October 28, 2006
The Canberra Times

This one sheik’s meat is another man’s poisonous preaching

As one of Australia’s ”most senior imams” and a respected Muslim cleric, Sheik Taj Aldin Alhilali has every right to suggest women are nothing more than Satan’s ”best weapon” and little more than slabs of ”meat” ripe for rape.

And the Mufti of Australia knows about meat. ”If you don’t put it in the fridge or in the pot,” he told his Ramadan audience at Sydney’s Lakemba mosque last month, the cats will get at it. According to the Mufti, when the cats get it – assuming they claw at it, ripping and shredding its surface, tearing open the flesh and gnawing the bone – well, you can hardly blame the cat for having a go. ”Is it the fault of the cat or the uncovered meat?” Alhilali asked his devotees. His answer, ”The uncovered meat is the problem.”

And therein lies this Muslim preacher’s problem. He can’t see any difference between a slab of rotting carcass and Western women. Just like a piece of meat that’s been eaten, Alhilali blames women who are abused and raped for bringing it upon themselves: ”She disobeyed God and went out all dolled up and unveiled and made of herself palatable food – she was the reason behind this sin.” In fact, warming to his theme, he tells of how the Muslim scholar al-Rafihi instructs that in a case of rape, the man should be disciplined and the woman ”arrested and jailed for life”.

Of course, the Mufti has every right to preach to his fellow Muslims a doctrine of women as off-cuts, ripe for the chewing. Just as he has the right to insist women should stay hidden: ”If the woman is in her boudoir, in her house and if she’s wearing the hijab and if she shows modesty, disasters don’t happen.” If keeping women oppressed and indoors, and possessing them like ”gems” and ”jewels” as he explained it to his daughter, and insisting that they are forever vulnerable to attack, is the word of God that Alhilali wants to preach, then so be it. He is entitled to teach whatever sadistic erotic fantasy fables he can dream up. After all, it’s his God, his religion and his mindless flock – and this is a democracy.

The democratic right to free speech is a precious tool and perhaps the most important tenant of Australian freedom. And just as I respect Alhilali’s right to speak drivel, he should respect mine. Although I doubt he will, as I’m one of the off- cut class, who ”wear make-up and powder”, Western clothes, no veil, and I even occasionally ”sway suggestively” when I’m dancing.

The putrid stench of Muslim misogyny created by the Mufti’s foolish lecture will unfortunately linger long. It must be heartbreaking for the wider Muslim community, particularly the women, who have worked so hard in Australia to educate non-Muslims about the rich depth of their faith.

This set back is more than just another embarrassing gaffe. Alhilali has insulted Jews by suggesting they are the ”underlying cause of all wars”; faced deportation in 1982 for ”inciting hatred”; and infamously suggested that the Sydney gang rapes were the fault of ”Australian society”. Each time, the Mufti claimed he was ”misunderstood”. Now he’s claiming it again.

But really, why are we shocked, or even surprised by the Mufti’s women-as-meat doctrine? We’ve heard suggestions of such a doctrine before.

During the notorious Sydney gang rape trial of six unnamed brothers, known as the ”K brothers”, there was much media breast beating about whether the accused men’s cultural background and religion was relevant. It wasn’t. Until the men themselves made it so. After every other legal defence tactic had failed, they tried playing the cultural card. They were Lebanese Muslims, they argued, and therefore came from a background with ”very traditional views about women”. It seemed the boys believed those so called ”traditional views” would explain why they thought it was okay to torment, terrorise, and viciously rape four teenage girls. In another similarly notorious and sickening case of brutal gang rape in Sydney, which went to trial in 2002, it was revealed the gang of 14 Lebanese Muslim boys specifically targeted young girls based on their ethnicity. During several hours of degradation and abuse, the girls were repeatedly called ”Aussie pigs”, ”sluts” and ”whores”.

Have the ”K brothers” and the brutal gang of 14 extrapolated bits and pieces of the Mufti’s women-as- meat doctrine and understood it as permission to degrade women?

This is truly horrible stuff. And as many wise and no doubt embarrassed Muslim community leaders across Australia are saying this week, enough! The Mufti has apologised to any women he may have offended, but it’s too late for that.

Alhilali has belled the cat, so to speak. His words are a graphic demonstration, once again, of the extreme mismatch between the values of an ancient religion – as interpreted by a patronising misogynist – with a modern society.

The Mufti’s vile meat metaphor speaks loudly to those of us who cannot understand why some Muslim women subject themselves to the oppression of something as extreme as the burqa, simply because their husbands tell them they must.

Certainly many Muslim women will chose to wear the head scarf, or hijab, as a measure of piety and a symbolic gesture, just as my Catholic grandmother used to wear a lace Mantilla to church. But to those women forced to fully hide their body, their face, even their eyes from the world outside their home, I ask what God could possibly insist on that? Or is it not a God at all? Is that kind of insulting and inhuman coverage of Muslim women simply to placate the controlling obsessions of men like the Mufti of Australia? Apology not accepted.

Virginia Haussegger is a Canberra journalist and director of the 50/50 by 2030 Foundation at the University of Canberra.

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