Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Sheik Al-Hilali Told To Quit Or Leave

The Howard Government has intensified its pressure on Australia's most senior Islamic spiritual leader, Taj al-Din al-Hilali, demanding he consider leaving the country and stepping down from his position as mufti. Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer yesterday expressed outrage at Sheik Hilali's weekend visit to Tehran, during which he called on the Islamic world to unite behind the radical Iranian regime. Muslim leaders from around Australia attacked the Egyptian-born cleric for becoming an "ongoing problem". And Australian Federal Police are examining whether to involve state-based counter-terrorism agencies in their investigation of allegations that Sheik Hilali diverted Australian-raised charity funds to terrorism supporters in Lebanon last year. The Australian revealed yesterday that Sheik Hilali had been quoted in the Iranian media as calling on Muslims worldwide to serve in Iran's "trenches" and not "kneel" to its enemies. It was the latest in a series of controversies that have dogged the mufti. "The Australian community has lost patience with the sheik," Mr Andrews said. "The sheik needs to say if he wishes to continue as a citizen of Australia or reside in an alternate country."Mr Downer said Sheik Hilali had "become a completely discredited figure" in Australia and was causing embarrassment to this country. "Sheik Hilali is damaging the standing of the Muslim community in Australia and beyond," he said. "And the sooner they find a more credible spokesman for the Islamic community than Sheik Hilali, the better. "They need a good and a moderate and a decent leader, and there are plenty of them who can do the job." Mr Downer questioned whether Sheik Hilali's support for Iran meant he also supported their backing of terrorist attacks by organisations such as Hezbollah in the Middle East. "When he's calling for people to support Iran, what is he calling for?" Mr Downer said. "Is he calling for people to support Iran's nuclear program? Is he calling for Iran tobecome a nuclear weapons state?" Australia's top female Muslim leader, Aziza Abdel-Halim, blamed the "hopeless" Australian National Imams Council for its decision two weeks ago to allow Sheik Hilali to stay in his position as mufti for another three months. She said his reported comments in Iran were "tactless" and threatened to further divide Muslim Australia from mainstream society. "Why should he involve the Muslims of Australia in politics that are very far from us here, and at the same time put us in a situation we don't really care to be in," Sister Abdel-Halim said. "I don't know what he's hoping to gain from what he's doing." Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd said Sheik Hilali's comments in Iran were "unacceptable in the extreme". "These statements by Sheik Hilali deserve complete condemnation and provide a further reason why he should be removed as the Mufti of Australia," he said. It was revealed last week that Sheik Hilali had handed out $US38,000 ($46,000) of Australian-raised charity funds in Lebanon last year, of which he gave $US10,000 to a political leader with links to al-Qaeda and Hezbollah. The money, raised by the Sydney-based Lebanese Muslim Association and other Islamic bodies, is the subject of an AFP investigation. Senior Muslim leader Ameer Ali said Sheik Hilali was becoming an "ongoing problem" for the community and would best serve his people by leaving his spiritual post as mufti. In October, Sheik Hilali came under criticism internationally after a sermon in which he compared immodestly dressed women to uncovered meat.