Islam push for Australian-bred leaders

Sydney, Australia - THREE more Muslim schools are on the drawing board for Sydney within the next six years in a drive to develop home-grown religious leaders.

And the backlash against the proposed Islamic school at Camden would not stop plans to build more, a Muslim educator said yesterday.

Forum on Australia's Islamic Relations vice-president Silma Ihram said the push to open new schools was important for establishing Australian imams.

Ms Ihram, an Australian-born convert and the former principal of Noor al Houda Islamic College, said many of the controversial statements by Muslim leaders in Australia over the past two years had been made by religious figures "imported" from overseas.

"The difficulty we've got is that if you want to be an imam there is nowhere in Australia to learn - that's why we're getting imported imams," said Ms Ihram, who is a consultant for the controversial Camden school.

"You have to leave the country to get that education - that's difficult. It's a huge risk. You don't know really what influence some of these teachers will have - it could be positive or it could be negative."

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The mother of six said even religious leaders raised in Australia - but who were trained overseas - often had difficulty marrying their religious leaning to Australian culture.

The proposed new schools would bring the total number of Islamic schools in Sydney to 16. Nationwide there are about 30 Islamic schools.

Ms Ihram said other existing schools may also be expanded and moved to other sites.

The application to build an Islamic school for 1200 students in Camden has met with strong community opposition.

The council received more than 3000 submissions on the application - most of them opposing it. No decision has been made on the application.