Oz government: No action against rape supporting Mufti - won't step down till "world is clean of the White House' as thousands of Muslims show support
October 27, 2006
Defiant Sheik fires broadside at Bush
A defiant Sheik Taj Aldin Alhilali says he will only resign when the world is "clean of the White House".
Under pressure to step down following his comments suggesting immodestly dressed women invite sexual assault, Australia's leading Muslim cleric did nothing to ease simmering tensions on Friday.
After emerging from prayers at Sydney's Lakemba Mosque surrounded by dozens of followers, Sheik Alhilali was asked by a media pack whether he would quit.
"After we clean the world of the White House first," the sheik said before being ushered into a waiting car.
His supporters cheered and applauded loudly at the salvo aimed squarely at US President George W Bush and indirectly at Prime Minister John Howard.
The sheik has previously described Mr Bush, Mr Howard and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair as the "axis of evil" and has been accused of applauding suicide bombers in the past.
Mr Howard would not comment on the sheik's White House barb, but had earlier warned that the Muslim leader's actions could cause a lasting backlash against Muslims, a fear echoed by many Islamic groups.
"What I am saying to the Islamic community is this: if they do not resolve this matter, it could do lasting damage to the perceptions of that community within the broader Australian community'," Mr Howard told Southern Cross radio.
Sheik Alhilali is to take a break from preaching in the wake of the controversy, which has attracted international media coverage.
But the Lebanese Muslim Association (LMA) also fears a split in the Islamic community and has told the sheik to tone his comments down in future.
LMA president Tom Zreika believes the sheik is "arming" sections of the broader Australian community for further animosity toward Muslims.
"The mufti is providing ammunition for that," Mr Zreika said.
"His comments aren't helping.
"We've got to watch the way we're arming everybody to attack us.
"Not in the near future, but it harbours ill-feeling toward another group.
"He said he would do his best (to tone his comments down). He's got to be able to be more eloquent in his speech."
Mr Zreika said many of his association's members were embarrassed by the mufti's comments, made in a sermon last month, and said he was not speaking for all Muslims.
The board of the LMA, which runs Lakemba Mosque where the sheik preaches, met with him on Thursday night and decided not to take any action against him.
Some of the 15 board members supported the sheik's opinion while others called from him to retract the comments.
Other Muslim figures want the sheik to stand down over the sermon, in which he also said women were to blame for adultery in 90 per cent of cases.
Mr Zreika said the LMA will review Sheik Alhilali's position at the mosque when he returns from holiday.
Supporter and president of the Islamic Friendship Association of Australia, Keysar Trad, says while the sheik will not resign, he is taking a break for several months, which will include a pilgrimage to Mecca.
Sheik Alhilali did not deliver his usual sermon as several thousand Muslims attended prayers at Lakemba Mosque on Friday, with British Imam Abdul Jalil Sajid speaking on his behalf.
But he was assured by followers at Lakemba that he has the full backing of grass-roots Muslims.
"We're certainly not going to pass judgment on the basis of one comment in which we know his intentions were completely different," Mr Trad said.
"The grass roots are behind him."
Mr Trad said the sheik's comments were misrepresented and he has been upset by the reaction.
Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner Pru Goward says everyone always claims to have been taken out of context when caught.
"It is not good enough just to say he will be silent for three months," she said.