Reaching out to Muslim youth


With the recent Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris and the siege in Sydney’s Lindt Café fresh in the collective consciousness, a preoccupation in Western countries at the moment is how to prevent the radicalisation of Muslim youth.

The man featured here is at the forefront of efforts in Australia to educate young Muslims in an enlightened version of their faith, and help them become good productive citizens.

Imam Afroz Ali is an influential leader and teacher in the Australian Muslim community, and has devoted much of his working life to establishing and running Muslim educational institutes specifically aimed at youth and young adults.

In this interview he speaks candidly about his reaction to the recent tragedies in France and Australia, and the ongoing atrocities of ISIS, how to reach out to Muslim youth and to non-Muslims reacting in fear to these crises, and what sustains him in this demanding work.  

Afroz Ali is of Indian Fijian extraction, and migrated to Australia from Fiji with his family in 1980. He studied architecture at university and, after completing his degree, early in his career as an architect, had a spiritual crisis. This caused him to look more deeply into his religion and change direction to his present vocation as educator.

He acknowledges his father as a major influence in realising the importance of enlightened education, and enlightened teachers. As he says of his father, ‘This powerful relationship with a man who was both friend and father inspired a deep understanding of the power of role models and leaders to nurture excellence in an individual.’

He undertook religious studies in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Yemen and Mauritania, and became a devotee of well-known American progressive Muslim leader, Sheik Hamza Yusuf Hanson, spending time at the Sheik’s centre near San Francisco.

In Australia he realised there were few Muslim organisations that offered traditional Islamic learning at a deeper level, or that actively sought contact and dialogue with the broader Australian community.

To realise these goals, early in 2001 Afroz Ali founded the Al-Ghazzali Centre for Islamic Sciences and Human Development in Lakemba in south-western Sydney, the heartland of Sydney’s Muslim community. 

He named the centre after well-known Sufi and theologian, Abu Hamid Al-Ghazzali who lived in the eleventh and early twelfth century and wrote hundreds of works on theology, mysticism and Islamic jurisprudence.

Recently he joined with a number of other like-minded Muslim scholars around the world and founded Seekers Hub, a global educational institute, and the Al-Ghazzali Centre has been incorporated in this broader institution. He is the first Managing Director of Seekers Hub that has centres in Sydney and Toronto, with plans to open more soon in London and New York.


Part 1 (10'15")

Part 2 (6'43")

Peter KirkwoodPeter Kirkwood is a freelance writer and video consultant with a master's degree from the Sydney College of Divinity.

Topic tags: Peter Kirkwood, Imam Afroz Ali, Islam, fundamentalism, youth, Charlie Hebdo, Lindt Cafe



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Existing comments

Peter Kirkwood recommends Imam Afroz Ali who “became a devotee of well-known American progressive Muslim leader, Sheik Hamza Yusuf Hanson, spending time at the Sheik’s centre near San Francisco.” The Muslim scholar, Stephen Schwartz, describes Hanson as “The ‘Sufi’ Master of Deceit.” Schwartz says that before 9/11, Hanson was “known for his high-pitched, hysterical rhetoric in denouncing America”; described Judaism as “a most racist religion”; and two days before 9/11 said “This country unfortunately has a great, a great tribulation coming to it.” However after 9/11, “a seemingly new Hamza Yusuf Hanson appeared…parading as an alleged adviser to President George W Bush…(and) began lecturing on Sufism, or Islamic spirituality” but that he remains “alienated and hostile to the common values that will bring repudiation of extremism and acceptance in American religious life for moderate Islam.”
Ross Howard | 20 January 2015

Get over it. The reality is that self-declared 'Imam' Afroz Ali is taken infinitely more seriously by non-Muslim media commentators that he is by Muslims of any age group in Sydney. He has zero credibility with the overwhelming majority of Muslim youth.
Paul White | 21 January 2015

Am surprised and disappointed by the two reactions - won't call them responses - to Peter's article. I personally have had the wonderful gift of time to talk and share with Muslim people living with us here in this country for a good few years, and sharing the life of one family in particular. My response to the Sydney siege - impressed by how we came together to support each other from all backgrounds and cultures - a big step forward, as we come away from the sadness of those whose lives were most impacted by it in our community. Also think we need seriously to consider what our country-women and men offer as positive incentives to inter-faith initiatives. Also, re-examine how positive the images of many of our movie and TV present to challenge and inspire young Muslims, along with many others of different faiths and none. Many offerings are militaristic and combative, to put it mildly. And ;wi -fi' games are usually played with swords, tasers and lasers!! God/Allah/ Yahweh help us!! Lynne
Lynne Green | 21 January 2015

I don't think most Muslim youth here in Australia need 'reaching out to.' From my own experience, where the Australian Muslim home is one which is open to and receptive of democratic values and institutions, liberal education and a sense of being stakeholders in this country, there is a healthy ownership and commitment to citizenship. As for those who are or have been radicalised, I think that it is a phase which will pass within a few generations when modernity and a democratic environment begin to have effect. As for a small proportion of dysfunctional Muslim youth, it is not Islam which is the social context or driver of their agitation, it is monumental lack of education and deep exposure to a criminal culture. The fact that Muslim criminals are now doing their deals with Chinese drug dealers, multi-ethnic bikies, and crooked cops proves that the criminal mind is portable and is not halted at religious boundaries. Eventually, the 'drive-by' gaol, the passing of generations will proved the solutions.
David Timbs | 21 January 2015

While I agree with David Timbs that Muslim young people don't generally require any specific outreach, I'm concerned that our civil society itself is losing a great deal of its strength. It isn't only Muslim youth who need to acquire the skills necessary for a healthy democracy. We all need to be able to argue rationally, admit our own presuppositions, listen civilly, and logically critique the dominant conversations of our society. Yet are young people still learning these skills? I'm beginning to doubt it, given the quite extraordinary polarization of attitudes around the events of recent years. Are rationality, logic and civil discourse still valued? If they are, David is right - the passing of generations will bring the answer. If not.....?
Joan Seymour | 21 January 2015

I am from the Muslim youth in Australia and am part of a 1000-strong youth organisation in Sydney. And we do listen to Imam Afroz's advice. I am sure there are many more, thank God.
Zahir Shah | 22 January 2015

it is not the Muslim communities we should be blaming but those in power who have allowed some/all of these radicals into our countries. Where is their blame????
Christine | 22 January 2015

Rather than spend time on judging Imam Afroz Ali why not spend time on reflecting on what's being said. These horrific acts of terror have nothing to do with Islam the religion and he has made that pretty clear in this interview. It IS education that the world needs to continue to relay the peaceful message of Islam so that others don't get brain washed by the garbage propaganda they hear from radicalist mentally ill individuals who are emotionally and violently charged claiming to be great scholars of a religion that believes in peace and mercy. Imam Afroz Ali spoke rationally and responded to each question with fair judgement. He and other Muslim Clerics/Leaders here in Sydney all share the same sentiment that those terrorist attacks were completely and utterly against the very fibre of the religion and doctrine of Islam. Read up on the life of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) to see how far from the truth these people of ISIS are in portraying the qualities of what a true Muslim should be! Peace to everyone and prayers for those affected by the events that occurred in Sydney and Paris.
Shakira | 22 January 2015


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