By Jill Fraser
Australian Islamic leaders are cautiously optimistic that the country’s 29th prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, will be a circuit breaker and help counter the nation’s increasingly vocal Islamophobes.
Turnbull successfully mounted a challenge to Liberal Party Leader Tony Abbott on Monday, thereby securing himself the prime ministership.
Dr. Jamal Rifi, an influential voice in the western Sydney Muslim community who worked with Turnbull during his campaign for an Australian republic, is confident that his former colleague will adopt a policy of inclusiveness “that will bridge and heal the fracture lines” created “by the previous government”.
In the last year, Grand Mufti Dr. Ibrahim Abu Mohamed has advised Abbott to give up his day job, saying he should “work in any field other than politics,” while an international Muslim organization even accused him of using Australia's Muslims as a scapegoat to sew up his dwindling popularity.
Rifi told Anadolu Agency on Thursday that he wants to see the Turnbull-led government “view the Australian Muslim community as a partner when tackling the issue of radicalisation, and see it, not as a threat to society, but as a first line of defence”.
“That’s why we need to put emphasis on hope and less on fear,” Rifi added
On Tuesday night, tensions again simmered in Bendigo, a regional city in Victoria, over the building of a mosque. The area has been a focus of anti-racism demonstrators and anti-Islam group, the United Patriots Front.
Reflecting on last night’s protests, Rifi hit out at the Abbott government for being a “divisive” voice.
Bendigo had approved the construction of the city’s first mosque in June 2014, despite loud and angry opposition. Opponents had appealed to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) to have the council decision overturned, but were unsuccessful.
They are now seeking to challenge the decision in the Supreme Court.
“Before [Abbott] used fear as a political tool for government,” Rifi said, adding that “the Australian Muslim community showed a lot of maturity in dealing with this and forgoing confrontation”.
“We showed compassion and understanding and patience in the way we dealt with the federal government during the Abbott years,” he said, claiming that the Federal government - "from the attorney general’s department to the Prime Minister’s office"- had made terrible mistakes.
Kuranda Seyit, spokesperson for the Islamic Council of Victoria, told Anadolu Agency that he was looking forward to Turnbull establishing a new relationship with the community.
He said the council has even written to Turnbull to congratulate him on his new position and to raise issues affecting Australian Muslims.
The council didn’t raise any specific issues in the letter but Seyit said two primary issues are promoting social cohesion in society and speaking out against the wave of Islamophobia that has emerged over the past six months.
“Our leadership has to be stronger in terms of shutting [them] down."
He claimed that Abbott had never spoke out publicly against Islamophobia.
"He almost indirectly condoned these racist groups under the banner of free speech," he said. “His language he used in public discourse was very abrasive and confrontational and unfair towards the Muslim community and he made assumptions about Islamic theology."
Referring to Abbott’s public rift with the Grand Mufti in February over Mohamed's speaking out against a possible ban on the controversial Muslim organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir, Seyit said the incident reflected Abbott’s relationship with the Muslim community.
“We want the language of our prime minister to be conciliatory,” Seyit said. “No religious group deserves to be demonised and singled out.”
Earlier this month Rifi was award the prestigious 2015 Australian Father of the Year Award in honour of his devotion to his family, his commitment to his profession and his strong personal efforts to build understanding between Muslim and non-Muslim communities.
This honour, Rifi told AA, “sends a message that [the anti Islamic group] Reclaim Australia does not represent the Australian society at large”.
“As there are voices of moderation in my community there are also voices of moderation in society at large,” Rifi said.
He says he hopes that Turnbull’s approach will “reflect the majority in Australian society that want to heal and bridge that fracture line that exists”.Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.