Australia/Israel Review, Featured

The Ayatollah’s followers down-under

Feb 1, 2019 | Ran Porat

Sheikh Farhat, one of the most active Iranian regime boosters in Australia, at a ceremony comemmorating Um Mughniyeh, mother of arch-terrorist Imad Mughniyeh
Sheikh Farhat, one of the most active Iranian regime boosters in Australia, at a ceremony comemmorating Um Mughniyeh, mother of arch-terrorist Imad Mughniyeh

A number of Shi’ite clerics in Australia, graduates of the Iranian regime’s leading religious institutions, are zealously spreading the extreme theological ideas of Iranian regime founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and his pupils. They incite against both Israel and the West, while fanning conspiracy theories. This article is the result of an investigation into the activities of this small but vocal group who openly support and campaign for the oppressive regime in Teheran, as well for Iran’s proxy in Lebanon, the terrorist group Hezbollah.

The two faces of Nami Farhat

Sheikh Nami Farhat al-’Ameli is one of the most active and prominent of the Iranian regime’s supporters in Australia. Born in Sydney, this Shi’ite cleric is working tirelessly to spread the doctrines of Ayatollah Khomeini.

His teachings contain a mixture of positive and negative messages. On the one hand, he calls on Muslims to practice high morals, respect for the law and for other human beings (as in his sermon “Why we should not be racist”), and speaks of harmony (as in his sermon “Religion equals love”). On the other hand, Farhat often broadcasts hatred, antisemitism and conspiratorial ideas against Israel and the West.

Sheikh Farhat is a devout follower of Khomeini’s revolutionary Shi’ite theology and a strong supporter of both the Iranian regime and Hezbollah. In February 2018 he was one of the speakers at a celebration held in Sydney to commemorate the 39th anniversary of the Iranian Revolution. The event was organised by Haji Hussein Dirani of the Ahlul-Bait World Assembly (“Family of the House” of Islam), an Iranian based international Shi’ite organisation dedicated to spreading Khomeini’s theological ideas. Iran’s Ambassador to Australia, Abdul Hussein Vahaji, was the guest of honour at the event, stating that “Iran gives political voice and moral support to oppressed people around the world, particularly the Palestinian people”. Iran’s current ambassador, Fereidoun Haghbin, will again be the guest of honour at this year’s event in Sydney in mid-February 2019 to laud the 40th anniversary of the revolution.

Khomeini’s 1979 revolution, which resulted in an oppressive Iranian regime, will again be celebrated in Sydney in 2019

In the 2018 event, after cutting a cake with the Iranian flag and the word “Victory” on it, Sheikh Farhat said that “the Islamic Revolution changed the world order and protected Muslims in the region from terrorism.” Other speakers included radical anti-Zionist priest Dave Smith and disgraced academic Tim Anderson, known for having shown his students material featuring a Nazi swastika imposed over the flag of Israel, and for his strong support for the Syrian and North Korean regimes.

Sheikh Farhat backed Anderson when he was suspended from the University of Sydney in December 2018 for alleged antisemitic remarks, and called for overturning the decision made by “the Zionist sympathiser Stephen Garton” (the Provost and deputy Vice-Chancellor of the university).

Sheikh Farhat’s religious education comes directly from the heart of the Iranian revolutionary school of thought. He studied at the Hawzah (seminary) of Qom in Iran – a powerful religious centre with major influence on the regime as a source of authority for many hard-line leaders (such as former President Mahmood Ahmadinejad).

Farhat also studied political science at the Lebanese University in Beirut and is a graduate of the Hawzah of Bint Jbeil in South Lebanon, a Shi’ite stronghold of Hezbollah and Iran. The town is also known as the site of the famous “Israel is weaker than a spider web” speech in 2000 by the leader of Hezbollah, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah – himself a graduate of the same Hawza. In 2010 the then-president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, visited the town.

Farhat has taught Islamic studies at several schools and institutions in Lebanon and Australia. He is the head of the Al Haadi Shia Islamic Centre in Sydney’s Arncliffe and many of his lectures are featured on the YouTube channel of the Islamic youth centre in Auburn, Ahl Al Bait. He has published a book under the title Youth and Islam and was reported to be in the process of publishing three other books.

An admirer of Mughniyeh 

Unsurprisingly, Sheikh Farhat is a staunch anti-Israel and anti-American activist, and does not shy away from publicly siding with terrorists. In his speech during the international anti-Israel day of protest, Al Quds day (June 2018), he defiantly announced to a cheering crowd that “some people have been threatening us lately, to expose us for supporting the Islamic Republic of Iran, or supporting the resistance [Hezbollah]. This is something that we don’t hide. We publicly support Iran. We publicly support all the people of the world who are standing against the arrogant powers. And yes, we publicly support, emotionally support, Hezbollah”.

In 2018 Um Mughniyeh, the mother of Hezbollah’s arch-terrorist organiser Imad Mughniyeh – responsible for the deaths of thousands, and killed in Damascus in 2008 – passed away. Farhat took part in a special commemoration in her honour organised in Sydney in mid-October. During the event she was portrayed as “the mother of martyrs, the resistance and the Jihadist”. Her sons and grandchildren – all of whom by then been killed while in service of Iran and/or Hezbollah – were featured in pictures on the stage and received compliments from the attendees for their actions, including fighting against Israel.

Farhat, who was the last speaker, dedicated his tribute to Um Mughniyeh’s teaching her sons to embrace death, while also specifically praising Imad Mughniyeh himself, and vowing to continue to be “Fedayeen” (warriors) in the spirit of the founders of Shi’ism, Hussein and Hassan (Muhammad’s grandchildren).

Given his pro-terror views, it is unsurprising that in 2012 he was refused entrance to the US, after being invited to speak in front of Shi’ites in Texas.

Fanning antisemitic conspiracies

Farhat is an enthusiastic believer in antisemitic conspiracy theories modelled after the notorious Protocols of the elders of Zion, with its fabricated stories about covert Jewish control of the world media, economy and major powers.

In 2012, an anti-Islamic movie clip, “The Innocence of Muslims”, created by Egyptian Copt Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, was released and resulted in a backlash by angry Muslims. Sheikh Farhat responded to the movie by arguing that: “If you do a small research you will find people from different backgrounds but all linked to one source the ‘Zionist movement’, so the Zionist and those who are supporting them hold the responsibility”.

In Farhat’s distorted version of reality, Zionists control world media and are a part of an evil pro-West imperialist plan: “Today Zionist[s] are scared from the Islamic movements and from the large numbers of reverts who are being guided to the path of Islam especially in the West. They are using the media to show the most important personality and the first role model in the Islamic religion in a terrible image in order to create a gap between the people and the reality of Islam. And when people believe in this image and accept that Islam is an evil religion, Zionist[s] can justify for the world the killing of thousands of children and women in Palestine. Then they can justify the invading and destroying of countries to protect the west from the danger of Islam, ” he added.

Voicing similar conspiracy theories about the US, Farhat noted in a 2014 interview that “The UN is under the control of the American imperialist system and only works for the benefit of this system” and the “media is under the control of the American imperialist system.”

Farhat rejects the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist organisation – enemies of the Iranian regime, whom they view as heretics – as un-Islamic. He was actually briefly interviewed about the topic in 2014 by ABC news after an ISIS supporter shot dead a Shi’ite outside a mosque in Greenacre. At the same time, similar to other elements in Australia exposed previously in this platform (AIR) – Farhat obsessively repeats the lie that “ISIS is nothing more than an American invention which opens to the US a new back door for their evil politics in the Middle East.” Later, he claimed that ISIS fighters were trained by American forces at a base in Jordan; and that just like the CIA “created Al-Qaeda”, “today [the] United States, Britain and France are very much behind the creation of ISIS, while the money comes of course from the Saudi regime … [The West] has created this monster.”

Imam Khomeini conferences in Australia

One of the highlights of Sheikh Farhat’s career is the founding of the annual conference in Australia to celebrate the legacy of Ayatollah Khomeini’s political and religious teachings. Similar meetings take place around the world, including in Teheran, London and even in the US.

Poster for the first annual Khomeini Conference in Australia in 2013

The first Australian Imam Khomeini Conference was held in Sydney in 2013, and has since been run every year. Signalling the importance attached to the event by Teheran, both the Iranian ambassador to Australia at the time, Mahmoud Babaei, and the cultural attaché, Muhssein abu Talib, were present.

The conference featured a screening of what the moderator described as “a short video from the leader of the Mujahidin [warriors], the leader of the resistance.” The video featured segments from Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah’s speech a few years earlier, quoting Khomeini’s words in 1963 to a crowd in Iran protesting against the then-ruler of Iran, the Shah (toppled in the 1979 revolution). According to Nasrallah, Khomeini said then that “America is the mother of all problems, Israel is cancer and this Shah is treacherous, wicked!”. He then called on the people of Iran to overthrow the Shah “So we are able to cut America’s hands away from Iran. So we are able to kick out the Zionists from Iran.”

Apart from Farhat, among the attendees at the conference was British extremist Massoud Shadjareh, chairman of the Islamic Human Rights Commission in London, and organiser of Al-Quds day in the UK.

Sheikh Farhat used the 2015 Khomeini conference in Australia to explain to the audience that “when we look at the world today, we find that it is run now by capitalism and the evil Zionism.” Later he gave his own version of Israel’s ongoing battle against Hezbollah in Lebanon: “The Islamic resistance in Lebanon was successful in 2000 [when the Israeli army retreated from Lebanon] and 2006 [the Second Lebanese War] due to following the Islamic political theories of Imam al Khomeini.” Then, he repeated the all-too-common conspiratorial fable about how the West created and controls ISIS: “When ISIS that is funded by the West, occupied some states in Iraq, the rest of the country was saved through the political Islamic theories of Imam al Khomeini.” He commended the Iran-aligned Houthis in Yemen for their battle “against the Saudi evil regime”, and concluded by giving praise to the supreme leader of Iran, Khamenei, “a wise leader […] who is holding the banner of Mohammed.”

Iran’s Ambassador Abdolhossein Vahaji, was a guest of honour at the 2016 Imam Khomeini conference in Australia.

Another participant was Khaj Ali Khalfan (Khaj is a religious title given to those fulfilling their obligation to visit Mecca). Khalfan is the director of a Sydney-based organisation established in 2013 under the name of “Tawheed Institute Australia”. According to its website, the charity is ostensibly devoted to the completion of a translation into English of the book Tafsir Al-Mizan (“Balance in interpretation of the Quran”), written by Shi’ite scholar Allamah Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Tabataba’i (1892–1981) (13 of the 27 volumes of the book have previously been translated into English). In 2018, the Australian Charity and Not-for-Profit Commission (ACNC) flagged Khalfan’s charity for not submitting its financial report and Annual Information Statement).

The activities in Australia of Sheikh Farhat and his colleagues are not only aligned to the Iranian regime, a rogue state actor, but involve spreading the same sorts of toxic hatred and conspiratorial thinking that emanate from Teheran. Of course, from the perspective of the Iranian regime, the world’s most significant state sponsor of terrorism, such actions would be considered a positive achievement.

Dr. Ran Porat is researcher and lecturer at the Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation, Monash University and a Research Fellow at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Centre, Herzliya, Israel.


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