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Even Australia has not been spared from our causes despite it being a 24-hour flight away from our part of the world geographically and a country that begins its summer when we are on the verge of winter. Still, the conflict from our side has stretched far and wide to reach it.

Assumed to be part of central Europe by many an Arab, this faraway continent was largely a terra incognita to them until Sheikh Taj el Din al Hilali decided to exacerbate relations between Arabs and Australians after he announced that every woman who does not wear the veil is naturally susceptible to rape. Because of the prevailing anger and intolerance towards extremism; Bin Laden’s tapes, Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, Sheikh Abu Hamza and others like them responsible for that, it did not take long before Sheikh al Hilali’s words became the topic of a controversial and heated debate in Australia.

Al Hilali, quick to bite his tongue in remorse, apologized and punished himself by abstaining from delivering the Friday sermon for two months but insisted on retaining his post, announcing that he was ready for anything – except resigning. Attempting to amend his slip of the tongue, he upheld that the Australians had misheard his sermon only to further astound them into the realization that what he had said was actually worse than what had been attributed to him. He compared an unveiled woman to uncovered meat, claiming that it was the natural thing for the cats to eat it upon sighting it.

His words were interpreted as a woman who does not cover her hair – in a country where only a few women cover – is a prostitute, which would mean that more than 100 million Muslim women, not just the seven million Australian women, are prostitutes. Many Muslim women in the world today do not wear a headscarf. What kind of logic was he relying on, especially considering that he had become a Mufti (who knows how that happened)? This is the same man who lives in Australia, not in Upper Egypt, or rural Saudi.

What has come over some men of religion of late? Ranging from the Pope of the Vatican to Australia’s Mufti, both responsible for deepening the discord without sparing any thrill or controversy to politicians and members of the press, both of whom master this profession as a source of livelihood.

Although al Hilali never advocated political extremism or terrorism, a common combination in some mosques nowadays where fanaticism reigns – he did not keep his opinion to himself. Just like many other neo-religious scholars, he assumed that the quickest way to fame depended on political incitement, sensationalism and favoring politics over spirituality. They are the ones who believe that issuing edicts and interpretations concerning religious affairs is not enough. In the words of one of these protesters, he said that people expected them to “consult over and issue regulations about menstruation, not politics”. These are, in fact, their aspirations – not unlike members of the dental unions in our part of the world who busy themselves by writing political statements rather than pay attention to gum disease and tooth decay.

One of the preachers did well when he demanded in his sermon that people of different creeds should stop hurling accusations at one another, suggesting a ceasefire.

Let’s just hope that they follow these words so that millions of people could live and worship God in peace. They should know better than to believe that controversial declarations such as these would not incite hatred and abuse.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad. He has a US post-graduate degree in mass communications, and has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He is currently based in Dubai.

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