Downer denies snubbing mufti

THE Federal Government today denied snubbing Australia's most senior Muslim leader by excluding him from a multi-faith religious delegation to Indonesia.

The government will send an interfaith delegation to Indonesia next month for talks on how to combat extreme Islamic terrorism.

The Australian delegation will include Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, but not the senior Muslim leader, Mufti of Australia, Sheik Taj el-Din al Hilaly.

The Mufti, through his spokesman Keyser Trad, said the sheik's exclusion from the delegation was partly because Foreign Minister Alexander Downer was a "racist" and "vindictive" man.

But Mr Downer rejected the criticism today, saying the government could not invite everybody for the interfaith talks in Java on December 6.

"Muslim Australia will be represented and there will be different types of Christians, there will be Jewish representation - we can't have everybody," Mr Downer told reporters in Adelaide today.

"I don't think Australia should fall into an unseemly squabble about who is invited and who is not invited.

"I think as long as we have credible people who make a contribution to Australia, that is good.

"This is not about giving preference to one person or another person within Australia.

"This is about making sure that moderate religious leaders from around the region are able to get together and to promote the message of moderate spirituality as one of the ways of fighting terrorism."

The Mufti, who is imam at the Lakemba mosque in Sydney, angered the Government earlier this year when he reportedly said in a speech in Lebanon that the September 11, 2001, terror attack on the United States was "God's work against oppressors".

Supporters of the Mufti have disputed the translation of his speech.

Australia will send 10 delegates to the Indonesian meeting, comprising six Christians plus representatives from the Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist and Hindu faiths.