Sheik Taj Aldin al Hilali, The Chief Cleric of Sydney, Australia's largest mosque, ignited a firestorm of criticism following a recent sermon in which he described women appearing publicly without head scarves as "uncovered meat."
al Hilali said, "If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside... without cover, and the cats come to eat it...whose fault is it, the cat's or the uncovered meat's?"
Australians angered at the cleric's sermon say he appears to be condoning rape with the statements by implying the woman is at fault if she is sexually assaulted. Al Hilali said he's "shocked" by the reaction to his sermon in a statement on Thursday. He claimed his sermon dealt with Islamic religious teachings on modesty and not going to extremes in enticing men. "This does not condone rape! I condemn rape."
While the cleric denies he is blaming rape on the victim, his words seem to give lie to his protestations of being misunderstood. "The uncovered meat is the problem. If she was in her room, in her home, in her hijab, no problem would have occurred," he's quoted as saying in reference to the headdress worn by some Muslim women while in public places.
Outspoken Australian Prime Minister John Howard calls the remarks "appalling and reprehensible." He was joined in his condemnation of the cleric by civil libertarians, other Muslim leaders, and high-ranking politicians. Pru Goward, Sex Discrimination Commissioner for Australia, called upon Muslims to force al Hilali out of his position. "It is time the Islamic community did more than say they were horrified. I think it is time he left."
Al Hilali has served as an advisor to the Australian government on Islamic issues in the past and is considered the chief leader of the Muslim community in Australia and New Zealand.