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Muslim leader's sexist sermon causes uproar

[This is the print version of story]

The World Today - Thursday, 26 October , 2006  12:18:00

Reporter: Josie Taylor

ELEANOR HALL: There's been widespread condemnation today of the comments allegedly made by one of Australia's Muslim leaders that immodestly dressed women are inviting rape.

In a religious address in Sydney last month, Sheikh Taj El Din Al Hilali reportedly compared some women to uncovered meat being left out for a cat.

A close associate of the Mufti has confirmed some of the reported comments, but he claims the Sheikh was talking about abstinence and fidelity, not rape.

But other Muslim leaders have described the comments as disgusting and NSW Liberal Party candidate Pru Goward called for Sheikh Al Hilali to be deported.

Josie Taylor has our report.

JOSIE TAYLOR: In his address to up to 500 followers last month, Sheikh Taj El Din Al Hilali compared women who dressed immodestly to uncovered meat.

He's been unavailable to speak to The World Today, but his close associate Keysar Trad says the Mufti was taken out of context.

KEYSAR TRAD: From my discussions with him, the issue was not whether they wear a hijab or don't wear a hijab. The issue is that every society has a certain dress code, a normal dress code that people go by.

So if somebody goes beyond that dress code, if men or women get to the stage where they dress in a manner that is provocative, then these people are doing something wrong. But if the dress code in the society is such that it's a short skirt and a tank top, well, that's a dresscode, that's the norm.

JOSIE TAYLOR: Is it fair to say that women who go outside the norm in their dress codes are then fair game for rapists?

KEYSAR TRAD: No, well, see the issue is not about rape. The issue is about extra-marital sexual activity. He was not talking about rape.

JOSIE TAYLOR: Moderate Muslim leaders have joined with politicians in expressing their disgust, saying it's not the first time the Sydney cleric has made controversial and divisive comments.

Pru Goward is the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, who's now a Liberal Party candidate in New South Wales.

She says the religious leader is inciting Muslim men to rape Australian women and he should be deported.

PRU GOWARD: I would strongly urge the Islamic leadership to ask him to go. We would all support that. There is a pattern of these statements. We are a tolerant people, but incitement to the crime of rape is not acceptable.

JOSIE TAYLOR: This was Federal Treasurer Peter Costello's reaction on Channel Seven.

PETER COSTELLO: We really need political leaders to speak out against it, but you know, I hope that the moderate Muslim leaders will speak out today and condemn these comments and make it clear to Muslims that this is not the view of Islam and that they will really take some kind of action to disassociate themselves from the comments that Sheikh Hilali has made and indeed, take some kind of action to try and pull him into line.

JOSIE TAYLOR: Waleed Ali is a board member of the Islamic Council of Victoria.

He wants the position of Mufti or the spiritual leader of the Australian Muslim community to be abolished.

He says these comments reinforce his view that one person can't speak for the whole Muslim community

WALEED ALI: It is inherently a nonsense, it's a fiction, really and because of that it should be… it should go.

It doesn't help, of course, that it has been filled over recent years by someone who has repeatedly made statements that broader Australia finds offensive and continually makes controversial statements and also statements that tend often not to be reflective of the attitudes of the Muslim community more broadly.

JOSIE TAYLOR: Now, how was he appointed to this position and can he in fact be sacked as some people are calling for today?

WALEED ALI: My understanding is that the position was created by the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils as an honorary position and it was voted upon by state councils at that time.

Now, the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, which is the sole reason the position exists is currently in administration, so the idea that he can be sacked or the position can be abolished right now is obviously an impossible one to give expression to. It's impossible because the body can't be incapacitated.

JOSIE TAYLOR: Tasneen Chopra chairs the Islamic Women's Welfare Council of Victoria.

She says the Mufti's reported comments undermine the status of women, but stopped short herself of calling for the cleric to leave his position.

TASNEEN CHOPRA: He's representing himself. He's not representing the Muslim community when he makes these statements.

JOSIE TAYLOR: But how can he… as you say, he's made these sort of controversial statements before. Why has he been allowed to remain in this position?

TASNEEN CHOPRA: Well, that's a very good question and I'd like to know the answer to that too.

JOSIE TAYLOR: Do you think that this will be the nail in the coffin in terms of his status?

TASNEEN CHOPRA: His comments, offensive as they are, have been so thoroughly repudiated that they don't have the validity.

JOSIE TAYLOR: Valid or not, the Australian Federal Commissioner, Mick Keelty, says the comments may damage relations with the Islamic community.

MICK KEELTY: What we're trying to do is work closely with the Islamic community, all of us, and understand them better and I guess this just, you know, doesn't help that cause.

ELEANOR HALL: Federal Police Commissioner, Mick Keelty ending Josie Taylor's report.


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