When Australian Douglas Wood was kidnapped in Iraq several weeks ago (apparently betrayed by someone he knew), many feared the worst (especially since Margaret Hassan wasn’t spared). However, Australia’s chief Islamic cleric, Sheikh Taj Aldin Al-Hilali, quickly offered to swap himself in Wood’s place (Canberra said no). Then, mirroring an (unsuccessful) effort by British Muslims (et tu, American Muslims?) to save the life of British hostage Ken Bigley, Al-Hilali went to Baghdad to negotiate directly. “All the Australian brotherhood must pray,” Sheikh Al-Hilali said. “We are going to Iraq to help our Australian brother.” Upon arrival in Baghdad, Al-Hilali made contact with the kidnappers and eventually saw footage of Wood confirming his condition, though he was only able to leave medication for Wood after expectations of freedom came and went (Wood has a heart condition). “I have seen a recent CD video lasting 12 to 15 minutes where Wood is alive and good and in honest hands,” Al-Hilali said. Back in Australia, the Wood family made heartfelt pleas and promised to make a generous donation to the people of Iraq (which they insist is not a ransom payment). Some observers have taken Al-Hilali to task for statements he made in Iraq addressed to the captors, as well as his opposition to the Iraq invasion and presence of Australian troops (erm, that may be half of the country). “We value your jihad and your efforts,” said Al-Hilali in a translated message. “And we call upon you to do something for the sake of our community and all Australian society, which does not support (John) Howard’s pro-American policies.” Opposition immigration spokesperson Laurie Anderson clarified, “Knowing him… I’m absolutely convinced he doesn’t support bin Laden and the forces that are holding these people.” In the meantime, Wood is still struggling against his captors and his medical condition until the extent of Al-Hilali’s influence can be determined. Says Australia’s Herald Sun newspaper, “If it turns out his visit has helped establish the Muslim community’s bona fides in Australian eyes, it will be an important outcome.”
Zahed Amanullah is associate editor of altmuslim.com. He is based in London, England.