Australia's Sheikh Hilaly: The sheik must go

No hiding behind the flag

Fourteen centuries ago in the ancient city of Mecca, the prophet Muhammad made the following clear unambiguous statement: “No Arab is superior to a non-Arab and no non-Arab is superior to an Arab. No white man is superior to a black man, and no black man is superior to a white man.”

He said these words in Arabic. I’ve used an English translation. I could also use a translation in French, Swahili or Punjabi. The message would be the same. When it comes to racism, Islamic theology adopts a zero-tolerance policy.

Sheik Hilaly speaks the same language as the Prophet. On Monday, he went on a national breakfast program on Egyptian TV. He didn’t need a translator on this occasion. But instead of following the letter and spirit of the Prophet’s teachings, Sheik Hilaly apparently chose to use grossly insulting and racist language to describe his adopted country.

The 11 January 2006 episode of A Current Affair showed excerpts of an interview Sheik Hilaly gave to Egyptian TV when invited to explain his recent controversies in Australia. Let’s recap on a few themes from the interview.

Hilaly says Europeans, especially the English, are devious and deceptive. He further claims further claims Muslims came to Australia as free people while Europeans came in chains as convicts.

I hope the Sheik doesn’t plan visiting a Bosnian or Albanian mosque upon his return. I also hope he doesn’t try to sell his views on racial supremacy to Dr Mustafa Ceric, the Mufti of Bosnia Herzegovina, who visits Australia next month.

Would Sheik Hilaly use convict heritage to denigrate former Islamic Council of Victoria secretary Bilal Cleland (who authored a book entitled Muslims In Australia: A Brief History, and has direct descent from the first and third fleets)? What would he say to tens of thousands of Muslims with at least one Anglo-Australian parent?

Many of the Australian colony’s early convicts were Irish Catholics. For over a century, Catholics have been subjected to sectarian prejudice. Prominent Catholics, including Health Minister Tony Abbott, have made public statements expressing empathy with many Muslim migrants and their descendants who are now subjected to sectarian slander. Surely Sheik Hilaly insulting their heritage is hardly an appropriate way for a Muslim leader to reciprocate.

And so what if Australia has a convict heritage? Egypt, the land of Sheik Hilaly’s birth, wasn’t only land of the Pharaohs. For many years, it was ruled by the Mamluks, a dynasty of slaves. What does that show about Egypt? Would it make sense to make nasty remarks about all Egyptians?

Late last year in a Channel 9 interview, Sheik Hilaly claimed the words of his infamous cat-food speech were misunderstood. But a few days ago, on Egyptian TV, he claimed the reporting of his speech was all a deliberate media conspiracy.

Certainly some of the media commentary may have been over the top. But facts are facts. Sheik Hilaly said what he said, and the meanings of his words were confirmed by multiple translations.

The 11 January ACA episode showed Herald-Sun columnist Andrew Bolt talking about seeing two translations of Hilaly’s Egyptian TV interview. Again, the Sheik’s old excuse of mistranslation seems to have evaporated.

Bolt described Sheik Hilaly as “the leading mufti, the leading imam in Australia”. Bolt might share that assessment with Hilaly supporters, but he shouldn’t attribute it to all Australian Muslims. As a Victorian, Bolt would know that Victoria’s peak Muslim body last year publicly called for Hilaly to resign and to apologise to all Australians.

Hilaly was appointed to the position of mufti by the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC), an umbrella body representing the management bodies of a section of Australia’s mosques.

AFIC is currently managed by a court-appointed administrator whose term expires in a month or so. If the outcry from grassroots Muslims (especially women) to last year’s comments is anything to go by, the next AFIC administration can expect a tsunami of pressure from ordinary Muslims to sack Hilaly or declare his position redundant.

In the past, AFIC has shown itself to be unrepresentative and unresponsive to Muslim community sentiment. Until last year, it had not had a female on its executive for at least two decades. Most of its executive members were middle-aged first generation migrants. Yet over 40 percent of Australia’s Muslims are aged under 40 and were born in Australia.

If AFIC is to be truly representative and responsible, it must act swiftly to remove Sheik Hilaly from his position. Having an elderly non-English speaking mufti representing a community of overwhelmingly young English-speakers is hardly a recipe for good community relations.

Australians of all faiths and no faith in particular are sick and tired of religious leaders like Sheik Hilaly making irresponsible statements. Let’s leave verbal pollution to the experts � the politicians and the shock-jocks. Sheik Hilaly must now surely resign or be sacked. It’s time Muslim religious leaders brought mufti day to an end once and for all.

Irfan Yusuf is a lawyer and writer based in Sydney, Australia. He is also an occasional lecturer at the School of Politics at Sydney’s Macquarie University. He can be contacted at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
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.  This piece originally appeared on Australia’s National Nine News.


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