December 24th 2012 – Rachel Olding, Natalie O’Brien
AUSTRALIA’S biggest mosque has backed away from its fatwa against Christmas after harsh criticism from the Muslim community and a tirade of racial abuse.
The Lakemba Mosque posted the religious ruling on its Facebook site on Saturday morning, warning followers it was a ”sin” even to wish people a Merry Christmas.
It followed a lecture during Friday prayers in which the head imam, Sheikh Yahya Safi, told the congregation they should not take part in anything to do with Christmas or New Year’s Eve.
Samier Dandan, the head of the Lebanese Muslim Association, which oversees the mosque, said the fatwa was unsanctioned and did not reflect the views of the association or the mosque. It is understood the association’s youth co-ordinator, Bilal el-Hayek, copied the text from another site and posted it after receiving messages from members asking for guidance on celebrating Christmas.
Mr Dandan said it was removed two hours later when an employee noticed it.
”It was an innocent mistake,” he said. Other posts were removed on Sunday after they were flooded with racist abuse and a message reading ”Merry Xmas” appeared in the sky above the mosque.
The fatwa warned that Christmas Day and associated celebrations were among the ”falsehoods that a Muslim should avoid … and therefore, a Muslim is neither allowed to celebrate the Christmas Day nor is he allowed to congratulate them”.
Many Muslim leaders, including the Grand Mufti of Australia, Ibrahim Abu Mohammad, and the spokesman for the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, Keysar Trad, were shocked by the post and said the foundations of Islam were peace, co-operation and respect.
”Removing the post was the right thing to do,” Mr Trad said. ”I think people have to understand that Muslims are part and parcel of Australian society and we share the joys of our neighbours regardless of their religion.”
The Reverend Dr Brian Brown, Moderator of the Uniting Church Synod of NSW and the ACT, said most Muslim leaders were ”overwhelmingly in favour of harmony”.
”Christmas is more appropriately a time to celebrate our unity in our wonderful multicultural and multi-faith community,” he said.
Mr Dandan strongly denied that Sheikh Safi delivered a similar message during Friday prayers.
In a recording of the 40-minute lecture posted online, Sheikh Safi spoke in English about Christmas and New Year’s Eve for 70 seconds yet one attendee, who did not wish to be identified, said people were ”outraged” at his words and hotly debated them outside the mosque.
Sheikh Safi said it was an act of ”disbelief” for a Muslim to have a Christmas tree in their house and he forbade celebrating New Year’s Eve.
Mr Dandan said his organisation visited other churches at Christmas. ”We wish everyone a Merry Christmas,” he said.