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.
This isn't the first time al Hilali has found himself at the center of controversy. While preaching a sermon in Lebanon in 2004, he said the September 11, 2001 attacks on America were "God's work against the oppressors." Despite the obvious overtones of the statement, al Hilali later claimed they didn't mean that he supported the attacks or terrorism.
Prime Minister Howard said for al Hilali to imply women were at fault for being sexually assaulted was "preposterous, the whole idea of women being responsible for being raped is preposterous."
Already tense relations between the nations 300,000 Muslims and the majority Christian-heritage population are not helped by such ill-advised and foolish remarks by religious leaders. As Australian Muslims express the desire to become a viable part of society, let us hope they will emphasize the seriousness of their commitment by sending al Hilali packing.
To imply a woman was raped because of her failure to dress modestly is unconscionable and has no place in a civilized discussion of a serious issue, either on the street or from the pulpit.Powered by Sidelines