London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Australia’s Grand Mufti denounced the actions of a Muslim gunman who held more than a dozen people hostage in a café in downtown Sydney on Monday, as Australians took to social media to rally against Islamophobia.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat the Mufti, Ibrahim Abu Mohamed, described the actions of Man Haron Monis, and Iranian-born convert to Sunni Islam, as “unacceptable.”
“Australia’s Muslims are just as shocked as all Australians” by the events of the siege, he added.
Monis, aged 50, was killed along with two of his hostages in the early hours of Tuesday local time, when police stormed the café after several shots were heard and a number of hostages were seen fleeing the building.
“Whatever the circumstances of this act and its perpetrator, it is against the values, ethics and law of Islam,” the Grand Mufti told Asharq Al-Awsat.
“We call for the centrist approach of Islam everywhere, and what happened is an extremist act that does not represent Islam whatsoever,” he added.
Monis, who had previously been convicted of sending hate mail to the families of Australian soldiers killed in Afghanistan, forced some of his hostages to hoist an Islamic flag in the window of the café, prompting speculation that he was acting on behalf of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
However, the Australian authorities say they have uncovered no evidence of a connection between Monis and any Islamic movements abroad.
Australian society was recently shocked earlier this year by news that several dozen Australian citizens have travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight alongside ISIS. This, together with Australia’s participation in the military coalition against ISIS, has raised fears of a terrorist attack on Australian soil among officials in the country’s security services.
Monis, who was out on bail on charges of being an accessory to the murder of his ex-wife at the time of Monday’s siege, was also reported to have been facing multiple charges of sexual assault. He was given political asylum in Australia in 1996, but came to be viewed with suspicion by other Australian Muslims who encountered him.
“This man is damaged goods. He came across as someone with a serious mental illness,” Keysar Trad, founder of the Islamic Friendship Association of Australia, told am Australian TV channel on Monday.
The Grand Mufti also called on Australia’s Muslims to resist any attempts to stigmatize or scapegoat them in the wake of the attack.
“We do not apologize and express guilt for something that we did not do,” he said. “The Muslim community has learnt that it is capable of absorbing events such as this, because we are part of the fabric of Australian society.”
As the siege unfolded throughout Monday and early Tuesday, a Twitter hashtag, #illridewithyou, began to trend on the service after one Australian woman, Sydney resident Tessa Kum, offered to ride on public transport with Muslims wearing Islamic dress in order to reassure those who fear becoming victims of Islamophobic attacks.
The story was also taken up by the international media and other Twitter users, propelling it to the top of the list of hashtags trending globally, according to a BBC report, while other Australians also took to Twitter to make similar pledges.
Mohammed Al-Shafey contributed reporting from London