Sukhmeet Grewal: Australian Muslims Stand In Solidarity With Sikhs Fighting Kirpan Ban, Clarifying Earlier Harmful Statements
“This isolated school incident should not be sensationalised to the point of marginalising or offending a peaceful faith community,” urged AFIC President Dr. Rateb Jneid
May 21, 2021 | 3 min. read | Original Reporting
In a recent media release regarding the NSW Kirpan school ban, the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC) expressed that they “are friends with the Sikh community” and more importantly, that “they will stand by [The Sikh Community] in the protection of [their] religious symbols”.
“This isolated school incident should not be sensationalised to the point of marginalising or offending a peaceful faith community,” urged AFIC President Dr. Rateb Jneid.
This makes the AFIC the first major non-Sikh faith organization to side with the community in fighting the ban.
The public statement comes after AFIC’s CEO, Keysar Trad, as well as Parramatta Mosque Vice-President Neil El-Kadomi, were quoted in a Daily Telegraph story which argued that the Muslim community supported NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell’s announcement that “all school students will be banned from bringing knives to school, even for religious reasons”.
El-Kadomi was referred to as the President and Chairman of the Parramatta Mosque by the Daily Telegraph, which Baaz has now confirmed is the wrong title.
Sikhs at the time took to social media to denounce the quotes found in the article with some even questioning whether Sikhs should engage in future solidarity efforts with other communities.
Others questioned why the Daily Telegraph would publish a piece centering the Muslim community’s reaction, rather than the statement put out by the Australian Sikh Association (ASA), which was co-signed by over 60 different affiliated Sikh organisations, calling “upon the state government to withdraw the ban and work alongside Sikh organisations to arrive at a workable solution...one that maintains the right to practice our religion”.
The Daily Telegraph is a conservative outlet, connected to Rupert Murdoch.
In a discussion with Baaz, El-Kadomi identifies that quotes attributed to him in The Daily Telegraph lacked crucial context. The reporters had allegedly not asked him about the recent Kirpan issue when he articulated that “We condemn anybody carrying weapons into school … There is no need to carry knives,” rather the conversation was on a much more general scale.
Further, El-Kadomi reiterated that the local Sikh community has his “full support”.
“I stand strongly with the Sikhs and the local Sikh community,” he said, going on to apologise for “any hurt caused”.
In the new AFIC statement, Trad is quoted saying, “We appeal to society to respect the religious symbols of the Sikh community, including the Kirpan...and not allow one incident in response to overwhelming bullying to divert us from needs of our education system or to attack a minority”.
This statement is a far cry from what the Daily Telegraph earlier attributed to Trad.
In correspondence received by Baaz, Trad emphasised that mainstream society, media, and other religious organisations do not have a right to comment on the appropriateness of who can or cannot carry a Kirpan, as such decisions were for the Sikh community alone.
As for the comments that did appear in the Daily Telegraph, a spokesperson for AFIC shared that “we understand [the Sikh community’s] concern and we do apologise for any unintended offence that may have been caused.”
Members of the Sikh community did reach out to and educate AFIC on the issue, after the Daily Telegraph story was published and before the new clear statement in support for the Kirpan was issued by the organization.
Sikhs involved in fighting the ban shared with Baaz that public statements of solidarity from other communities are essential in fighting human rights infringements, and they are pleased that Muslim community leaders have now clarified earlier positions after taking the time to learn more about the lived experiences of Sikhs in Australia.
Sukhmeet Grewal hails from Melbourne, Australia, and is currently studying to obtain his Masters in Culture and the Creative Industries. He is also the co-founder of “We Sikh Justice”, a Sikh youth collective based in Melbourne focused on education, advocacy, and sewa. You can find him on Twitter at @Sukhmeet_Grewal.
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