Two Australian Muslim Leaders Debate the Manchester Attack
By Jacob Thomas
31 May 2017
The Swiss weekly website “Antipresse” reported about a debate that took place in Australia, on 25 May 2017, moderated by an Australian host, between two Muslim leaders, about the Massacre in Manchester, England.
I was struck by the headline: “Faut-il que les Imams nous disent ce qu’est l’Islam?” (“Do We Need Muslim Clerics to Tell Us the Truth About Islam?”) The editor, writing for his French-speaking audience, added parenthetically, regarding the link for the show, “malheureusement en anglais.” (Unfortunately, in English), i.e. only people who understood English, would benefit from the interview/debate, on the Australian “Sunrise Television Network.”
Two Australian Muslims participated in the debate: Dr. Jamal Rifi, a lay Sunni Muslim of Lebanese background, and a Shi’ite cleric, Sheikh Imam Tawhidi, of Iraqi origin. The following is a summary of the encounter between the two Australian Muslim leaders.
Addressing Imam Tawhidi, the moderator asked about his assessment of the tragic events in Manchester, England, on Monday, 22 May 2017. I was utterly surprised to hear these words of Imam Tawhidi: “Ultimately, the holy texts of Islam must be held responsible for the attack!” Continuing, “We have to tell the truth about Islam. The perpetrator was born in Manchester, after listening to two or three sermons at the mosque, he got radicalized. Here in Australia, a twenty-two-year-old Muslim female was arrested in Adelaide, for her ties with ISIS. These young people instead of leading normal lives, are becoming extremists.”
“It’s the Books we have [reference to the sacred texts] that push the Muslim youth to kill the infidel and gain paradise. We have many active radical clerics in Australia.” When asked about the moderate clerics’ role in correcting the teachings of the radicals, he responded, “It’s very hard to be moderate in a radicalized atmosphere. In fact, Muslim youth are purchasing the ISIS Black Flags, and displaying them on their cars.”
Asked about the Authorities getting rid of the radical clerics, Imam Tawhidi explained “that while the Authorities had good relations with the Muslim communities, that didn’t imply they had control over them.”
By this time, Dr. Jamal Rifi could hardly restrain himself. Responding to a question by the Moderator about Imam Tawhidi’s words, he answered in a most indignant manner, “I don’t know where the Imam took his information. We’ve had our Scriptures for the last 1400 years; they don’t incite to violence. It’s the ideology of the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) that attracts vulnerable young people to such teachings. The Prime Minister expressed the whole nation’s condemnation of the act; and that includes Australian Muslims. The Grand Mufti (of Australia) did as well.”
At this point, the moderator turned to the Imam, “You’ve been shaking your head!”
Imam Tawhidi responded, “There is hardly a month that goes by, without an Islamist terrorist attack takes place. Islam is a religion of war. Islam spread by the sword, I’m not inventing it. How did Islam spread from Saudi Arabia to Indonesia and Bosnia? I don’t know how you can say that Islamic Scriptures have nothing to do with all that! These are facts and they are true. The young man who perpetrated the crime in Manchester believed that he would be with Prophet Muhammad that very night.”
Dr. Jamal attempting to interrupt, “You can’t go on deceiving the Australian people with your lies! Suicide bombers are going to hell; nothing in our religion supports the killing of innocent people.”
Imam Tawhidi responds, “I never lied in my life.”
Dr. Jamal, “This suicide bomber is going to hell, his act was horrific. It had nothing to do with our religion which doesn’t support the killing of innocent people.”
At the end of the debate, the moderator spoke briefly with a reporter at the TV station. She mentioned that some Australian Muslims have harassed the Imam for his outspoken opinions on Islam.
To view the TV program, please follow this link:
Rather than add my commentary on the debate, the following is my translation of the comments of the Editor of “Antipresse.”
“Evidently, Dr. Jamal Rifi and Imam Tawhidi don’t share the same opinion on the subject; indeed, they informed us about their differences. It’s very useful to hear a turbaned Imam* telling us that violence had always been the way Islamic expansion occurred!”
To read the French text, please follow this link:
*Turbaned Imam, is reference to the special head turban that a Shi’ite cleric wears, it’s altogether different from the turban worn by a Sunni cleric.