Prominent Muslim Leader Calls for Locally Trained Imams

Training Imams domestically in Australia would see clerics grounded in Australian values and reduce radicalisation, according to Shaykh Mohamadu Nawas Saleem.

A prominent Melbourne-based Muslim religious leader has supported the idea to train imams domestically, saying that having clerics grounded in “Australian values” would have a huge impact on reducing the number of people attracted to violent extremist ideologies.

Shaykh Mohamadu Nawas Saleem (Board of Imams, Victoria) said, ‘We have about 500,000 Muslims here in Australia, with those below 29 years of age constituting a majority among them. More than a third of them are first-generation Muslims. Ideally, we should have imams who grew up here as they would understand the Australian culture better than the foreign-trained imams, besides being able to communicate in a more convincing manner‘.

His comments come as Australian authorities grapple with framing an effective strategy to countering violent extremism that will be acceptable to the Muslim community at large. Most of the major Muslim organizations of the country denounced the recent counter-terror raids, conducted  by the Australian Federal Police (AFP), as being ‘opportunistic’ and fearing that such operations could alienate the community.

Shaykh Saleem believes that the federal and state government should facilitate in the seting-up of imam-training institutions and he proposes that the government could fill the logistical gap that prevents Muslim organizations from developing the required infrastructure to train imams by, ‘allocating land at concessional prices, or chanigng the way ertain theological courses are taught’.

On paper, the federal government’s current strategy to check violent extremism was based around engaging the community and identifying vulnerable people who were on the brink of embracing violent ideologies. Announced in August 2014, the Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) Program strived to intervene as early as possible to prevent people from committing violent acts.

Terrorism expert, Professor Greg Barton, said that the main roadblock that had prevented Australia from having its own imam-training schools in the past was a lack of “critical mass” to have enough Islamic scholars to teach other younger Islamic scholars.

However, Professor Barton said that Australia should aspire to having its own theological schools as a long term goal, due to increasing Muslim population and with more Australian-born Muslims coming of age, noting, “As we start to have more Australian-born Muslims, the demand for local education will definitely increase.”

According to him, the diverse nature of the Australian Muslim community was another challenge that had to be taken into account in reaching any agreement on establishing imam training institutions.

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