- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 26, 2006

SYDNEY, Australia — A senior Muslim cleric compared women who go without head scarves to “uncovered meat” left out for scavengers, drawing widespread criticism that he was condoning rape and calls yesterday for his resignation.

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

Sheik al-Hilali was quoted in the Australian, a newspaper, yesterday 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,” he was quoted as saying, referring to 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 and 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, there was widespread condemnation of the cleric’s comments from other Muslim leaders, civil libertarians and political leaders.

Australian Sex Discrimination Commissioner Pru Goward said that Sheik al-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 al-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 served as an adviser to the Australian government on Muslim issues, but triggered criticism 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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