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Faith in open debate

By Ruth Limkin - posted Thursday, 23 December 2004


Until recently, vilification, for me, was just a word in the dictionary. It sounded relatively impressive and slightly sinister. However, last Friday, it took on a whole new meaning.

For on that day, a Brisbane ministerial colleague was found guilty of having vilified Muslims in Victoria’s Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

What had he done? Had he run through the streets saying all Muslims should die? Had he created a piece of artwork associating obscene things with Allah? No. He had conducted a seminar to help Christians understand the Islamic faith. It was six months after September 11 and there were many questions being asked about Islam.

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Various public statements were made by Muslims either condoning or supporting what had occurred. Even Anthony Mundine wanted to jump into the public debate. In a small public relations disaster, however, he indicated that the perpetrators of this act were following the Koran. This was quickly addressed in the public arena, and I assume, the private arena too.

To facilitate some understanding of the Islamic faith, according to its religious texts, a Christian ministry in Victoria invited a speaker well versed in those texts to conduct a seminar. This speaker, Daniel Scot, a Pakistani-born pastor living in Queensland, had run many seminars such as these to help congregations understand Islam.

The seminar was well-attended, the participants including three Australian Muslim converts who attended on behalf of the Islamic Council of Victoria. They left before the conclusion apparently offended by what they had heard, and together with the Islamic Council, filed a complaint under Victoria’s Racial and Religious Tolerance Act.

After several years of failed conciliation talks, and an expensive lengthy court case, this came to a conclusion of sorts when Judge Higgins brought down the verdict last Friday, on the very last day of sitting for the year.

He found that the speaker and the pastor of the church who held the seminar, Danny Nalliah, were guilty of vilifying Muslims. The penalty will not be decided until later in January. The judge has already stated that he will not consider a jail sentence, and he may simply order an apology, there is also no maximum fine in this case.

Interestingly, Judge Higgins found that a seminar run by a Christian church, with a Christian pastor, designed for the religious instruction of other Christians, was not given exemption under the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act. This, despite the fact that the Act allows for exemption when an action is conducted "reasonably and in good faith ... for any genuine academic, artistic, religious or scientific purpose" or in the public interest.

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Now anyone who has done a comparative religion course at high school knows that it is relatively common practice to investigate other religions, and in doing so, to look at their texts.

We may have to review that. In this seminar Scot referred to the Koran and the Hadiths, reading out verses and explaining them.

Scot has studied the Koran for many years, doing comparative studies between the Holy Texts of the Islamic and the Christian faiths. However, the barrister for the Islamic Council of Victoria successfully argued that publicly reading out verses from the Koran, which reflect poorly on Islam, is, in fact, vilification. He asserted that the truth is no defense.

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A shorter version of this article was first published in The Courier-Mail on December 21, 2004.



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About the Author

Ruth Limkin is a pastor at Northside Christian Church, a contemporary church in the northern suburbs of Brisbane.

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