A Muslim cleric's claim that women who do not wear the veil are like uncovered meat who attract sexual predators has sparked outrage in Australia
Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali, the nation's most senior Muslim cleric, compared immodestly-dressed women who do not wear the Islamic headdress with meat that is left uncovered in the street and is then eaten by cats.
Politicians including Prime Minister John Howard, community leaders and a large number of Muslims condemned the mufti's comments amid calls that he should be deported to Egypt, his country of origin.
In a Ramadam sermon in a Sydney mosque, Sheik al-Hilali suggested that a group of Muslim men recently jailed for many years for gang rapes were not entirely to blame.
There were women, he said, who 'sway suggestively' and wore make-up and immodest dress "and then you get a judge without mercy and gives you 65 years. But the problem, but the problem all began with who?" he said, referring to the women victims.
Addressing 500 worshippers on the topic of adultery, Sheik al-Hilali added: "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."
He went on: "If she was in her room, in her home, in her hijab (veil), no problem would have occurred."
Women, he said, were 'weapons' used by Satan to control men.
His comments, reported yesterday in the nationally-circulated newspaper The Australian, created a storm of outrage.
It follows anger that erupted among Muslims in Britain earlier this month when MP Jack Straw said women who wear veils over their face can make community relations harder.
But Sheik al-Hilali's has created an even bigger storm by using the uncovered meat example to accuse women who do not cover their heads and faces of tempting men.
Prime Minister Howard labelled the mufti's comments as 'appalling and reprehensible', adding: "They are quite out of touch with contemporary values in Australia.
"The idea that women are to blame for rapes is preposterous. I not only reject the comments, I condemn them unconditionally." Treasurer Peter Costello urged the Muslim community to condemn the comments and take action against the Sheik.
"If you have a significant religious leader like this preaching to a flock in a situation where we've had gang rapes, in a way that seems to make it justifiable, or at least lighten the dehumanising and degrading extent of the offence."
A close associate of the sheik, Keysar Trad, said the speech was about adultery, not rape. "He wasn't talking about standard norms of dress in Australia or any country, he wasn't talking about the hijab, he was talking about people who engage in extramarital sex."
But Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner Miss Pru Goward said there could be no backtracking over the comments. "He could be guilty of incitement to the crime of rape and should be deported," she said.
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