Muslim cleric calls white Australians convicts
dpa German Press Agency:
Muslims have a greater claim to Australia than non-Muslims because they arrived as fee-paying immigrants rather than "shackled convicts," the leader of the 350,000-strong community said Thursday. Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali, mufti of Sydney's biggest mosque, made his controversial comments on an Egyptian television station during his annual holiday in the country of his birth.
"We came as free people, we bought our own tickets, we are entitled to Australia more than they are," al-Hilaly said in remarks broadcast on Australia's Seven Network television station.
The sheik made international headlines last year when he said that women who didn't wear the veil were like "uncovered meat" inviting rape.
Prime Minister John Howard, who appointed al-Hilali to a 14-member Muslim advisory body constituted after last year's London bombings, brushed off the comments as merely jest.
"I think it'll bring a wry smile to the face of Australians who don't actually feel the least bit offended that many of our ancestors came here as convicts," he told reporters. "It's almost a badge of honour for many Australians."
Al-Hilai is a controversial figure, having denied the Holocaust, defended suicide bombers, described as "God's work" the 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, and blamed Jews for "all the wars and problems that threaten the peace and stability of all the world."
After al-Hilali's "uncovered meat" comments, Howard urged moderate Muslims to condemn his views. Instead, they lined up behind the controversial mufti.
"Everybody knows how it can be resolved but it's not in my hands," the prime minister said after al-Hilali's meat analogy. "Australian governments, generally, don't appoint people to religious positions in this country - it is a matter for the flock to decide who its shepherd will be."
As on countless earlier occasions, Islamic Friendship Association president Keysar Trad sprang to the defence of the mufti, saying his remarks in Arabic had been mistranslated and "taken out of context."
Trad said: "It's evident by the controversy that has erupted again that there are people out there watching every comment he makes."
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