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Muslim community leader awarded honorary doctorate

Claudia Doman

9 October 2015: For the past two decades, Dr Jamal Rifi has been accumulating accolades and praise for his leadership among the Australian Muslim community as well as taking a stand against hatred and social injustice.

From playing a central role in rebuilding trust among the communities in Cronulla after the 2005 riots to his tireless work as a general practitioner in Sydney's west, Dr Rifi has been renowned for rolling up his sleeves to help people. 

In recognition to his relentless efforts and his outstanding role as a community leader, Dr Rifi will receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Canberra on Thursday.

"I am honoured, excited and humbled to receive this honorary doctorate from the University of Canberra," Dr Rifi said. "I migrated to Australia to marry the love of my life and I fell in love with Australia and its people."

Born in Tripoli, Lebanon, Dr Rifi decided to become a doctor when his younger brother died from an anaphylactic reaction to a penicillin shot. Unable to study medicine in Lebanon due to the ongoing civil war, he travelled to Romania, a country he knew nothing about.

He spent four years in Romania studying to become a doctor before moving to Australia in 1984 to marry Lana, the daughter of Lebanese Australian migrants who he had courted for four years via correspondence. The father of five then went on to study medicine, for the second time, now at the University of Sydney, graduating in 1989.

Dr Rifi defines himself as a grassroots activist, "committed to improving the social standing of local Australians through education, employment and sport".

He was a founding member of Muslim Doctors Against Violence and the Christian Muslim Friendship Society.

As the president of the Lakemba Sports and Recreation Club he developed innovative projects such as training 22 young Muslim men and women to become surf lifesavers in the wake of the Cronulla riots. He also encouraged young people to join the State Emergency Services or follow positive career paths.

Dr Rifi has more recently taken a stand against radicalisation and has worked towards a better understanding between the Muslim and non-Muslim communities.

He was the recipient of the 2007 Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission's Community award. In 2009 he received the NSW Local Hero of the Year Award and in 2014 he was the recipient of the Pride of Australia Medal State and National 'Fair Go' Category.

He is The Australian's 2015 Australian of the Year and more recently was named the Australian Father of the Year.

Dr Rifi's generous nature sees him regularly getting involved in youth, family and community development projects, with the clear aim to give back to this country.

"I have always been grateful to Australia for giving me the opportunity to achieve and now I am grateful to the University of Canberra for acknowledging my work in such way."