatal to the community". Australian authorities are presently investigating the possibility of charging Mohamed for incitement to terrorism.

The contrast between Hilali and Mohamed is real. These are two preachers of different generations, with two very different constituencies, and ultimately, with different messages. To some extent, people expect Hilali to bemuse them.

His public image is a caricature: the foreign leader with a foreign outlook, speaking in a foreign tongue. By now, Australians regard Hilali's worldview as more foreign than frightening.

Mohamed's notoriety, however, is more authentic. He exudes a more raw, explicit radicalism.

Hilali argues numbers of Holocaust deaths are exaggerated; Mohamed simply brands Jews - "every single one of them" - pigs.

Hilali suggests short skirts can lead a man to prison; Mohamed states flatly that a rape victim in a backless dress is "eligible" for it and has "no one to blame but herself". Hilali talks of a conspiracy against Muslims; Mohamed simply bemoans that so few children have a militant zeal.

The tonal differences are clear. Mohamed's is an indelibly more aggressive brand of religiosity: aggressive towards women, aggressive towards non-Muslims, and especially aggressive towards Jews.

This naturally ensures Mohamed's appeal will be relatively limited. Most people simply do not respond positively to hostile expressions of faith. But it will always find an audience of some description.

And indeed, the description of Mohamed's audience is instructive.

His supporters often point, rightly, to the enormous work he has done with the most troubled youth.

He is famed for getting young men off drugs and off the streets. He assists those no one else can or will. And it is here that his message finds much of its resonance: among young men, often with troubled pasts.

This should be unsurprising. It is increasingly emerging that the prime candidates for radical thought are not migrants brought up on hate, but newly zealous second-generation youth with irreligious, sometimes criminal pasts.

They do not relate to the culture of their parents, but feel rejected by the society in which they live. Perhaps that is true of Mohamed himself who has complained of rampant Islamophobia in Australia, and - unlike Hilali - is Australian-born.

Clearly then, home-grown imams are hardly a panacea. But equally, radical thought requires a certain psychology to incubate. That is where our focus should be.

Waleed Aly, a Melbourne lawyer, is a member of the Islamic Council of Victoria executive.

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I worry about Waleed Aly because this 'so-called' moderate and genial guy is accepted as being the complete opposite of the extremists, yet there is always a hint of apologetics in his arguments. If only we (infidels) somehow understood Islam better, all would be well. (A good trick to get money for more Islamic proselytising across to the masses.) No other religion demands to be 'understood' as a bargain to not attack its host country. Why is Aly not helping to lead a total rejection of all the radical imams (and in fact it is widely accepted that almost ALL imams are Islamists). He underplays the extent of this. Even 'moderate' Sheik Fehmi from Preston mosque marched in pro-Hezbollah rallies. Unfortunately, due to the very nature of Islam, the Koran and its absolutist teachings, there is actually NO moderate Islamic ideology. Yes! -- there are some moderate individual Muslims, mostly from the ranks of the secular and least religious. Any Muslim scholars overseas who have tried to tamper with and modernise the Koran (i.e. to remove the hundreds of hate-filled passages)have been threatened or executed. Daniel Pipes has highlighted the many strands of Islamic imperialism, from the use of violence and terrorism to the other strands of non-violent 'legitimate' pushing of Islam to the forefront in many ways, and always demanding special conditions for Islam in a host country. Waleed Aly has recently written about the similarities between Sharia Law and Democracy (which is just wrong and ludicrous propaganda). I don't know for sure, but I feel that Waleed Aly represents the acceptable strand, working towards the same Islamist ends of eventual Muslim domination.

Posted by MT on 2007-02-02 01:56:39 GMT