CANBERRA, Australia — Australia now has two Grand Muftis, after the country’s oldest national Islamic body declared a new leader despite the role already being filled by another imam.
A mufti is an Islamic jurist and an imam is someone who leads the prayers.
The Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC) and the Islamic High Council of Australia appointed Imam Abdul Quddoos Al Azhari – one of the country’s longest-serving imams – as the country’s National Grand Mufti.
However, the role isn’t exactly vacant.
Ibrahim Abu Mohamad is serving as Australia’s Grand Mufti since 2011, with a short four-month break in 2018.
Australian Federation of Islamic Councils first appointed a Grand Mufti in 1989 but scrapped the role in 2007 amid community concerns that imams and muftis were distracted by “media fanfare”.
“They (ANIC) jumped into that void. We don’t believe that was the right thing to do,” said Keysar Trad, chief executive, Australian Federation of Islamic Councils
Both bodies are now contesting as to who should appoint a Grand Mufti.
Australian Federation of Islamic Councils said it is the apex body representing Muslims in Australia. By reviving the position, it hopes to unite the country’s believers behind one leader again.
Their president Jneid said Islamic society had suffered from “the division and the inadequate services of self-appointed leaders” and the new Grand Mufti would operate without favoring any group or nationality.
Al Azhari, the new Grand Mufti, holds a Diploma of Education and two Master’s in Sharia and Arabic language, has been an imam and teacher for more than 40 years in Fiji, Australia’s Northern Territory, and the northeastern state of Queensland, and is fluent in several languages.
“Imam Quddoos, as we all know him, is a bundle of dynamite,” Jneid said, announcing the appointment.
“He spreads goodness wherever he goes. Tens of thousands of children, women, and men continue to benefit directly from his efforts both in Australia and overseas.”
“A number of our members have been talking to him and the other organization about coming into the fold … being part of the big picture. But the other side was not interested, so we had to proceed in the best interest of the community.”
As the role is inherently theological, that falls under ANIC, representing the Australian-based Muslim clerics and imams across the country, spokesman Bilal Rauf said.
Australian Federation of Islamic Council has not approached Australian National Imams Council, and Grand Mufti Mohamad will not resign.
“As far as we’re concerned, it is business as usual,” Rauf said.
He rejected suggestions that the tussle would confuse everyday Muslims.
“It’s unhelpful, but it won’t change the reality on the ground “I don’t think there will be much confusion because they don’t deal with the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, they deal with their local imams, and there are more than 200 imams who are members of Australian National Imams Council.”
With neither party likely to back down, it seems Australia will continue to have two Grand Muftis.
As the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils is the “peak” national body, Trad said he hopes Imam Quddoos will be officially recognized as the true leader of Islam in Australia.
“We would expect the person we appoint will take the leading role,” he said.
But Rauf said government and community have indicated “quite the contrary” and will continue to work with Grand Mufti Mohamad.
“For us, with Ramadan approaching, the focus is on giving spiritual and religious instruction to the community. This issue is a bit of a sideshow. We won’t let it distract us,” Rauf said.
(Edited by Vaibhav Vishwanath Pawar and Ritaban Misra.)