Australia's Grand Mufti remembered as a popular visionary


Sheikh Abdel Aziem Al-Afifi is being remembered as a community builder, who worked to bridge the Muslim community and the wider Australian society.

Five thousand people are expected to attend Thursday's funeral for Sheikh Abdel Aziem Al-Afifi, who has died after a long battle with cancer. 

Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Azeem al-Afifi died in a Melbourne hospital before dawn on Wednesday, the Australian National Imams Council said in a statement.

"Sheikh Abdel Aziem Al-Afifi has dedicated himself to serving the Australian Muslim Community for over 20 years," it said.

The sheikh, a founding member of the council, was only elected as Grand Mufti in March.

He had been ill for some time.

The Egyptian-born scholar arrived in Australia in 2000, falling in love with the country and eventually settling in Melbourne. 

He wasted no time in getting involved in the Muslim community, teaching at the Al Taqwa College in Melbourne's west.

'He's like a pope to us'

Founding principal Omar Hallak said his counsel will be sorely missed.

"It's not easy to cry but I cry for him," he told SBS News. "I have very deep sympathy for his family and children."

Others at the college said they are saddened by the loss of a colleague, mentor and guide.

Members of the Muslim community pay tribute to Sheikh Abdel Aziem Al-Afifi.
Members of the Muslim community pay tribute to Sheikh Abdel Aziem Al-Afifi.

"It is very sad for us," worshipper Hussam Hallak said. "It is like a piece of Australia is gone. He's like a pope to us, very high to us."

"It is a huge loss for us, especially for the younger generation," said worshipper Imtaz Hossain. "He always taught us to unite and how to do peaceful things."

'A visionary and statesman'

The Executive Director of the Islamic Council of Victoria, Nail Aykan, said the Grand Mufti's commitment and service to the community will not be forgotten.  

"We see him as a genuine community leader. A statesman with a vision. Someone who wanted to plan for the next decade," he said. 

"His priority was social cohesion. He was not only a community builder but he was able to be a bridge between the Muslim community and the wider society."

Australian Multicultural Foundation Executive Director Hass Dellal told AAP the Grand Mufti was a "great person" with his youth work and promotion of Australian Muslims' contributions to leave "a lasting legacy".

Al Taqwa College.
Al Taqwa College.

"He was really a very genuine person and was really respected by many Muslims and the wider Australian community. [His death] was a shock even though we had known he was ill," Dr Dellal OAM said.

"He will be sorely missed not just by Australian Muslims. He was a great catalyst and brought people together and that was his real strength."

Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs Minister Alan Tudge expressed his sympathy.

"His ability to build relationships with a wide range of people saw him regarded as an effective leader and as a man of peace and good will," he said.

"His dedication to the Australian Muslim community over 20 years and work with young people was appreciated by Muslims across Australia."

Victorian Minister for Multicultural Affairs Robin Scott tweeted: "My condolences to the family of his Eminence the Grand Mufti of Australia Sheikh Abdel Aziem Al-Afifi and Muslim community. May he rest in peace".

Victorian acting premier James Merlino said the sheikh's service to the community is remarkable.

"His Eminence provided strong leadership and spiritual guidance to thousands of Australians," Mr Merlino said in a statement.

"His Eminence loved our nation and its people, and as a state, Victoria will miss his genuine and heartfelt friendship.

"The legacy of His Eminence will live on through the many contributions he made to our strong, multicultural and multifaith state and nation."

In the interim, the council will take on the Mufti's role until an emergency meeting, to be held within 15 days, decides on a new leader.


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