THE nation’s most senior Muslim cleric has blamed immodestly dressed women who don’t wear Islamic headdress for being preyed on by men and likened them to abandoned “meat” that attracts voracious animals.
In a Ramadan sermon that has outraged Muslim women leaders, Sydney-based Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali also alluded to the infamous Sydney gang rapes, suggesting the attackers were not entirely to blame.
While not specifically referring to the rapes, brutal attacks on four women for which a group of young Lebanese men received long jail sentences, Sheik Hilali said there were women who “sway suggestively” and wore make-up and immodest dress … “and then you get a judge without mercy (rahma) and gives you 65 years”.
“But the problem, but the problem all began with who?” he asked.
The leader of the 2000 rapes in Sydney’s southwest, Bilal Skaf, a Muslim, was initially sentenced to 55 years’ jail, but later had the sentence reduced on appeal.
In the religious address on adultery to about 500 worshippers in Sydney last month, Sheik Hilali said: “If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside on the street, or in 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?
“The uncovered meat is the problem.”
The sheik then said: “If she was in her room, in her home, in her hijab, no problem would have occurred.”
He 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).”
Muslim community leaders were yesterday outraged and offended by Sheik 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 former member of John Howard’s Muslim advisory board told The Australian. “The onus should not be on the female to not attract attention, it should be on males to learn how to control themselves.”
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.
“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.
Ms Hage-Ali said she was “disgusted and offended” by Shiek Hilali’s comments. “I find it very offensive that a man who considers himself as a mufti, a leader of Australia’s Muslims, can give comment that lacks intelligence and common sense.”
Yesterday, the mufti defended the sermon about “adultery and theft”, a recorded copy of which has been obtained and translated by The Australian.
Sheik Hilali said he only meant to refer to prostitutes as “meat” and not any scantily dressed woman with no hijab, despite him not mentioning the word prostitute during the 17-minute talk.
He told The Australian the message he intended to convey was: “If a woman who shows herself off, she is to blame … but a man should be able to control himself”. He said if a woman is “covered and respectful” she “demands respect from a man”. “But when she is cheap, she throws herself at the man and cheapens herself.”
Sheik Hilali also insisted his references to the Sydney gang rapes were to illustrate that Skaf was guilty and worthy of receiving such a harsh sentence.
Waleed Ali said Sheik Hilali was “normalising immoral sexual behaviour” by comparing women to meat and men to animals and entirely blaming women for being victims.
“It’s basically saying that the immoral response of men to women who are not fully covered is as natural and as inevitable as the response of an animal tempted by food,” he said.
“But (unlike animals) men are people who have moral responsibilities and the capability in engaging in moral action.”
Revelation of the mufti’s comments comes after he criticised Mr Howard last month in The Australian for saying a minority of migrant men mistreated their women. Sheik Hilali said such a minority was found in all faiths. “Those who don’t respect their women are not true Muslims.”
“There’s a small percentage found among all religions, but we don’t recognise ours as Muslims.”
Aziza Abdel-Halim said Sheik Hilali’s remarks during Ramadan were inaccurate and upsetting to the Muslim community.
“They are below and beyond any comment (and) do not deserve any consideration.”