| Inventing "The Other"|
|Fear And Loathing|
Mohammad Tawhidi (1982/1983–), also known as Imam Tawhidi or Imam of Peace, is an Iranian-Australian grifter who appeals to islamophobes and racists alike. He self-proclaims as an imam with an educational background of prestigious Iranian Shia-Islamic seminary, but such credentials are only backed by Daily Mail and MEMRI articles and his status is never recognized by the Australian National Imams Council or its South Australian equivalent.
Tawhidi identifies as a Muslim reformer and peace activist. However, much of his activity is questionable at best. One of his main tactics is extensive use of overgeneralization and jonanism, lumping average Muslims together with actual extremists[note 1] and attacking their ordinary lives such as issues of halal certification and mosques, providing justification for outright bigotry. He is also keen on attacking "leftists" (whoever that is) who apparently funded ISIS[note 2] In spite of his claim about advocating for Muslim sectarian unity, he has almost no followings among Muslims,[note 3] and the fanbase significantly consists of Islamophobes, Zionists, Hindu nationalists, and followers of the alt-right and alt lite. This is hugely problematic from public security standpoint as effective counter-terrorist strategy always requires cooperation with local Muslim communities and institutions.
He was temporarily de-platformed from Facebook in 2017. Predictably, it was widely blasted by the right-wing media. Ironically (and unsurprisingly), he is quick on deleting or removing comments or blocking people from his social media pages.
Views on Islam
Tawhidi has stated that all acts of terrorism are condemned in the Qur'an, and that Muslim Imams should reflect this matter by publicly and openly condemning violence and terrorist acts attributed to their religion. Tawhidi also believes that Muslims should be united with humanity as a whole and enjoy a gathering of peace and harmony. He has also denounced violence committed by both Shia and Sunni extremists, and considers the radical Sunni sect of Wahabbism, the belief system adhered to by ISIS, to be a cancer upon Islam. In 2017, during a lecture at the Adelaide Rotary Club, Tawhidi said: "I believe that the entire religion needs a review. I believe that there are certain books that need to be banned from this country. There are books that are regarded the second book after the Quran. All mainstream Muslims believe in this book – The Bukhari, a very famous book. It's present in, at least, the majority of Muslim homes, at least. It is everywhere. It is put on the shelf right beside the Quran. Every act of terrorism is taught from that book, yet that book is widely available, sold, and published in Australia." On a tweet, Tawhidi said that a transgendered man who has a sexual fetish that involves pretending to be a dog makes Islamic Extremists look reasonable.
His website contains his "Doctrine of Peace" where he makes several weird statements that undermine his claim to be a legitimate imam, or a voice for, or in, the Muslim community. For instance:
- He "does not support Sharia law", though later, the same sentence confusingly says that "violent Sharia law must not be applied", sneakily allowing for the misconception that Sharia is always, and only, violent.
- He believes that "all Islamic governments and Caliphates are illegitimate". Combined with the next item, this statement applies not only to current Islamic governments, but all historical ones too.
- Perhaps strangest of all, he "believes that Prophet Mohammad's government was a myth which did not exist". He gives no reasons for this disbelief, but we are promised that "his forthcoming book will shed light on this matter".
- His stated position on "Palestine, the Holocaust, and Anti-Semitism" does not mention the Palestinian people, Muslims or Arabs at all, but reiterates his Zionist position that Palestine is "Jewish land", and denounces only Anti-Semitism.
- He "believes in the importance of having a council of patriot Imams who stand for the values that have preserved Western civilization".
Not right wing, at all
Tawhidi has close affiliations with and the support of many people on the far right in Australia and abroad. While Tawhidi claims that he is not right wing, he has appeared on a variety of right and far-right platforms on YouTube, where he has repeated his usual talking points on Islam and the left while offering nothing to critical to say regarding the right. During his interview with notorious shyster Dave Rubin Tawhidi made a series of bizarre statements, including that Islamic extremists en masse supported and voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, and the Democrats created ISIS. He has also been interviewed by a variety of alt-lite and far-right internet personalities, including Candace Owens, Tommy Robinson, Lauren Chen, Dia Beltran, and The Unshackled, an Australian alt-right news outlet.
Despite being a Muslim, Tawhidi is also a supporter of Pauline Hanson and the One Nation Party, claiming that ISIS would never have acquired a stronghold in his native Iraq if politicians like Hanson were in charge.
He is also a Zionist, claiming that Palestine is "Jewish land" and frequently associates with Avi Yemini, an Australian-Israeli far right activist and former IDF member.
On Tawhidi's social media pages, he has often shared memes of the alt-right and alt-lite that echo their racist, sexist and xenophobic beliefs. In June 2019, Tawhidi shared a photo on his Twitter page which mocked the idea of white privilege and claimed that a white child in the presence of Muslims and Africans would require 'protection'. . In response, he rightfully received a barrage of mockery on his Twitter feed.
Despite all the above, Tawhidi has denounced extremism from the far right, and Fraser Anning for his remarks regarding the 2019 Christchurch terror attacks.
Controversy regarding credentials
On May 25, 2017, Tawhidi went on the Sydney-based radio station 2GB (873 AM) with Ben Fordham. During the show, when asked about his credentials, Tawhidi claimed "I received my bachelor's degree and master's degree in Islamic theology from the Al-Mustafa University." Al-Mustafa International University issued a letter denying this claim saying that Tawhidi had been referred to take courses to get a bachelor's degree, was then placed on probation for his insufficient academic record, then dropped out on March 27, 2012 with "no educational progress" achieved. As indicated from the letter, Tawhidi never earned his bachelor's degree from the university, let alone a master's degree.
Facing criticisms regarding his status of imam, he published an apparent investigation from the Royal United Service Institute (RUSI) in South Australia. The investigation was conducted by RUSI making a confirmation on behalf of Tawhidi to two clerics, Sayyid Mohammad Mahdi Tabatabai and Sheikh Mahdi Ma'ash. Ironically, Ma'ash is a close friend of Tawhidi, and Tabatabai is considered "nobody" which makes the investigation objectively suspicious. The so-called investigation also did not contact the Australian National Imams Council, and failed to clarify the issue of the university he claimed to have obtain a bachelor and master's degree repeatedly rejecting his claim.
The term imam
It is worth noting that Tawhidi's self-designation of "Imam" is problematic for other reasons, especially given his Shi'i education. In Shi'i theology, there is only ever one Imam at a time, who is the spiritual (though not necessarily political) leader of the entire community. In mainstream (i.e., Twelver) Shi'a, the current, and final, Imam is Muhammad al-Mahdi, who has been in a state of ghayba ("occultation", "hiding", "invisibility") for over a thousand years, but will reveal himself as a messianic figure. In the meantime, though, nobody can rightfully be called the Imam. Many non-Twelver Shi'is, like Ismailis, similarly believe that the current Imam is in ghayba, they just disagree on who exactly the Imam is. Furthermore, the title of Imam is generally held to be a birthright, so even if the Imam were not in ghayba, Tawhidi would have to be accepted as a descendant of Ali and Fatima to be the Imam. He does not ever claim to be descended from Ali or Fatima.
In Sunni usage, an imam is simply the congregational leader of a single mosque. Mohammad Tawhidi does not lead a mosque.
- Right wing media is keen on portraying his islamophobic style as "anti-extremist", "anti-terrorist", or "anti-radical".
- and whom he believes are supportive of an Islamic takeover of Australia, a belief shared by many on the far right. This is ironic as he claims himself as "not right wing nor left wing" and instead "human-wing".
- Some double useful idiot phenomenon is observed on the Sunni extremists side, who occasionally rally against Tawhidi as "Shia extremist" who tries to undermine Sunni Muslim society. This turns into easily exploitable material for both Tawhidi and his Islamophobic fanboys.
- Our public discourse is weakened by one-trick contrarians. The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved September 16, 2018.
- Welcome to the Weird World of Australia's 'Fake Sheikh', Mohammad Tawhidi. ABC. Retrieved September 16, 2018.
- CJ Werleman. The Islamophobia Industry's Favorite Imam is a Fake. (Part 2). Retrieved September 16, 2018.
- US counter-terrorism chief criticizes anti-Muslim political rhetoric. The Guardian. Retrieved September 16, 2018.
- Cherney, Adrian. Community engagement to tackle terrorism and violent extremism: challenges, tensions and pitfalls. An International Journal of Research and Policy, 27(7), 750-763.
- "National Security: The Roles of Muslim Faith Leaders". HuffingtonPost. 2016.
- "Islamic Unity: Realistic Aspects of Success". HuffingtonPost. 2017.
- "Muslim taxi drivers offer free rides home after London terror attacks". Independent. June 4, 2017.
- Shaikh Mohammad Tawhidi - A Muslim leader's aim to spread peace at 11:18
- Mohammad Tawhidi Responds To Criticism. 2GB Retrieved December 29, 2018.
- Imam Mohammad Tawhidi: The problem with the media's favourite Muslim. ABC Retrieved December 29, 2018.
- McHugo, John (2017). A Concise History of Sunnis and Shi'is. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press. p. 102-116. ISBN 9781626165878.