From "The Australian"
Radical Muslim clerics in media gag
March 09, 2007
FIVE of the nation's most powerful Islamic clerics, including Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali, have been banned from talking to the media by Muslim leaders for delivering "anti-Australian" messages.
The Lebanese Muslim Association has gagged the imams from Lakemba Mosque in Sydney's southwest from media commentary - especially to Arabic news outlets - because of the "immeasurable damage" they have caused the community.
A letter was yesterday sent by the Lebanese Muslim Association to its five imams, including Sheik Yahya Safi - the official Australian representative to the Mufti of Lebanon - Sheik Shady Suleiman, and Sheik Hilali.
The letter, obtained by The Australian, demands the imams "pause and desist" from talking to any media outlet, in particular Sydney's Arabic community radio station Voice of Islam.
The imams have been told they could lose their positions as spiritual leaders at the nation's largest mosque if they defy the LMA's orders.
LMA president Tom Zreika yesterday told The Australian the letter was issued to end the "perceived un-Australian viewpoints given by some clerics".
"One of the big issues is the double-speak by the various imams," Mr Zreika said, adding that the messages some clerics delivered in Arabic contradicted comments given in English while talking to the mainstream media.
"They go on to the Voice of Islam and talk about something which really isn't in accordance with our views ... as Australians.
"(While) most of our clerics are selected on the basis that they have Australian values and Australian characteristics ... some of them haven't (lived) up to that."
The LMA's hardline approach towards silencing its clerics comes after the furore sparked by Sheik Hilali last year, following revelations in The Australian last month that the mufti was banned from delivering sermons at Lakemba Mosque.
Sheik Hilali caused national and international uproar last October when The Australian uncovered a sermon in which he compared immodestly dressed women to "uncovered meat" and joked about Sydney's infamous gang rapes.
The cleric, who has been the nominal head of the nation's Muslim community for years, further compounded the controversy by subsequently appearing on Egyptian television to dismiss the furore over his insults to women and make disparaging remarks about Australia's convict beginnings.
Mr Zreika yesterday said he no longer wanted the imams to let their political media statements interfere with their primary tasks of being spiritual advisers.
"We want (clerics) to stay apolitical," he said.
"If they're not going to shape up, they're going to be shipped out, because immeasurable damage has been caused to the community as a result of their media commentary and doublespeak."
Mr Zreika - who refused to single out any of the imams who've caused the Muslim community the most damage - said some of the spiritual leaders had destroyed the relationship Islamic people once enjoyed with mainstream Australia.
"Relations have been set back many, many years between the wider community and the Muslim community," he said. "And the reason that's come about is because ... (some) are saying the wrong thing."
Mr Zreika said the LMA needed to lead by example in taking a hardline approach towards clerics putting politics ahead of religion.
"And if we're not going to lead the way in a fashion which is consistent with the needs of the wider Muslim community ... then we're not doing something right," he said.
Sheik Shady yesterday told The Australian that he supported the LMA's decision, saying it was in the best interests of the Muslim and wider community.