Fatwa on season's greetings rejected
(Translation of this article appears in Arabic section)
PROMINENT members of Australia's Muslim community have spurned a fatwa on Christmas greetings issued by the leader of the country's largest mosque, and intend to defy the sermon by handing out Christmas cards to asylum-seekers on Nauru.
Youssef Nabha, from the Masjid Arrahman Kingsgrove Mosque in Sydney, and community leader Jamal Rifi left for Nauru last night to inject as much festive hope as they could into the lives of those waiting in detention camps.
"This idea of a fatwa is totally wrong and it shouldn't have been said," Dr Rifi said.
"If wishing someone Merry Christmas is a sin, then I have sinned a thousand times and I'll do it again on Nauru."
Dr Rifi was present at the sermon, delivered by sheik Yahya Safi at the Lakemba Mosque in southwestern Sydney on Friday, and recalls an instant distaste for the sentiment.
The issue was discussed at dinner that night with the Grand Mufti of Australia, Ibrahim Abu Mohammad, and Christian church representatives.
The fatwa reportedly said Christmas leads to "falsehoods that a Muslim should avoid".
"Therefore a Muslim is neither allowed to celebrate the Christmas Day nor is he allowed to congratulate them.
Participating in the festivals of non-Muslims is a kind of co-operation in the disobedience of Allah."
A copy of the message was deleted from the Lakemba Mosque's Facebook page yesterday.
Sheik Nabha was in such disagreement with the suggested Christmas ban he suggested buying 400 Christmas cards for his and Dr Rifi's impending trip to Nauru.
There are 378 asylum-seekers being held on the island.
"From a humanitarian point of view, it is good to share in the festive spirit," Sheik Nabha told The Australian. "I didn't feel uncomfortable writing Happy Christmas on each of the cards.
"On the contrary, I insisted on it, because it shows respect for other religions the same way they show respect for us.
"We respect the Prophet (Jesus) and his followers.
"God and his mighty book the Koran spoke many times of the miracle of Jesus's birth."
Dr Rifi is a member of the Immigration Minister's Council on Asylum Seekers and Detention and said he wants to see for himself the conditions in which asylum-seekers are living.
"Of course the timing, at Christmas, has major significance for us because it is a time we all want to spend with our families," he said.
"I have a very close knowledge of what the conditions are like but I want to see the tents and the dust and the effect of the humidity.
"No matter how much you read about it, you still have to feel it. You have to talk face-to-face to people to see the dimension of their suffering and tragedy.
"We are looking forward to putting even a little ray of hope in their lives, reminding them they are not forgotten and we are following their welfare day-by-day."
Dr Rifi and Sheik Nabha were happy to pay the cost of the trip, but accepted an offer from the federal government to fly them to Nauru.
"But we paid for the Christmas cards," Sheik Nabha said.
The pair will return in time for Friday prayers.