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Muslim leaders in pay of Saudis

Richard Kerbaj

The Australian, Sydney

May 19, 2008


http://www.theaustr 0,25197,23720181 -5013404, 00.html  

SIX Australian-based Muslim clerics who are leaders of the Islamic community in the country are on the payroll of the Saudi Government, receiving allowances of up to $2000 a month.  

The Australian can reveal for the first time the identity of the clerics - some paid through the Saudi embassy in Canberra, others directly from Riyadh's Dawah (preaching) Office - who receive between 3500 and 7000 Saudi riyal ($1975) a month.

The payments to the six - who include former Howard government adviser Amin Hady and Melbourne Somali imam Isse Musse - are part of Saudi Arabia's multi-billion- dollar campaign to transform its hardline image in the West.

However, Sheik Hady told The Australian there were as many as 14 others in the country being paid by the Saudis.

The other four clerics on the list provided early last year by the embassy to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade are understood to be Yousef Hussein, from al-Taqwa Mosque in Melbourne's southwest; Indian imam Mohammad Anas, from Auburn's Omar Mosque in Sydney's west; Mohammad Mahet Dahir, from the Albanian Australian Islamic Society; and West Australian Somali community leader Mohammad Abdullah Ahmed.

Security contacts say ASIO held no concerns about the clerics.

Saudi Arabia has pumped more than $120 million into Australia since the 1970s to fund mosques, Islamic groups and clerics to propagate Wahhabism, the puritanical brand of Islam espoused by al-Qa'ida.

The Malaysian and Indonesian governments have also funded Islamic initiatives in Australia.

Sheik Hady defended the allowance he has received since his arrival in Australia more than 25 years ago, saying it came with no strings attached.

"So far, they never tell any of the preachers what to say and what to do," said the Indonesian imam at Zetland Mosque, in Sydney's inner south.

"We are fully independent of what we do ... they never instruct that this is what we should teach and this is what we should not. "I don't think there is any notion with Wahhabism being imposed by anyone."

He refused to be drawn on how much money he received from the Saudis, but said there were as many as 20 clerics on Riyadh's books. "There are many - there are 15 to 20 people," he said.

While Sheik Hady refused to name others on the Saudi payroll, it is understood that Canberra cleric Mohammad Swaiti - revealed in April last year praising jihadists in a sermon - was being paid by Riyadh.

Sheik Hussein said he dealt directly with Riyadh's Dawah Office, which employed him on its programs to teach Islam before he migrated to Australia 23 years ago.

The Jordanian-born imam, a graduate of Saudi Arabia's Islamic University of Madinah, said he gave his allowance from Riyadh to the community.

"There's an opinion about taking money for teaching Koran and is it halal (permissible) or haram (forbidden), " he said in an interview conducted in Arabic and English.

Asked if he received any orders about what to preach, he said: "No, we're Muslim, we don't say what we want, we say what the Koran and the prophet Mohammed want us to understand and to say, and that is what we teach the people. We don't teach people our opinion."

Sheik Dahir migrated to Australia a decade ago after graduating from King Saud University in Riyadh, and admitted having received an allowance from the embassy, but said he was no longer on the payroll.

Sheik Anas said he received an "irregular" monthly clerical allowance of between $1500 and $1600 for "for the betterment of Muslims on the grounds of religious education".

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