- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 26, 2006

1:25 p.m.

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) — A senior Muslim cleric has compared women who go without a head scarf to “uncovered meat” left out for scavengers. His comment drew widespread charges that he was condoning rape and also prompted calls today for his resignation.

Sheik Taj Aldin al Hilali denied he was condoning rape when he made the comments in a sermon last month, and he apologized to any women he had offended, saying they were free to dress as they wished.

Sheik Hilali was quoted in the Australian newspaper Thursday as saying in the sermon: “If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside … without cover, and the cats come to eat it … whose fault is it, the cats’ or the uncovered meat’s?

“The uncovered meat is the problem. If she was in her room, in her home, in her hijab, no problem would have occurred.” The hijab is the headdress worn by some Muslim women.

Prime Minister John Howard called the remarks “appalling and reprehensible.”

“The idea that women are to blame for rapes is preposterous,” Mr. Howard said.

The comments come during a heated debate in Britain about religious freedom centered around whether Muslim women should wear veils.

Similar passions raged when France banned head scarves and other religious symbols in public schools two years ago.

In Australia, the cleric’s comments brought widespread condemnation from other Muslim leaders, civil libertarians and political leaders.

Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner Pru Goward said Sheik Hilali’s comment was an incitement to rape and that Australia’s Muslims should force him to resign.

“This is inciting young men to a violent crime because it is the woman’s fault,” Mr. Goward told television’s Nine Network. “It is time the Islamic community did more than say they were horrified. I think it is time he left.”

Sheik Hilali is the top cleric at Sydney’s largest mosque and is considered the most senior Islamic leader by many Muslims in Australia and New Zealand.

He has in the past served as an adviser to the Australian government on Muslim issues, but he triggered a controversy in 2004 for saying in a sermon in Lebanon that the September 11 attacks were “God’s work against the oppressors.”

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