Dr Adis Duderija is a Senior Lecturer in the Study of Islam and Society, School of Humanities, Languages and Social Science ; Senior Fellow Centre for Interfaith and Intercultural Dialogue, Griffith University, Nathan, Queensland, Australia. Here, Dr Duderija shares an opinion piece about a Celebrity Muslim Preacher, Mohamed Hoblos.
The Persistence of Harmful Views:
Despite the gravity of his remarks, and several years after this, what I could only describe as shocking and truly appalling talk, I could not find any evidence online of any Imam in Australia who criticized his talk. To the contrary, a simple popular search engine reveals that Hoblos since 2017 and until as recently as July 2023 has repeatedly been given platforms to continue his public engagements and has been going on speaking tours throughout Australian mosques and Islamic societies including the Gold Coast mosque, Lakemba mosque in Sydney, As-Sunnah Mosque in Lakemba, Islamic Centre of WA, Islamic Society in Darra ( Brisbane), Kuraby Mosque in Kuraby (Brisbane), Preston Mosque in Victoria, Omar Mosque in Wollongong, and Othman Bin Affan (OBA) Mosque in Cabramatta area where he apparently drew record crowds.
Since the mind-numbing talk of 2017, he has also continued with his public engagements and online media presence with the Sydney based group OnepathNetwork (the name of this organization is very revealing of their worldview and approach to Islamic tradition) that has affiliates throughout Australia. Moreover, from my very basic online search I could also find that at least some of his public engagements take place in gender segregated settings.
Concerningly, Hoblos public engagement and speaking tours transcend the borders of Australia. For example, my basic online search revealed that in 2022 he was invited to go on speaking tours as the main speaker across five cities in the UK ( these are claimed to have been sold out) and in the same year he also addressed Muslim audiences in Canada.
All of this should be deeply concerning and raises questions about the integrity and accountability of Muslim leaders who provide him with these platforms.
The Responsibility of Muslim Leadership:
Conscientious Muslims, particularly those in positions of leadership within Islamic centres and mosques, must confront the issues posed by individuals like Hoblos. First and foremost, it is crucial to ask how someone with such disturbing views can still be given a public platform more than five years after the disturbing remarks he made that were made public and written about online. This question speaks to the responsibility of Muslim leaders in safeguarding their communities from harmful ideologies. By allowing such speakers to address young, impressionable audiences, the risk of perpetuating harmful beliefs increases exponentially. The failure to address this issue undermines the credibility and integrity of Muslim leadership and their commitment to promoting a reasonable and ethically beautiful understanding of Islam.
As such there are several questions that I want to pose to all conscientious Muslims, especially those in position of Muslim leadership such as in form of leading various Islamic centers/organisations and mosques, may they be in Australia or generally in the West:
1. How can this individual, despite his extremely disturbing views that he never publicly retracted and that were expressed over 5 years ago, be regularly provided with public platforms in which he continues to assume positions and roles of religious leadership and opportunities to preach often to young impressionable Muslim audiences?
2. Why do individuals like him have such a huge social media following? What does this tell us about how Islam is conceived and interpreted among these Muslims if Hoblos is seen and upheld as an authentic and desirable representation of Islam?
3. What kind of image about Islam or Muslims in the West are non-Muslims going to have if people like Hoblos are portrayed as the public face of authentic Islam and how does this impact Muslim-non Muslim relations in western societies?
Mohamed Hoblos is not an isolated case; there are other celebrity preachers and imams in Australia and in the West who espouse deeply concerning views without facing accountability. This is particularly so in relation to their views on women’s rights in the context of marriage/ domestic violence, divorce, or generally about femininity/female bodies and women sexuality that have not led to any serious accountability.
Moreover, we cannot escape the fact that the portrayal of individuals like Hoblos as the public face of authentic Islam has broader implications for Muslim-non Muslim relations in Western societies. Non-Muslims, encountering such figures, may form very negative perceptions of Islam and hinder efforts toward interfaith dialogue and mutual understanding that weaken social cohesion and cause social tensions between Muslims and non-Muslims. Moreover, the retrogressive views of individuals like Hoblos on women rights, female body and sexuality are directly responsible for persistence of patriarchal values justified in religious language that we continue to find in Muslim contexts in general and in the West in particular. I am also of the view, that is backed by some academic research, that it is because of the social-media amplified voices of individuals like Hoblos that are upheld as quintessentially Islamic that many Muslims in the West have been abandoning Islam since they view it as morally deeply problematic.
Accountability and the Way Forward
Muslim leaders must take proactive measures to address this issue of celebrity preachers’ expression of harmful views such as in the case of Hoblos. It is imperative to establish clear guidelines for the selection of speakers and to hold them accountable for the messages they disseminate. In this respect, mosques and Islamic centres should capitalise from and draw on the insights from proponents of cosmopolitan and gender justice interpretations of Islam that do exist.
The significant influence of Muslim celebrity preachers like Hoblos on the minds of Muslims and non-Muslims alike cannot be ignored. Muslim leaders must uphold their responsibility to protect their communities and the image of Islam by ensuring that harmful views are not perpetuated under the guise of religious authority. Preachers like Hoblos must be held accountable for their harmful views. This necessitates a critical evaluation of the platforms provided and the accountability mechanisms in place. By actively addressing these concerns, Muslim leaders can contribute to fostering a more ethical and reasonable approach to Islam as well as a more harmonious relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims, especially in the West.
A decades old patron of New Age Islam, Dr Adis Duderija is a Senior Lecturer in the Study of Islam and Society, School of Humanities, Languages and Social Science ; Senior Fellow Centre for Interfaith and Intercultural Dialogue, Griffith University | Nathan | Queensland | Australia.