Hardline Muslim groups are targeting the mainstream Turkish-Australian community in Auburn, writes Justin Norrie.
MANY Turkish-Australians were stunned to hear that one of their own was allegedly involved in an attack on a Muslim convert.
Tolga Cifci, 20, was one of three men charged this month over the attack on Christian Martinez, who was allegedly lashed 40 times with an electric cable as a religious punishment under sharia for drinking alcohol.
The Sun-Herald understands that Mr Cifci’s father, a successful local businessman, became concerned last year when his son fell under the influence of hardliners who had recently arrived in the area.
Attempts to prise him away from the group failed.
The general manager of the Auburn-based Affinity Intercultural Foundation, Ahmet Keskin, said that ”people around here could hardly believe that a Turk might be involved in that [incident] because this is an extremely tolerant community.
”Turkish Muslims preach love and acceptance, like the overwhelming majority of Muslims.”
Auburn is the heartland of Sydney’s Turkish community. But in the past 18 months at least three new Muslim groups, including the Auburn Islamic Centre, have set up operations in the suburb, a documentary-maker and peace activist, Kuranda Seyit, said.
Mr Seyit, the director of the Forum on Australia’s Islamic Relations, said one of them, loosely supervised by the controversial Sheikh Feiz Mohammad at the Bukhari House Islamic Book Store, had been trying to recruit emotionally vulnerable young men of Turkish heritage.
A plan by another, the Islamic Dawah Centre of Australia, to build a large mosque on a $1.8 million, 3882-square-metre plot on Chisholm Road, is considered the latest example of the push into the area.
Mr Seyit said all the groups practised Salafism – considered a hardline Islam embracing a literal reading of the Koran and rejects many mainstream scholarly interpretations.
”If you look at this particular Salafi group [belonging to Sheikh Feiz] – in the past 12 months, you can see there has been an increase in their activities in Auburn, which has more Muslims now than Lakemba,” Mr Seyit said. ”Strategically they’ve decided to move to western Sydney to recruit people from an area populated by tolerant, Turkish Muslims.
”You have to remember that Salafis are a tiny minority in the Muslim community and their beliefs are not in any way representative of the majority.
”But I do worry that their influence will increase as they try to push their ideology here.” Some anxious parents have begun sending their children to Turkey for long periods to steer them away from Salafi influences, one leading figure said on condition of anonymity.
Staff at the Bukhari House Islamic Book Store would not answer questions last week and a man who answered Sheikh Feiz’s mobile phone claimed to be called ”Abdullah” and refused to discuss the matter.
Sheikh Feiz has caused controversy by referring to Jews as pigs and saying children should be encouraged to take up jihad. He has apologised for the former comment and said the latter was misunderstood.
The president of the Islamic Dawah Centre of Australia, Ihssan Wehbe, said he was reluctant to use the world ”Salafi” when describing his way of Islam.
”My approach is simply the true approach,” he said. ”There’s no tension between the Lebanese and Turkish Muslims in Auburn,” Mr Wehbe said.
”Religion is about education and understanding and, if there’s a problem, we can sit down around the table and talk about it.”
But Levent Gunaydin, a spokesman for the suburb’s moderate Gallipoli mosque, predicted that ”these things [the alleged attack on Mr Martinez] are going to happen more and more because they’re coming into Auburn”.
”It’s still isolated and the numbers of these people are minuscule but their influence is increasing here,” Mr Gunaydin said.
”You cannot have sharia law in Australia.”