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|Born||1982/1983 (age 35–36)|
|Religion||Shia Islam (Usuli Twelver)|
|Based in||Adelaide, Australia|
Early life and education
Tawhidi is a Shi'ite Muslim of Iraqi origin who was born in Qom, Iran, in 1982 or 1983. His family emigrated to Australia when he was 12, and he attended the Australian Islamic College in Perth. In 2009, he studied for a bachelor's degree in Islamic studies at Al-Mustafa University in Qom, but dropped out in 2012. He also studied and graduated from the Islamic seminary in Qom and Karbala in Iraq. He later worked for one of the Shirazi-run television stations in Karbala. In 2015, he returned to Australia, and is based in Adelaide. He is fluent in Arabic, English, and Persian. Tawhidi said that Shirazi served as his marja taqlid, a religious leader whose authority one follows. But since 2015, Tawhidi has stated that he does not subscribe to any particular religious leader. Tawhidi is not recognised as an Imam by either the Australian National Imams Council or its South Australian equivalent.
Tawhidi is president of the Islamic Association of South Australia, which he founded in 2016. He has written infrequently for The Huffington Post since January 2016. He refers to himself as the "Imam of Peace".
Tawhidi believes that Islam must be reformed in order to survive. He has stated that some Islamic texts, particularly the Sahih al-Bukhari, should be banned, claiming that it is used as an ideological underpinning for acts of terrorism. He supports the deportation of radical Islamic leaders from Australia. Tawhidi has called for a Royal Commission to investigate the prevalence of Wahhabism, Salafism, and radical groups such as Hizb ut-Tahrir. He opposes Muslims who make justifications for domestic violence and the killing of apostates. He supports limiting the building of mosques, has claimed halal certification threatens the Australian way of life, and stated that "Palestine is Jewish land."
Tawhidi has supported Ayaan Hirsi Ali's view that Islamic schools should be closed, or changed completely, for security reasons. After making these comments, Tawhidi claimed he had been "escorted into hiding by the police" for fear of retribution by the Muslim community. However, a police spokesperson told The Australian that "there have been no incidents relating to the removal of a person from a mosque or similar place."
Tawhidi has been critical of the treatment of women in Islam. According to Tawhidi, there are Muslim men in Australia who have more than one wife. He has also suggested that Australian female politicians should not dress in headscarves when they are in Muslim-majority nations, and has called for the appointment of women to the Australian National Imams Council.
Tawhidi believes that all acts of terrorism are condemned in the Quran. Tawhidi has denounced ISIL as an extremist body that does not represent Islam. In June 2017, after the jihadi terrorist attack in London, he described the branch as a "cancer" on the religion.
In March 2016, Tawhidi released a statement concerning a man who was released on bail after allegedly grabbing a woman's headscarf on a bus in Adelaide. He stated: "If government laws do not prevent such assaults, then I fear that a day will come where the Muslim community might take matters into their own hands to protect their women and mothers." His statement also said that the Australian Government should review its laws on female headscarves. Tawhidi later clarified that his statement was not meant to be interpreted as a threat, and he was unhappy with how his comments were portrayed by the ABC and Daily Mail Australia. He said that the misinterpretation by media outlets inspired him to found the "Imams for Peace" organisation.
Later in 2016, he attended the World Alliance of Religions for Peace (WARP) Summit in South Korea, hosted by Lee Man-hee. The WARP Summit coincided with the birthday of Lee Man-hee. Tawhidi was supportive of the event and was quoted as saying "this WARP Summit is an event blessed by God because it is every religious person's wish to achieve peace through an alliance into one religion."
In February 2017, Tawhidi caused controversy when he appeared on an episode of Australian current affairs program Today Tonight. During the episode, he suggested that Islamic extremists were conspiring to set up a caliphate in Australia. He also made claims that these extremists planned to increase the Muslim population in Australia and rename streets after Islamic terrorists. Tawhidi called for a government body to be established in order to investigate the Muslim community.
In the same month, Tawhidi made a request to defend former Jakarta Governor Ahok during his blasphemy trial. He argued that the aggrieved Islamic groups had incorrectly interpreted the verse of the Quran that Ahok had allegedly referenced in a blasphemous manner. Tawhidi stated that there is nothing wrong with non-Muslims leading a Muslim-majority country. Tawhidi said he has received death threats from Indonesia's Islamic Defenders Front.
Tawhidi previously had his arrival to Indonesia rejected, in October 2015, after he was considered to have insulted the Sunni-majority nation by calling it "Indoneshia". Islamic organisation Hidayatullah described Tawhidi as "an extreme Shia." A statement from DPP ABI, an Indonesian Shia organisation, said Tawhidi was suspected of being a "takfiri" and they rejected his presence in Indonesia. The statement went on to say that Tawhidi's presence would undermine efforts to "achieve unity of the Muslims in the face of Zionism."
In May 2017, Tawhidi appeared as a guest on Australian breakfast television program Sunrise to discuss the recent Manchester Arena bombing. He claimed young Muslims were being pushed to believe killing infidels would allow them to gain paradise and that the Manchester bomber would have believed he would go to heaven for what he did.
Zuhdi Jasser, writing for Asia Times Online, said that Tawhidi was not a reformist but instead subscribed to "a nefarious interpretation of Shia Islam." Jasser asserted that Tawhidi only criticised Sunni Islamists and never Islamists within his own community such as the Iran regime. However, Tawhidi has criticised Iran for imprisoning scholars who criticise its government, and stated the people of Iran regularly witness "waves of oppression, torture and lack of human rights." He has also repeatedly criticised prominent Shia figures like Ayatollah Khomeini.
Chloe Patton, in a piece for the ABC, referred to Tawhidi as a "Shia extremist" and accused him of waging a "sectarian war against Australia's majority Sunni community." Patton referred to Tawhidi's comments to Andrew Bolt that Sahih al-Bukhari, a sacred Sunni text, should be banned. Paul Barry, presenter of Media Watch, suggested that Tawhidi had called sacred Sunni texts "monkey teachings" and described Sunnis as "followers of an alcoholic, rapist caliph." However, on other occasions, Tawhidi has promoted unity amongst Muslim sects and opposed sectarianism in Islam. In June 2016, he began Ramadan by visiting an Ahmadiyya mosque and paid his respects to the community. In a piece for The Huffington Post, he states that Muslim sects and divisions become irrelevant during serious matters of national safety.
Tawhidi's critics have dubbed him "Australia's fake sheikh." Alex McKinnon, in an opinion piece for The Sydney Morning Herald, claimed his "credentials are tough to verify." The Sunni-based Australian National Imams Council (ANIC) does not recognise Tawhidi as an imam, sheikh or Muslim leader.
Bronwyn Adcock, writing for the ABC, said Tawhidi had very few supporters in the Muslim community. She also suggested that Tawhidi's teacher, Sadiq Shirazi, is not aligned with the moderate brand of Islam called for by Tawhidi. She cited Shirazi's insistence on having an Islamic system of government instead of a secular democracy and his view that girls can be allowed to marry at the age of nine.
Tawhidi has been accused of being an ally of Australian groups considered far-right such as the Australian Liberty Alliance and One Nation. Tawhidi defended One Nation leader Pauline Hanson, saying "if we had politicians like Pauline Hanson in Iraq, in my home town, we wouldn't have had ISIS come in." He has partially supported Hanson's proposal to ban Muslim immigration. Tawhidi says he supports "a temporary ban on Muslims coming from the Middle East."
In October 2017, Zuhdi Jasser, a Sunni Muslim who has been critical of Tawhidi for being divisive, stated: "I'm with him, not in condemning it in its entirety, but in condemning the vast majority of the Sahih al-Bukhari, which we believe is the origin of many of the radical interpretations in Sunni Islam.".
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The Tragedy of Islam: Admissions of a Muslim Imam
In the first half of this book, Tawhidi takes readers on a personal journey and details the highlights of his life that prompted his transition from an extremist into a reformist.
Tawhidi then introduces the readers to the time when Islam came into existence, and the circumstances under which it struggled to survive, then gradually morphed to a form that helped it spread, first across the desert, and then to distant lands far more endowed naturally and ecologically than the hostile deserts, by the might of swords.
In this book, Tawhidi emphasizes the theological, jurisprudential and historical difficulties of Islamic thought and Islamic governance, including original insights on the History of Islam.
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- Paperback: 362 pages
Publisher: Reason Books (December 7, 2018)