It is a measure of this country's confidence in its Muslim communities that it comes as a surprise to learn clerics are being sent from Egypt to bring a moderating influence to mosques and Islamic centres here as well as in other Western countries. One security observer, Paul Buchanan, called it "perplexing". Beyond the possibility of "one or two hotheads", radicalisation was not a problem here, he says. "Australia has a radicalisation problem, we do not." He can be that categorical because if diatribes against the West and its religion and values were being delivered in mosques and learning centres here, it would be news - just as it has been in Britain, Australia and some other places.
The moderation and maturity of Muslims in New Zealand was evident once again in their response to the Egyptian initiative. Rather than express fearful resentment at the implication they needed a moderating influence, the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand welcomed the imams as emissaries from Egypt's Al-Azhar university, the oldest and most respected seat of learning in Sunni Islam. Egypt's Government is sponsoring this mission to the world and it ought to be welcomed by all concerned.
Islam has struggled to express a moderate view to the world to disown the deadly acts done in its name and the distortions of its beliefs and texts that lie behind them. Jihadism appears to be a wholly Sunni affliction with its roots in Saudi Arabia but it is at war not only with Shia Islam and non-Muslims but also the Sunni mainstream.
Unlike the Shia branch with its authoritative religious leaders in Iran and Iraq, Sunni seem to have no hierarchy able to rule on misrepresentations of their religion and correct the worst impressions given to the world. Some of the words and deeds of Shia authorities, unfortunately, have added to these impressions.
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The Al-Azhar missionaries may be heard only inside mosques and Islamic gatherings, and may be preaching to the converted, so to speak. But if their message of moderation does not percolate to the world outside it might at least strengthen the resistance to radicalism within. That was the hope of Egypt's dictatorial President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi when he spoke at Al-Azhar last year. "You, imams, are responsible before Allah," he told them. They had to deal with a "source of anxiety, danger, killing and destruction for the rest of the world. The entire world," he said, "is waiting for your next word".
It is indeed. The imams of Egypt's global initiative will have opportunities to talk publicly in Western countries. When they do it is to be hoped they realise moderate, reasonable, measured religious views are not interesting to most people unless they address hateful attitudes in equally robust terms. Gentle understanding will not cut the mustard.
People everywhere have been waiting a long time for the reassurance that Islam remains the peaceful religion it is said to be. New Zealanders need to know we are not unusually blessed by the goodwill of Muslims in our midst. May Egypt's mission help us remain so.
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