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In 2021, the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC) stated in a media release that they are friends with the Sikh community. And more importantly, they said that they would stand by the Sikh community in the protection of religious symbols adorned by Sikhs. The statement was made in response to criticism that the AFIC had made against the ban on the kirpan.

Eyebrow-raising incident discriminating against Sikhs 

The President of the AFIC, Dr Rateb Jneid, issued a strong plea to the media, saying that "this isolated school event should not be sensationalised to the point of marginalising or insulting a peaceful faith group."

This public statement was issued after the CEO of AFIC, Keysar Trad, as well as the Vice-President of the Parramatta Mosque, Neil El-Kadomi, was quoted in an article published by the Daily Telegraph. The article argued that the Muslim community supported the announcement made by the NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell, which stated that "all school students will be banned from bringing knives to school, even for religious reasons."

Sikhs, at the time, turned to social media to protest the quotations that were included in the piece, and some of them even questioned whether or not Sikhs should participate in future solidarity activities with other communities.

The debate 

Others questioned why the Daily Telegraph would publish an article centred on 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. The statement called "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 practise our religion."

El-Kadomi points out to Baaz that the quotes attributed to him in The Daily Telegraph were taken out of context. He reportedly hadn't been asked about kirpan by the reporters when he said, "We condemn anyone who brings weapons to school... There's no need to carry knives," but the conversation was about a lot more than just knives.

El-Kadomi also said again that the Sikh community in the area has his "full support." He said, "I strongly support the Sikhs and the local Sikh community," and he apologised for "any hurt caused."

Baaz received correspondence from Trad, where he emphasized that only the Sikh community has the right to decide who can or cannot carry a kirpan, and mainstream society, media, and other religious organizations should not comment on its appropriateness.

A step towards accepting Sikh beliefs

AFIC spokesperson apologized for any unintended offence caused by the comments that appeared in the Daily Telegraph and expressed understanding of the concerns of the Sikh community.

The Sikh community educated AFIC about the kirpan issue after the Daily Telegraph story was published and before AFIC issued a clear statement in support of the kirpan.

According to Sikhs fighting the ban, public statements of solidarity from other communities are crucial in fighting human rights violations. They are happy that Muslim community leaders have clarified their positions after learning about the experiences of Sikhs in Australia.

 

*Based on an article by Sukhmeet Singh published on 21st May 2021

 

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