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
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 (as usual) and “taken out of context”.
Meanwhile, in Italy, Interior Minister Giuliano Amato said that Italy must control mosques, in order not to allow fanatic preachers, come from abroad, and MP Daniela Santanchè, of the right-wing Alleanza Nazionale (National Alliance) party said on Thursday she would submit a bill to parliament forbidding minors from wearing “any kind of veil”.
“Eleven or twelve-year-olds are not able to decide on their own”, Santanchè was quoted as saying. “I will present this bill because I have confidence in Islam and in Muslims, confidence in those who wish to reform Islam and confidence in my own battle in favor of Muslim women,” the MP said.
Her announcement came a day after media reports revealed she had received anonymous death threats in a letter written in Arab. The letter was accompanied by a photograph of murdered Dutch film maker Theo van Gogh and anti-Islam campaigner Ayaan Hirsi Ali
accompanied by a text reading “this is the hour of liberation”.
Santanchè was assigned a police escort last October after she had a verbal confrontation with an imam from Milan during a TV talk show which ended with him branding her “an infidel”.
The 45-year-old National Alliance MP was on the show to promote her book critical of the living conditions for Muslim women entitled ‘Donna Negata’ (Denied Woman).
In a discussion on the use by Muslims of the niqab veil, which covers the lower half of the face, and burqa, which covers the whole face and body, Santanchè remarked that “a veil is never a symbol of liberty and is not required by religion… and there is a law – for reasons of terrorism – against people going around with masks on”.
This prompted Ali Abu Shwaima, the Imam of the Segrate mosque in Milan and founder of the the Union of Italian Islamic Organizations and Communities (UCooI), to call her an infidel.
“I will not allow the ignorant to talk about Islam. The veil is an obligation required by God,” the Muslim prayer leader added.
A bill is currently before parliament to severely limit the occasions when a veil can be worn in public, even if it is considered by some to be a religion symbol. The bill has the support of both the government and opposition. Premier Romano Prodi said recently that “you can’t hide your face, you must be seen. This is important for society and integration”. But we suspect that Mr.Prodi’s closest allies, the communist parties, will force him to appease, as they use to do every time there’s the need to defend free speech and human rights.