A popular Sydney sheikh and teacher has been killed in Syria, Australian Islamic community figures report.
Sheikh Mustapha Al Majzoub was said to have been buried in Syria yesterday at a service attended by his brother Sheikh Fedaa Majzoub, the only Australian member of the opposition Syrian National Council.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is yet to confirm Sheikh Al Majzoub's death, or whether he is the first Australian to die in the Syrian conflict.
Tributes for the well-known cleric have flooded social media sites, ahead of a condolence meeting to be attended by his family in Lakemba tonight.
Of Syrian heritage, the former teacher at the Unity Grammar School in western Sydney travelled to the country on humanitarian grounds in June, but the circumstances of his death this week remain unclear.
Muslim Village website reports that some accounts have stated that he died in a rocket attack while leading a rebel platoon in the Syrian town of Salma.
But Lebanese Muslim Association president, Samier Dandan, said he believed the cleric and his brother were facilitating talks between the leaders of different rebel groups, rather than being directly involved in any fighting.
"People like that, honestly, even if I was an army commander I would not be putting them in the front line because they would have no experience whatsoever," he said.
Islamic Friendship Association of Australia spokesman Keysar Trad, who believed Sheikh Al Majzoub was in the port city of Lazakia at the time of his death, also dismissed suggestions he was involved in fighting as "far fetched".
"Some sort of a rocket was fired on his town from about 50 kilometres away by the Syrian regime soldiers, indiscriminately shelling his town and he was killed, unfortunately," he said.
"A man of the cloth whose mission in life is to bring peace to those around him and attend to their spiritual needs was mercilessly killed by the dying Assad regime."
The NSW counter-terrorism command would most likely be keeping a close eye on the situation, given its potential to further inflame simmering tensions between Sydney's Sunni and Shiite communities over the Syrian conflict.
Mr Dandan said Sheikh Al Majzoub was respected in the community as a moderate, and for his work with Australia's Muslim youth.
"He was quite a family man, a loving father. He cared a lot for what is happening in Syria," he said.
In January, Sheikh Al Majzoub addressed a Bankstown protest rally in support of the Syrian uprising against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, speaking about the need to support the oppressed anywhere in the world, in particular Syria.
In his final Facebook post on August 3, he wrote that he had learnt not to judge a man by appearances of strength, "rather judge him by his steadfastness at calamities and on the battlefields".
"I met brothers here who from the first instance you might think they are too merciful or weak (due to the way they treat other Muslims), however on the battlefields they are lions that roar," he said.
Sheikh Al Majzoub taught at the Unity Grammar College in Austral, an Islamic school, until earlier this year.
Its principal, Walid Ali, said he was committed to his teaching and to his students, who along with staff were shocked at the news.
"He was a really jovial person ... very committed to his teaching, very committed to the boys and girls under his care, and just a really positive role model for others," he said. "He will be very much missed by all those who know him."