Khalid Yasin: The new voice of Islam?
SARAH FERGUSON: Like that other famous African-American convert to Islam…Khalid Yasin "floats like a butterfly…stings like a bee."
SHEIK KHALID YASIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR ISLAMIC BROADCASTING GROUP, DURING A LECTURE: And how can you put a sacred trust in the hands of a non-Muslim? There's no such thing as a Muslim having a non-Muslim friend. If you prefer the clothing of the kafirs over the clothing of the Muslims, most of those names that's on most of those clothings is faggots, homosexuals and lesbians.
SARAH FERGUSON: A regular guest lecturer in Australian mosques and universities.. for the past 3 years, Sheikh Yasin is now shadow boxing with the Federal government.
BRENDAN NELSON, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION, SCIENCE AND TRAINING: The idea that you would come here and promulgate views which not only will demean and denigrate certain individuals and sections of Australian society, but in the end, ultimately, I think, incite divisions and violence in Australian society, there should be no place for that.
SHEIK KHALID YASIN: Some people characterise me as a radical cleric. I'm not more radical than Mahatma Gandhi or John Pilger or Jesus Christ or anybody else who's trying to preach a moral word.
SARAH FERGUSON: Sheikh Yasin is about to test Australian tolerance to its limits. He wants to be a leader in Australia's Islamic community as an Islamic media mogul, and he's been raising money here for his own radio and TV stations. Starting with radio broadcasts, Yasin has big plans for what he calls the Purpose of Life Islamic TV channel.
SHEIK KHALID YASIN: Wherever Discovery Channel is at, the Purpose of Life channel will be. We believe that Purpose of Life as a channel and as a theme will become just as generic and just as common and attractive as Discovery Channel.
SARAH FERGUSON: But it seems Sheikh Yasin wasn't really counting on discovery, for Sunday has discovered many of the claims he makes to support his project, and indeed much of his CV, are false. The issue is that he's claimed to have those qualifications. I've checked. He doesn't. Does that concern you?
WALID ALI, MANAGING DIRECTOR ISLAMIC BROADCASTING GROUP: Yes, I guess it would concern me. I would really need to understand why he would make those claims if they weren't true.
SHEIK KHALID YASIN DURING A LECTURE: You forget your Islamic identity. Now you have become compromised through some kind of intellectuality.
SARAH FERGUSON: Yasin's misfortune was trying to launch his empire here when the debate on Australian values versus Islamic fundamentalism was at its most intense and emotional, especially since last week's bombing in Bali. For years Sheikh Yasin had gone unnoticed by the Government, visiting the country to give lectures, even teaching at a Sydney school.
SHEIK KHALID YASIN, DURING A LECTURE: There is not enough talk about brotherhood. There is not enough exercising of brotherhood. You go to mosques but you don't feel brotherhood. You see Muslims in the street but you don't see brotherhood.
ADAM HOUDA, LAWYER: The Muslim youth have copped an absolute battering in the media since 1998, which has, and I've seen it first-hand, which has affected their self esteem and their confidence. Khalid Yasin instils a lot of pride in the youth and reminds them, that as Muslims, they've got a lot to be proud of.
SARAH FERGUSON: Adam Houda is a Sydney lawyer and until recently a director of Yasin's company.
ADAM HOUDA: As far as the young people are concerned, he's like a superstar. They find him very appealing. He's Afro-American. They find him a little bit hip for a so-called sheikh.
SARAH FERGUSON: And it's precisely the young that Yasin likes to target with his message. He knows how to push their buttons.
SHEIK KHALID YASIN, LEADING A DISCUSSION GROUP: When they talk about fanatic extremist, they really are talking about young male Muslims. How do you feel about that? Does it make you feel angry, disappointed or what do you think?
DISCUSSION GROUP PARTICIPANT: Basically people look at Muslims these days with the wrong scope. They look at us like we're criminals, people who want to see destruction and things like that.
SHEIK KHALID YASIN, LEADING A DISCUSSION GROUP: How do you feel about the fact that the Government is saying we should set up some new rules to make sure that no potential terrorists are developed or cultivated. And also we want to see inside the mosque and places and so we can see before something happens. How do you feel about that? Because that's what's being talked about. Now, if they didn't say exactly that, I'm telling you that's what it means.
DISCUSSION GROUP PARTICIPANT: It's an absolute joke how far this has gone about everyone being prejudiced about Muslims. If anything was going to happen, like a terrorist activity or anything, it would be basically because of the pressure being put on Muslims by non-Muslims causing dramatic pain, you know what I mean?
BRENDAN NELSON: I think that we have got to be extremely concerned when he can come to our country, target, particularly, young Muslim men.
SARAH FERGUSON: Federal Education Minister Brendan Nelson wants to bring in a system of accreditation for Islamic preachers.
BRENDAN NELSON: I think perhaps there can be an argument for perhaps taking a more strident position in relation to visas that are offered to people who come to our country.
SARAH FERGUSON: Before he got into broadcasting, Yasin distributed DVDs of his lectures, like this one. The constant message is that Muslims are victimised everywhere.
SHEIK KHALID YASIN, DVD EXCERPT: Allegedly Muslims in Kashmir or Afghanistan or Palestine or Somalia or Kashmir or Afghanistan or Iraq or Somalia or Palestine or Bali or Indonesia any place where Muslims have been displaced.
SARAH FERGUSON: And while he doesn't condone suicide bombing, he says it's understandable.
SHEIK KHALID YASIN, DVD EXCERPT: You think about a woman who is 18 years old and beautiful who has lost her children, lost her father, lost her her brothers, lost her mind, and she thinks that the only thing she can do to send a signal back to the people who are the criminals of this is to do an act of reprisal, is to strap on her 60 pounds of explosives and walk out onto a bus or a cafe or a hospital or whatever where there are innocent people and blow herself up as an example. That's frustration. But is it justified? Islamically, it is not. But can it be understood in the context of perpetuated, protracted oppression that brought about a sense of madness? Yes.
SARAH FERGUSON: According to Yasin, suicide bombing is un-Islamic. He says he doesn't approve of it but he does understand it. Do you have some sympathy with that view?
BRENDAN NELSON: Well I most certainly not. Firstly suicide is in itself something that we struggle to understand and do everything we can to try to prevent but to take your own life in trying to kill an indeterminate number of innocent people is perhaps one of the most heinous of crimes that could be committed.
SARAH FERGUSON: So who is Khalid Yasin and why is he here? He was born a Christian into a family of 10 children in Harlem.
SHEIK KHALID YASIN: I come from the ghetto, the Vietnam of New York, so coming out of that jungle and being gifted by the Creator to be Muslim, I think my responsibility is to share what's inside of me with other people. I don't care what colour they are any more. Back in the '60s it was a white/black thing. It's not a white/black thing any more.
SARAH FERGUSON: It was then, growing up in the height of the civil rights era. Aged 18, he became a Muslim after hearing a lecture by Malcolm X.
SHEIK KHALID YASIN: I started to understand class and I started reading things and I developing inside of myself a distaste for issues of exploitation and oppression Nicaragua and Panama and Honduras, South Africa and apartheid and started to understand what those words meant.
SARAH FERGUSON: Yasin wants us to see him as an ordinary man. He invited us into his home to make breakfast. But even early in the morning he can't stop himself.
SHEIK KHALID YASIN: Osama bin Laden is not everywhere, omnipotent. He's, like, in the East, he's in the West, he's in the sky, he's everywhere, where's Osama bin Laden? That would warrant $68 billion in 17 countries hunting him and everyone in their houses being afraid of this kind of Osama bin Laden bogey man. This is a creation, they have created this here in the minds of the people, in order to justify a war they call on terror but is really a terror they have put inside the people. It is a war against Islam.
SARAH FERGUSON: And he's waded right into one of the most divisive issues between the Muslim community and the Federal Government September 11.
SHEIK KHALID YASIN: There has been no evidence that has surfaced, no bona fide irrevocable, irrefutable evidence that had been surfaced that showed that there is a group called al-Qa'ida that did the September 11 bombings. I'm of the opinion there was a rogue operation that took place. Now, to go beyond that would say I would have to have some evidence, which I don't.
SARAH FERGUSON: But he does go beyond it.
SHEIK KHALID YASIN: An operation that took place with the complicity of some very sophisticated entities other than some Middle Eastern guys on an airplane. or being orchestrated by someone in a cave in Iraq.
SARAH FERGUSON: What do you mean by "sophisticated entities"?
SHEIK KHALID YASIN: Sophisticated entities means entities who themselves were governmentally instructed, equipped, motivated. We now know that the way that the World Trade Center fell the way that those buildings fell they fell from internal explosive charges, the same way it's done in a construction site.
BRENDAN NELSON: It's possible he needs some professional assistance. If I drew on my medical background, perhaps a psychiatrist may be able to help him. How anybody could possibly hold that kind of view, let alone promote it to others, particularly people who themselves have low levels of education, who live impoverished lives. He knows that those kind of views can at times fall into fertile ground.
WAQAS ZAHICK: To be honest, it has not been yet on the records, and you know media better than me, heaps better than me, it has not proved up till today's date particularly yes, this was the person behind it.
SARAH FERGUSON: Yasin is clearly getting his message across to some young Muslims. Waqas Zahick and Farooq Khan are enthralled by him. They work for him full time without a salary.
FAROOQ KHAN: I haven't met anyone like him. He's powerful. His motivation is just astonishing. He guides people towards bettering themselves.
WAQAS ZAHICK: I personally take him as my mentor or as my teacher in both religious affairs, to some extent, as well as in civilised life.
SARAH FERGUSON: Conspiracy theories are Yasin's bread and butter, and the wilder, the better.
SHEIK KHALID YASIN, DVD EXCERPT: An AIDS virus, that is a classic disease that was created in Fort McKinley, United States. Fort McKinley, the AIDS virus, 63,000 gallons.
SARAH FERGUSON: This one comes from his DVD called 'Jihad or Terrorism'.
SHEIK KHALID YASIN, DVD EXCERPT: Missionaries from the World Health Organisation and Christian groups went into Africa and inoculated people for diphtheria, malaria, yellow fever and they put in the medicine the AIDS virus.
SARAH FERGUSON: You said in Purpose of Life television at the end of each program you're going to have a moral statement. So in a sense, Purpose of Life, let's be clear Purpose of Life will endorse that theory of AIDS.
SHEIK KHALID YASIN: No, we won't necessarily, because we can't endorse that theory because that theory is not necessarily fact. What our job is is to bring another view.
SARAH FERGUSON: And what do you believe? Do you believe AIDS was devised by the US Government to limit population growth?
SHEIK KHALID YASIN: I don't say by the US Government. I say there were at least five governments that acted in complicity.
BRENDAN NELSON: Firstly, I have a personal view about this. My own brother died of AIDS, so I am quite repulsed by the things that he has said. The second is that we respect freedom of speech until it diminishes and demeans or vilifies any one individual or any section of Australian society.
SHEIK KHALID YASIN: What I would like to do is to offer something that we call moral-minded media. And that is what we are trying to do is to not make condemnations, not to make judgments, but to put a statement in the middle that we consider to be neutral.
SARAH FERGUSON: But Yasin's version of neutral is deeply alarming to some sections of the community.
SHEIK KHALID YASIN: The Koran gives a very clear position regarding homosexuality, lesbianism and bestiality that these are aberrations, they are immoralities and if they are tried, convicted, they are punishable by death.
SARAH FERGUSON: But on the streets of Lakemba in Sydney's Islamic heartland, the visiting preacher is a welcome face. His constant theme is that Muslims here are being victimised. He takes me to visit the Haldon Street Islamic bookstore, exposed in the media after the London bombings for stocking how-to books on suicide bombing. They don't want us to come in. Do they think they've been unfairly targeted?
SHEIK KHALID YASIN: Of course they do, and I think that goes without question. They have been by elected officials and by the media industry in general ...
SARAH FERGUSON: In what way?
SHEIK KHALID YASIN: Nobody's calling Christians terrorists.
SARAH FERGUSON: In the cafe across the road, Yasin explains.
SHEIK KHALID YASIN: I say then every Christian shop, every Jewish shop, every Hindu shop that may have an objectionable material towards Muslims who is slandering the prophets of Islam, who is slandering Islam or classifying them as dogs or pigs or criminals or whatever should also be done the same. And if it is not that is prejudicial treatment.
SARAH FERGUSON: But the reason that that particular bookshop was targeted in the first place was that they were carrying the material that talked about for example on how to construct a suicide belt for a suicide bomber.
SHEIK KHALID YASIN: I think that whole idea of suicide is rubbish. There is no books in no Muslim bookstore that says how to become a suicide bomber. This witch-hunt against Muslims is what we are against. I have not been able to find one single incident ...
SARAH FERGUSON: And Yasin repeats the message frequently that there has never been any threat from Muslims in Australia.
SHEIK KHALID YASIN: There's no justification for it. I've asked people. I've asked young people, I've asked Muslims, non-Muslims, I've asked older people has there been an event in the history of this country involving a Muslim that would suggest that. They said the answer is no.
SARAH FERGUSON: The answer, of course, is yes, that just over 1.5 years ago a man came from France with the intention of committing a terrorist act in Australia and drew about him people who were sympathetic to that cause.
SHEIK KHALID YASIN: Okay, but there was not a terrorist incident that took place in this country.
SARAH FERGUSON: Because they were caught.
SHEIK KHALID YASIN: OK. There was not a terrorist incident. SARAH FERGUSON: Convinced it is the mainstream media that's spreading misconceptions about Islam, Yasin and his followers are putting their faith in a new company the Islamic Broadcasting Corporation.
ADAM HOUDA: Absolutely critical. Up until now, Muslims are crying out for a platform that we can respond to allegations that we can rebut allegations that are directed in our way. And we don't have that.
SARAH FERGUSON: The first broadcasts are on satellite radio and the web, where there are no licensing requirements nor control of content. But Yasin's Australian partner told us they're planning to purchase an FM licence.
BRENDAN NELSON: It is not my responsibility to control radio stations nor license them, but I would be, certainly if I was asked my opinion, as someone who holds such views having a radio licence in Australia, it would be of great concern to me.
SARAH FERGUSON: The launch in Australia is Yasin's third attempt to get a broadcast network up and running. The first try in the United States failed because of September 11.
SHEIK KHALID YASIN: I arrived in Saudi Arabia September 10. I was in my hotel room and I turned on CNN and I witnessed the horrific events take place 2.5 miles from where I was born in a city that I consider to be home. And so if anyone the shock probably hit me more than it hit anyone else.
SARAH FERGUSON: Yasin was in Saudi Arabia to organise funding from the Saudi charity foundation Al-Haramain.
SHEIK KHALID YASIN: While in Saudi, I had some discussion with officials at Haramain who had the interest in establishing a TV station. If there was any place to establish a television station in the world, it would have been America.
SARAH FERGUSON: The US Government forced Al-Haramain to shut down for supporting al-Qa'ida and its offshoots, including the Indonesian terrorist group Jemaah Islamiah.
SHEIK KHALID YASIN: Six months after the World Trade Center situation took place the Haramain foundation was blacklisted and considered to have some connections to some terrorist base, whatever. I wouldn't know that. I didn't see any traces of that. But once that determination was made, I'm an American, first of all, and I have to put my own subjectivity to the side.
SARAH FERGUSON: Yasin moved to the UK. He made headquarters here in the northern city of Sheffield and began looking for new investors. Armed with this glossy brochure on the UK operation, Yasin came back to Australia last year.
VOICE-OVER: Islamic Broadcasting Corporation a unique investment opportunity. It will host up to 50 multimedia TV channels and five radio stations. potentially serving 1.2 billion viewers across the globe.
SARAH FERGUSON: The brochure's biggest selling point is a TV broadcast centre in Coventry, complete with photos and architects' drawings.
VOICE-OVER: We are currently relocating to our brand new purpose-built 8,000 square feet broadcast centre. It will be opened for business in September 2005.
SARAH FERGUSON: By the time we'd discovered Yasin's brochure, Yasin had left the country on an overseas trip. We put its claims to the new managing director of IBC Australia, Walid Ali. IBC in the UK claims it's building a massive £2 million broadcast centre. And that broadcast centre is under construction now. In fact it's supposed to be ready now. Have you seen it?
WALID ALI, MANAGING DIRECTOR ISLAMIC BROADCASTING GROUP: I will be very honest with you. I don't know a great deal about their operations but I do know that that facility has not been built as yet. Obviously with any organisation, any business venture that you take on, there will be unexpected delays. I'm sure they're having some unexpected delays. The idea of a Muslim-owned TV station was very attractive to Muslims here, and the brochure was crucial. Yasin used it to convince them that the UK operation was worth investing in. We've spoken to people who attended fundraisers in Sydney run by Yasin. At one event last year, $90,000 was pledged in a single evening. We've also seen bank documents transferring almost $50,000 of that money to a bank account in the UK in the name of one of Yasin's companies.
The question is what happened to that money? This is the real technology park in Coventry and there is no broadcast centre because the brochure is a work of fiction, indeed fraud. Yasin's only connection with the Coventry Technology Park was a small office space rented out by his UK associate Channel Islam. According to the company which leases space here, Channel Islam broke its lease last year and is being pursued by debt collectors. None of these groups is collaborating with Yasin. The sums don't add up and the drawings were lifted from someone else's brochure.
MUHAMMAD ALI, ISLAM CHANNEL, UK: I don't think now after this long time of promises that channel is going to start broadcasting tomorrow, after tomorrow, next week, next month, next year I don't think there is much credibility left for such promises.
SARAH FERGUSON: Muhammad Ali runs this genuine media operation in the UK called Islam Channel, not to be confused with Yasin's partners at Channel Islam, who left bad debts in Coventry. He has this to say about Yasin's broadcasting corporation in England.
MUHAMMAD ALI: Islamic Broadcasting Corporation to me it doesn't exist. It's not there. I've never came across seen it. The first time I've heard of it is from your good self. It doesn't exist.
SARAH FERGUSON: Ali says that Yasin has been raising money in the UK as well.
MUHAMMD ALI: I remember once they had a lunch part in Regents Park Mosque. They invite people and tell them that they are launching it's Day Zero as they call it. And that was three years ago and nothing came through.
ADAM HOUDA: He's a person of great honour and he takes his position as a representative of Islam very seriously and he says time and time again that all his books and all his operations is completely open for anybody that wants to go through those papers.
SARAH FERGUSON: But the non-existent broadcast centre is not the only discrepancy in this operation. This is Yasin's home in the UK, the Purpose of Life centre in Sheffield. According to the brochure, it's an offshoot of the Islamic Teaching Institute in the US.
VOICE-OVER: The Islamic Teaching Institute, Georgia, 1992-2001 responsible for more than 11,000 persons accepting Islam worldwide and more than 3,000 since the unfortunate September 11 incident.
SARAH FERGUSON: IBC says it's originally an offshoot of the Islamic Teaching Institute in Atlanta. What do you know about the Islamic Teaching Institute that Khalid was associated with?
WALID ALI: I know nothing about it.
SARAH FERGUSON: Well, we've tried to find it. We've made various inquiries in the States, but we can't find any reference to it or anybody who knows about it.
WALID ALI: Well, you would have to ask Sheik Khalid in relation to that. Sheik Khalid is well-known and respected around the world for the work he does in propagating the message of Islam, essentially in contact with non-Muslims. And I think his work more than anything is where his accreditation lies.
SARAH FERGUSON: Where Yasin's accreditation lies is another mystery. He prepared this CV to support an application to the Immigration Department. Neither institution has any record of a Khalid Yasin graduating. While he was still in Australia, we asked Yasin about his qualifications as a preacher.
SHEIK KHALID YASIN: I say to you that whatever qualifications I have they are subjective. And I don't even care. And if there was a choice for Khalid Yasin I would take any qualification, academic qualification I have and I throw it out the window. And I tell you whatever other qualifications I have, whatever convictions I have will stand on their own.
SARAH FERGUSON: The issue is that he has claimed to have those qualifications. I've checked. He doesn't. Does that concern you?
WALID ALI: Well, I guess it would concern me. I would really need to understand why he would make those claims if they weren't true.
SARAH FERGUSON: Sunday sent Yasin a series of questions about these discrepancies but we haven't received a reply. No doubt his rhetoric of Muslim victimhood will apply equally to him.
SHEIK KHALID YASIN: If I were a Buddhist, if I were a Hindu, if I were a Christian if I were a born again evangelist, would that frighten anybody? No, it wouldn't. But it frightens people because I'm a Muslim I say that that is the cause of the atmosphere of prejudice that has been fostered by sensationalist, hungry, desperate prejudicial, scandalous journalists who can't seems to find any other story. Shame on them.
SARAH FERGUSON: And Muhammad Ali in London has this message for Muslims in Australia thinking of donating money to Yasin.
MUHAMMAD ALI: My advice think before you donate. You have to make sure that you are donating not only to a good cause, because everybody knows what does it mean a good cause, but you have to know you are giving it to the right people.
SARAH FERGUSON: No doubt the Australian Government will be asking the question what actually is the Purpose of Life?.
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