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Ilhan's Islam: honesty, integrity and generosity

By Irfan Yusuf - posted Monday, 29 October 2007

It was big news in cricket-crazy South Africa. Champion Australian leg spinner Shane Warne would have to miss the pre-tournament engagements for this weekend's Hong Kong Sixes competition.

One South African news website reported on Thursday morning the following statement of the organisers: "Shane was expected at a kids' cricket training clinic here today, but he has delayed travelling to Hong Kong after this personal matter ... We are 100 per cent assured that Shane will be able to take full part in the weekend's games".

Around lunchtime yesterday Warne and his ex-wife joined Eddie McGuire and others of Australia's business and sporting elite. They weren't enjoying a few down at the local or dining in Lygon Street. Instead, they'd joined 4000 worshippers at Melbourne's Broadmeadows Mosque.


One of the founders of the mosque also attended. Ali Ilhan is an engineer by training. Before migrating to Australia to escape political upheaval in his country, Professor Ilhan was associate dean at a Turkish university. Unable to find work in his profession, Ilhan obtained work where he could in the nearby Ford factory.

Only God knows how the good professor and his wife were feeling at this time. They were forced to cut short their holiday to Turkey after receiving a phone call that their second son, John Mustafa, had died of a heart attack at the age of 42.

Also present at the mosque were a typical Aussie Muslim woman and her children. Patricia Ilhan farewelled her husband who had written about her in these simple words on Australia Day: "I met an Australian girl from Hawthorn who became my wife and now we are a loving family of six following the recent proud birth of our son".

Many of those who gathered at Broadmeadows for Ilhan's jenaza nemaz (funeral prayer) and at parallel services in mosques across Australia would have never met Crazy John.

John Mustafa Ilhan has become a symbol of Australian Islam. By actively participating in mainstream Australian life, Ilhan was being more true to his religious heritage and more representative of his fellow believers than thick-Sheiks who think the West is too decadent for Muslims.

Around the time Ilhan passed away, one newspaper published a column from one of its extensive array of monoculturalist commentators which spoke about the long-running battle between Islam and modernity. Ilhan's life, of course, was a slap in the face to those whose minds are consumed with a grand intergalactic clash between a mythical monolithic Islam and an even more mythical monolithic West.


Ilhan's Islam was about hard work and free enterprise. It was also about supporting and promoting good work in the broader community. Ilhan recognised that a good Muslim was first and foremost a good human being who joined with other human beings in charitable work. Ilhan's support for charities such as St Vincent de Paul spoke much of those religious values which are universally regarded as good and wholesome. At the same time, Ilhan was a passionate supporter of AFL, pumping millions into two clubs.

Australian Muslims have been at the heart of mainstream Australia for 150 years, producing the likes of John Ilhan (founder of mobile phone empire Crazy John's) and Ahmed Fahour (National Australia Bank chief executive). Aussie-born Muslims are partners in law firms, heads of university faculties and hold high positions in government departments and agencies.

These people represent the real face of Australian Islam. They have few, if any, links to overseas governments, and have a greater stake in Australia's security. And these people need to come out of the halal closet and not allow fear of vilification from cultural warriors or fringe thick-Sheiks stop them from laying claim to their faith or heritage.

Ilhan defined his values in a profile published in the August 2005 edition of the Australian Financial Review magazine. That profile mentioned how Ilhan carries his Islamic faith with him, every day applying what he sees as basic tenets of honesty and integrity to his business. Hands up all those non-Muslims who are offended by these values.

At just 42, this young man had everything to live for. It might sound oxymoronic, but death is a fact of life. Death doesn't discriminate or make allowances for people's dreams and plans. When asked by his followers how they should cleanse the rust of sins from their heart, the Prophet Muhammad responded: "Kathratu dhikkrul mawth ... (Frequent remembrance of death ...)".

People across Australia are struggling to find words to express their shock at Ilhan's death. My humble suggestion is that they recite this simple verse from the Koran, whose equivalent can no doubt be found in the scriptures of other faiths also. Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi rajiun. From God we come, and to God is our return.

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First published in The Canberra Times on 27 October, 2007

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About the Author

Irfan Yusuf is a New South Wales-based lawyer with a practice focusing on workplace relations and commercial dispute resolution. Irfan is also a regular media commentator on a variety of social, political, human rights, media and cultural issues. Irfan Yusuf's book, Once Were Radicals: My Years As A Teenage Islamo-Fascist, was published in May 2009 by Allen & Unwin.

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