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The sheikh who teaches surfing and Sharia

“I was at the airport,” remembers Sheikh Haisam Farache.

“The federal police followed me back to my van. They wanted to search it. I said, ‘Yeah, no worries’. I had this long, silver torpedo-looking thing and they all jumped back, ‘What’s that? What’s that?’”

It was his surfboard bag.

Haisam is a family lawyer by day, an Islamic preacher by night, and a die-hard wave chaser at weekends.

The airport isn’t the only place where Haisam feels all eyes are on him. When he rocks up to Sydney’s Maroubra Beach with a crew of young Islamic guys from his Mosque, he’s the centre of attention.

“I get heaps of weird looks, people freaking out. They’re like, ‘who’s this bloke?’”

But the worried looks don’t faze him. He’s a man on a mission. Haisam is using surfing to counter terrorism.

But the worried looks don’t faze him. He’s a man on a mission. Haisam is using surfing to counter terrorism.

“It’s giving students a chance to be able to understand their faith and to understand the Australian way of life.

“Even though these young people are Muslims, their knowledge about Islam is actually quite limited.”

Haisam is concerned that a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing. He’s concerned that bored, impressionable young Muslims in his community could be radicalised by internet propaganda.

Of course, the constant stream of anti-Islam antagonism – like Pauline Hanson’s comment, “Islam is a disease. We need to vaccinate ourselves against that” – doesn’t help young people feel included in the broader Australian community.

“Of course there’s anger. Of course there’s frustration, of course there’s hurt.”

But Haisam’s approach is to temper his community’s outrage and channel their energies.  

“I pray for her. I pity her,” says Haisam.

“I pray for [Pauline Hanson]. I pity her,” says Haisam. 

For so many young Muslim Australians, their experience of being in a minority is feeling trapped. And that’s why surfing is a natural fit. Treading water out beyond the break is a great place for free-flowing conversation. “It’s freedom, being in the swell is freedom,” says Haisam.

No shying away from Sharia

Using surfing as a teaching aid is unusual, but pretty uncontroversial. Something people do find disturbing about Haisam, however, is his belief in Sharia Law.

“In a nutshell the way Sharia is being used in Australia is more like a moral code of conduct than a set of laws. And many Muslims in Australia live according to that code everyday settling some matters outside of the court system by agreement.

“As long as we don’t oust the jurisdiction of the courts, we don’t oust the jurisdiction of the law, anybody is entitled to agree on anything they want. So you can’t agree on murder because it’s illegal.

“If I’m a person that’s assisting the courts, assisting the Australian legal system by settling disputes by Sharia then I should be a person that’s lauded. I’m taking people out of the court system. I’m saving resources, [saving] taxpayers’ money, that’s how I look at it. And that is a benefit to the whole of Australia.”

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