Egypt (HRNW): Muslim groups reject Egyptian ambassador’s claim mosques need to be ‘taken over’ saying recent influx due to growing Muslim population Egypt’s ambassador to New Zealand has caused upset among Muslim groups by saying imams are being sent from his country to “take control” of mosques.
Ambassador Tarek al-Wasimy told that three imams were waiting on visas to enter New Zealand and fight radicalisation of Muslims in the country.
“We don’t want anything to happen here like what has happened in Belgium, Paris, Madrid or London so we are sending imams to explain Islam and to take control of Islamic centres and mosques here,” Wasimy said.
There are 50,000 Muslims in New Zealand and they are the fastest growing religious group in the country.
But Tahir Nawaz, president of the International Muslim Association of New Zealand, said imams had been sent from Al-Azhar University in Egypt for “more than a decade” and the recent influx was simply a response to New Zealand’s increasing Muslim population, which will be further bolstered by an intake of 600 Syrian refugees over the next two years.
“New Zealand has always been at very low risk of Muslim radicals,” he said.
“Kiwi Muslims are quite upfront and honest about calling out behaviour that is not moderate and appropriate.”
“Imams help lead the religious community, they lead prayers and provide support and guidance. With New Zealand’s increasing Muslim population, their services are needed more now than ever.”
Hazim Arafeh, president of the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand, said hundreds of imams were sent around the world every year and their increasing numbers in New Zealand were not a reflection of a rise in radicalisation.
“New Zealand does not have a problem with radical Muslims at all. If there are any they are the absolute minority and not on the rise,” said Arafeh.
“The offer was made to us for more imams to come to New Zealand this year and we accepted it. Our mosques are not being taken over in any way or controlled, that is very misleading and inaccurate.”
Alexander Gillespie, a professor of international law at Waikato University, said Al-Azhar had been sending imams abroad “for a thousand years” and the practice was akin to Christian missionaries travelling the world.
“I don’t see New Zealand Muslims as more or less radical than anyone else. Having more imams here can only be seen as a positive move though because the chance for face-to-face, open dialogue is the best defence against radicalisation.”
The Guardian contacted the Egyptian embassy in New Zealand but was told the ambassador was not available for comment.