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Why Can't The Australian
Imam Think Beyond Meat?

By Farzana Versey

28 October, 2006

Sheik Taj Aldin al Hilali chose the month of Ramzan to talk about meat. Unfortunately, he was referring to women in that demeaning fashion.

Said he, "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 cover, and the cats come to eat it ... whose fault is it, the cats' or the uncovered meat's?"

While the concentration is on the woman as meat analogy, we should also cast a glance at his assumption that, as a consequence, men are cats. The cat brain is vastly different from the human brain, which the Mufti does not seem to understand.

He went on to add, "If she (a woman) was in her room, in her home, in her hijab, no problem would have occurred."

Which world does he live in? Is there no rape in Muslim countries? Are women behind veils not molested? Don't rapes take place inside homes?

What is surprising is these comments were made at a public sermon outside a mosque. What were the Muslims doing at the time? Isn't Islam all about there being one god and one prophet and one holy book? Then, this human 'middleman' is not sacrosanct. Why did they not pull him up immediately or issue a statement distancing themselves from these disgusting views?

A month later 'The Australian', a local newspaper translated his comments, and now it has caused a furore. The problem with hindsight is that an emotive issue gets rationalised to the point that demerits too are rectified. Even the BBC, while interviewing him, described him thus: "A softly-spoken man, who clearly commands both enormous respect and affection within his community."

This is a nice way to pin the whole community, at least within Australia. Did the BBC's correspondent conduct a poll to ascertain his popularity? The media tends to assume that religious leaders, politicians, pop stars control people's attention merely due to the fact that they cater to or represent them symbolically.

To those who see this as one more Islamic problem, my answer is, NO. It is the problem of one guy living in Australia.

There are those who are reacting to it and justifying the Imam's statements by saying that even the Israeli President Moshe Katsav has been involved in scandals of rape, indecent assault and sexual harassment of women. The latter is clearly a criminal offence for which he will or ought to be tried in a court of law.

There have been several cases of such crimes as well as inappropriate behaviour, including by the former US President Bill Clinton. The law took its course, to whatever degree (some element of influence no doubt impeding the legal process).

However, bringing these examples into the present discussion does not help, because these are not religious leaders.

Should there be different standards for them? Most certainly. While politicians can be thrown out of power, what checks and balances are there against these 'people of god'?

How different is the Mufti's behaviour from, say, a situation in which a woman may be referred to as "a nice piece of ass"? Social interactions require an altogether different set of norms, based on the constructs of that particular culture, which may or may not look kindly upon such terminology.

But the Mufti's words negate what HE is supposed to stand for. His religion, Islam, does not give him the right to talk in this manner. It is as simple as that. If anything, he ought to feel ashamed of claiming Islam as his own and so should the Muslims. He has no business to hijack the religion for his paltry understanding of it and his few minutes of notoriety.

I do believe people should reasonably argue this issue without getting into religious politics. Irrespective of the fact that Australia has recently asked for a citizenship test that may target Muslims and start the whole debate about "integrating into the mainstream" – a superficial and smart way to bludgeon a community – it is a separate concern that needs to be tackled at the level of immigration policy and political prudence. Race riots have indeed affected many Muslims of Middle East origin and as Walid Ali of the Islamic Council of Victoria said, "I am expecting people to get abused in the street and get abused at work."

For now, however, the Australian Imam should be disowned by the community for his irresponsible remarks.

(Farzana Versey can be reached at

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