Posted on October 26, 2006

Sorry Sheik On Oxygen

AAP and Courier-Mail (Australia), Oct. 26, 2006

AUSTRALIA’S senior Muslim cleric Sheik Taj dim Al-hilali has apologised for any offence caused by his comments that immodestly dressed women provoke sexual attacks.

A spokesman for Sheik Alhilali said the backlash and criticism had badly affected him and he had been depressed and confined to bed all day, breathing with the assistance of an oxygen tank.

The Australian newspaper reported today that, in a sermon delivered last month, Sheik Alhilali likened scantily clad women to uncovered meat eaten by animals.

“I unreservedly apologise to any woman who is offended by my comments,” he said in a statement today.

“I had only intended to protect women’s honour, something lost in The Australian presentation of my talk.”

Sheik Alhilali has been widely condemned by Muslim and non Muslim groups for the Ramadan sermon he gave in Arabic to 500 worshippers in Sydney.

According to The Australian’s translation, he said: “If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside on the street, or in the the garden or in the park, or in the backyard without a cover, and the cats come and eat it . . . whose fault is it, the cats or the uncovered meat,” he said.

“The uncovered meat is the problem.

“If she was in her room, in her home, in her hijab (Islamic headscarf which covers the hair neck and shoulders), no problem would have occurred.”

But the mufti of Australia and New Zealand would not back away from his comments and said he was shocked by the way his sermon was interpreted.

“The Australian front page article reported selected comments from a talk presented one month ago,” the sheik said.

“The title was ‘Why men were mentioned before women for the crime of theft and woman (sic) before men for the sin of fornication’.

“I would like to unequivocally confirm that the presentation related to religious teachings on modesty and not to go to extremes in enticements, this does not condone rape, I condemn rape and reiterate that this is a capital crime.

“Women in our Australian society have the freedom and right to dress as they choose (while) the duty of man is to avert his glance or walk away.

“If a man falls from grace and commits fornication then if this was consensual, they would be both guilty, but if it was forced, then the man has committed a capital crime.

“Whether a man endorses or not, a particular form of dress, any form of harassment of women is unacceptable.”

Earlier today, federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner Pru Goward said the sheik should be sacked and deported for comments which essentially excused young Muslim men who committed rape.

Ms Goward said the sheik had a history of making such comments and many would feel Australia’s tolerance had been abused.

“It is incitement to a crime. Young Muslim men who now rape women can cite this in court, can quote this man . . . their leader in court,” she told the Nine Network.

“It’s time we stopped just saying he should apologise. It is time the Islamic community did more then say they were horrified. I think it is time he left.”

Sheik al-Hilali’s comments were delivered in a Ramadan sermon to 500 worshippers in Sydney last month, according to a report in The Australian.

“If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside on the street, or in the the garden or in the park, or in the backyard without a cover, and the cats come and eat it . . . whose fault is it, the cats’ or the uncovered meat,” he said.

“The uncovered meat is the problem.

“If she was in her room, in her home, in her hajib (Islamic headdress), no problem would have occurred.”

Yasmin Khan, a leader in Brisbane’s Islamic community, told ABC Radio this morning that al-Hilali would be in Queensland next week for the Eid Festival, the celebration which marks the end of Ramadan.

Ms Khan said she had spoken to someone who had listened to a tape of al-Hilali’s comments in Arabic and confirmed what had been reported was accurate.

She also said she was sure Brisbane’s Islamic women attending any functions with the controversial Imam would, in private, demand to know why al-Hilali made the comments.

But Griffith University PhD scholar Halim Rane, who belongs to the Griffith Islamic Research Unit, went further, calling for the visit to be cancelled.

Mr Rane told ABC Radio that al-Hilali should not be welcomed to the Eid Festival next week and that he would speak to Ms Khan and the organisers about retracting the invitation.

Ms Goward said al-Hilali’s likening of women to raw meat was an ugly comparison and that was vile enough.

She said the real issue was that he was excusing Muslim men for crimes against women on the grounds that women asked for it.

Ms Goward said Australia had moved on from that sort of thinking a long time ago.

“I repeat, I think it was time he was asked to go and I would encourage the authorities to consider whether a man who incites young Muslim men to crime, because that is essentially what he has done, should be allowed to stay,” she said.

“This is encouraging young men to a violent crime on the basis that it is okay because it is there, it is the women’s fault. This is against Australian law.”

Ms Goward said she was unaware of the conditions under which the sheik was in Australia.

“We have got past the stage of everybody rushing around being upset and saying he should apologise and the Islamic community understandably and rightly being annoyed and embarrassed,” she said.

“If we are really serious about Islamic and Islamic Australia being part of Australia, then I think there has got to be a bit more leadership shown and he has got to leave.

“The next step is for the authorities to consider whether somebody who incites from a position of very important leadership in that community . . . ought to go. I don’t know his visa arrangements, I don’t know the status of his citizenship and that might be more difficult.”

Sheik al-Hihali reportedly said that he only meant to refer to prostitutes as meat, and not any scantily clad woman without a hijab.

But Ms Khan, who chooses not to wear a hijab, refuted al-Hilali’s comparison, saying Islamic women were not even required to wear the garment in the privacy of their homes.

The Australian also reported that Sheik al-Hihali had said women were “weapons” used by “Satan” to control men.

“It is said in the state of zina (adultery), the responsibility falls 90 per cent of the time on the woman. Why? Because she possesses the weapon of enticement (igraa).”

The Australian reported that Muslim community leaders were outraged and offended by Sheik al-Hilali’s remarks, insisting the cleric was no longer worthy of his title as Australia’s mufti.

Young Muslim adviser Iktimal Hage-Ali — who does not wear a hijab — said the Islamic headdress was not a “tool” worn to prevent rape and sexual harassment.

“It’s a symbol that readily identifies you as being Muslim, but just because you don’t wear the headscarf doesn’t mean that you’re considered fresh meat for sale,” the Australian reported.

Australia’s most prominent female Muslim leader, Aziza Abdel-Halim, said the hijab did not “detract or add to a person’s moral standards”, while Islamic Council of Victoria spokesman Waleed Ali said it was “ignorant and naive” for anyone to believe that a hijab could stop sexual assault, The Australian reported.

“Anyone who is foolish enough to believe that there is a relationship between rape or unwelcome sexual interference and the failure to wear a hijab, clearly has no understanding of the nature of sexual crime,” he said.