Tuesday, 12 August 2014

For our boys: GP Jamal Rifi to tackle radicals


For our boys: GP Jamal Rifi to tackle radicals

Islamic community leader Jamal Rifi, with his sons Faisal and Jihad in Sydney, is urging Muslim parents to protect their children from radical influences. Picture: James Croucher
LAKEMBA community leader Jamal Rifi is determined to stop radical Islam from gaining a criminal foothold in the Australian community, and by reaching out to boys just like his own sons, he hopes the war can be won.
The Sydney GP and father of five — including sons Faisal, 27, and Jihad, 16 — plans to run for NSW parliament next year as an independent, on a platform that includes urging Muslim parents to deter their children from falling prey to violent radical influences.
“I’m going to use my interactions with the local community during my election campaign to talk about radicalisation and inform mums and dads about the signs and behavioural changes in young people that parents need to be aware of,” Dr Rifi said.
He said he had been “fearful” that his own children could fall under the influence of radical notions of Islam, such as those promoted by Australian terrorists Khaled Sharrouf and Mohamed Elomar, but talking about the issue had been the key. “In my dealings with them I always express my views that the actions of people like Elomar and Sharrouf are not the actions of Muslims and I encourage them to have discussions about these issues to make sure they are less susceptible to extremist ideologies,” he said.
Dr Rifi is likely to be waging his electoral campaign against one of two men with links to the Muslim community: Bankstown Mayor Khal Asfour or Punchbowl Boys High School principal Jihad Dib, both of whom have been named as potential ALP candidates for Lakemba. Whatever the outcome, Dr Rifi said he still worried about the influence of online radicalism on Muslim youth. The emergence at the weekend of a photograph showing Sharrouf’s young son in Syria holding up a severed human head showed the critical need for action, despite attempts in the community advocating moderation.
“We are proud of what we have achieved — we have distanced our communities from the ideologies of ISIS (now known as the Islamic State) and those like ISIS,” he said. “I think the time past since September 11 has proved us right: two or three incidents is not the worst possible outcome and we should get some credit for that. (But) you don’t get to know your religion from behind a (computer) screen. These kids need mentors.”
Parents needed to be aware of where their children were learning “the teachings of Islam” and the credentials of imams involved in their religious education.
“There are people among us who have dubious credentials who are steering young people away from the ‘middle path’,” Dr Rifi said. “We are actively steering our people away from those with radical ideas but we can’t do this when all the teaching is taking place through the internet.”
Dr Rifi received the government’s Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Award in 2007 for his efforts to improve relations between Muslim and non-Muslim communities and is the founding member of Australian Muslim Doctors Against Violence.
He said Sharrouf’s behaviour was “demented” and vowed to “fight that kind of radicalism”.
“He is not serving anyone but his own ego and delusion and it is impacting negatively on his kids, his community and his religion,” Dr Rifi said.
“People like me are the real representatives of the Muslim community, not Sharrouf and not (Mohamed) Elomar — that is the message I want to send.”
NSW Islamic Council head Khaled Sukkarieh concurred, describing the latest Sharrouf images as “beyond belief”. “To see photos of a seven-year-old being subjected to this kind of rubbish, we condemn it all in the name of Islam,” Mr Sukkarieh said.
He said comments by former army chief Peter Leahy in recent days about Australia being engaged in a 100-year war with Islam pitted communities against each other at a time when the country needed to “stand united”.
“The community itself hurts the most as a result of any action by individuals who may hijack Islam for their own purpose,” he said. “If we are going to achieve anything we need to be working together, not sowing seeds of hate for the next 100 years.”
Islamic Friendship Association spokesman Keysar Trad said those behind the violence were “trying to play some serious psychological games” with Australians. However, he said by reclaiming the language militants used to “glamourise” their violence Australians could make a difference.
“These people are trying to convince the disenfranchised and the disenchanted that they are engaging in some sort of holy war,” Mr Trad said. “We have to say it is an unholy war. If they call themselves jihadists, call them brutal murderers.
“They have nothing to do with Islam and in the midst of all this Muslims outside of ISIS control are opening their homes to Christians and those fleeing brutality; those are the true Muslims.”
Hafiz Muhammed Abdul Wahid, who heads the Tayyiba Institute religious college in Melbourne, said Islamic State’s actions should be condemned “absolutely” by Australian Muslims.
“It doesn’t matter if someone has a different opinion from you, you don’t go and cut (off) their head,” Mr Wahid said.
He described Sharrouf as “a lunatic, a crazy trying to stir up the community spirit”.
“This person does not represent Islam,” he said.
Sydney-based Lebanese Muslim Association spokesman Ahmad Malas said Sharrouf’s actions were “unacceptable from every perspective” and he considered the terrorist guilty of “child abuse”.
However, Mr Malas questioned the responsibility of Australia’s Muslim population to condemn or explain the actions of a few rogue extremists.

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