“We, the Australian National Imams Council, are proud to announce that Sheikh Fehmi Naji El-Imam is appointed as the Mufti of Australia for a two-year term, Sheikh Fehmi Naji El-Imam will be working with the Council of Islamic Jurisprudence and Research under the umbrella of the Australian National Imams Council for the benefit of the Muslims and the broader Australian community.
“We recognise the great services that Sheikh Tajeddin al-Hilaly has provided over the years and we pray for his good health.”
THE new Mufti of Australia began his first full day in the role with strong and gentle words for the Federal Government.
As a clue to the Sheikh’s thinking, he has in the past, said of the Jews: “We have nothing against the Jews as Jews, but of course we have our opinion about the situation in Palestine.”
This seems to be an acceptance of Jewishness but a rejection of the political situation. If this attitude of moderation continues, it bodes well for the future acceptance of Islam in Australia.
Here two newspaper reports from today, Monday June 11th, 2007.
From “The Age”
“There is no ‘yes sir’ business here,” was Sheikh Fehmi Naji el-Imam’s message to Prime Minister John Howard and the Government in an exclusive interview with The Age. “We always like give and take. We have to apply the Australian fair go.”
The Australian National Imams’ Council replaced Sheikh Taj al-Din al-Hilali with Sheikh Fehmi, imam of Preston Mosque, on Sunday.
Yesterday, Sheikh Fehmi said: “We would like to tell the Federal Government that we are here, the Muslims of Australia, and we belong to this country, and we are part of it. We would like to offer as much as we can to make the country successful in every field and in every way.”
Sheikh Fehmi, who turns 80 this year, sees his task as the same as before he became mufti, just on a larger stage.
He is a frail figure on a walking stick, who finds speaking more effort than he used to, but the twinkle in his eyes is undimmed. He enjoyed sparring with the media at a news conference. “I hope you are healthy — and in a good mood,” were his opening words.
Questioned about his Australian identity, Sheikh Fehmi asked the reporter how old he was — 31. “Then I’m more Australian than you, because I’ve been here more than 55 years,” joked the sheikh, who came to Melbourne from Lebanon in 1951.
He told The Age that official decisions and comments would no longer be “haphazard”. He will work with the jurisprudence committee of the national imams’ board, so decisions will be their deeply considered consensus. “I am one of them, and so is Sheikh Hilali. He is not out completely,” Sheikh Fehmi said.
People who gathered to pray at the Preston Mosque yesterday spoke warmly of Sheikh Fehmi. “He’s a good man, very honest and straightforward,” said a Somali man. “He’s just a simple man like me and you, but he is a scholar and has the knowledge,” said another.
Changing face … the new Mufti of Australia, Sheikh Fehmi Naji el-Imam, right, with Ahmad Allouche of the Islamic Society. Photo: Melanie Dove
From ABC Online News
Speaking at his Melbourne mosque, Sheikh El-Imam tried to avoid questions about his controversial predecessor. The new mufti says his predecessor is a good man and has urged the media to be more accepting of people from other cultures. “As we say there is a freedom of speech in this country – fair enough, let us have freedom of speech,” he said.
He has also blamed the media for labelling Sheikh Al Hilali as controversial and says he wants to see a better relationship with a more accepting media in the future. He says people should also remember Sheikh Al Hilali for his attempts to free Australian Douglas Wood, who was held captive in Iraq.
Sheikh El-Imam says his predecessor has a good side and has been misunderstood. “Maybe sometimes you let your tongue go too far, but still maybe you don’t mean to harm others,” he said.