Moving Forward & Reflecting on the Year
We caught up with Sheikh Alaa Elzokm, a widely-respected leader in our community and a Crescent Wealth member to discuss how we as a community can continue to support each other as we move forward in a post-COVID world.
CW: What’s been your journey to becoming a Sheikh?
I studied Bachelor of Islamic studies at the highly esteemed Al-Azhar University in Cairo, also where I am originally from, but my journey in Islamic studies started at a much younger age, in primary school. At Al-Azhar, Islam is taught with a contemporary approach and we spent considerable time considering the challenges faced by Muslims in the west, as well as, how best to build bridges between Muslim and non-muslim communities.
In Australia, I have had the privilege of leading Heidelberg mosque in Melbourne where I have the opportunity to help connect Muslims with the broader Australian community. As an Imam, pastoral care for the local youth and couples counselling is a natural extension of my work, whilst also being an active member of the Australian Board of Imams and Australian Imams Council. In 2017 the Governor of Victoria awarded the Heidelberg mosque the Victorian Multicultural Award of which we are of course very humbled to have received.
CW: Ramadan 2020 has offered a unique point of reflection for many considering things in the world. What have you been reflecting on this year?
Ramadan typically represents an opportunity to meet and connect with many in our community, and there are significant events which host many, including indigenous Australians and official figures like the Chief Commissioner. However, none of that was possible this year naturally.
However, this Ramadan, the fewer distractions enabled us to spend more quality time with our families and we spent time talking and praying with Taraweeh. Reflecting on this, it’s amazing how being busy with everything we all have can take us away from the meaningful things we have right in front of us.
CW: It’s been amazing to see the community come together despite the distance between us. How have you seen this within your community?
Coming together as a community is really important, and we have received a great response from the government on our work, as well as some positive elements of the media.
The Crescent Wealth Eid message was powerful in reminding people the message of eid, that we are all one people. I was honoured to be a part of this campaign alongside many great Australians like the Premier of NSW and football commentator Craig Foster. Craig actually broke his fast each day of Ramadan with a different Muslim family and told the story on social media – a fantastic initiative that helped bring people together despite our distance.
CW: How have you been delivering your sermons during this time? What have been some of the challenges and how have you overcome these?
Despite social distancing, it is important that we continue to teach each other the meaning of Ramadan, and what it means to care for one another. In times like this, it is important to remain focused and not let ourselves become victims of circumstance.
As we were unable to meet physically, we launched the Australian Quranic Campaign where imams from across Australia, and young Australian Quran reciters read a verse of the Quran each night.
CW: What do you think Coronavirus can teach us and what lessons should we be taking away from this experience?
I believe we are in a time of test where Allah swt is testing us to get closer to him to show appreciation for the blessings we have. Alhamdulillah we are very lucky in Australia compared to other communities around the world and it is too easy to take for granted how blessed we really are. It is unfortunate to see new cases of Coronavirus in the community, particularly from family to family transmission and it’s more important than ever that we continue to sacrifice for the common good of all.
This is a time to reflect on what we should be thankful for because there are those that are deprived of the blessing of being healthy. We should put our trust in Allah swt: he loves us, doesn’t want to punish us, so this is a time to continue to show care and love for each other.
I really love when people call each other and check-in. We need to emphasise the importance of being helpful when there may be anxiety and depression out there. We are in a lucky country and are really blessed to be here. I would like to move away from the concept of the outbreak being a punishment. I believe this is a test and I would like to emphasise this. Gratitude is important and so it is crucial to display love and meaningful care at those who have less.
Personally for myself and my family, we received the ultimate blessing which we are tremendously thankful to Allah swt for – my wife gave birth to our first child, Alhamdulillah.
CW: Our Crescent Wealth community would love to hear some words of advice during these difficult times. What would you say to people that are particularly struggling?
It is important to listen to government advice on Coronavirus and to respect the decisions of the authorities. Most mosques remain closed, and those that are open are following strict social distancing protocols as per government advice.
This has no doubt changed perspectives on life and highlighted the importance of a balanced or healthy life. We should reach out to members of our community that are having a difficult time, especially to those that are struggling with mental health or people with disabilities.
Personally, I am looking forward to social distancing being eased so that we can get back to building on the many years of community work. Equally, I hope that our brothers and sisters from Crescent Wealth are rewarded for their many years of community development.
CW: What can we all look forward to?
I am a member of the Crescent Wealth super fund and am looking forward to staying in touch with announcements on new initiatives to progress Islamic superannuation and lead the industry forward with Islamic Investing principles, I’m personally of course very excited to embark on a journey of life as a new family, as well as, inshallah, the gradual opening of restrictions and the return to the full mosques we all enjoy so much.
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Talal currently serves as a Non-Executive Director on the Whitlam Institute and Western Sydney University Foundation Council Board. He also serves as Chairman of First Quay Capital and Chairman of the Australian Arab Dialogue. Talal has also served on the Australia Post, Board of Sydney Ports, Macquarie University and the Western Sydney Area Health Service and the Chairman of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Council of Australia Arab Relations. In an executive capacity, Talal spent 10 years at PwC as a director and strategist, and at investment firm Babcock & Brown in the Corporate Finance Group and later in the Technical Real Estate Division. Later Talal held leadership positions in Better Place Australia, Platinum Hearing and Star Transport Australia.