A Sydney mufti who compared unveiled women to "uncovered meat" has gained followers in New Zealand, despite an attempt by the country's official Muslim body to disown him.
A former president of the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand, Dr Abdul Hafeez Rasheed, says Sheik Taj Aldin Alhilali may have used an "inappropriate" analogy, but his message that women should cover up was "quite legitimate".
Another Auckland man, 23-year-old website developer Eyad Arwani, wrote on a local Muslim discussion website: "Just as there is [sic] thieves among men, there are those who cannot control their sexual desires, and if a woman attracts attention of such men and is violated, then she can only blame herself."
Sheik Alhilali attended a conference at Auckland's Sheraton Hotel organised by the local Islamic federation and the Saudi-based Organisation of the Islamic Conference in June 2003 and claims to be the "Mufti of Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific".
In a sermon reported last week in Australia, he said: "If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside on the street or in the garden or in the park or in the backyard without a cover and the cats come and eat it ... whose fault is it, the cats or the uncovered meat? The uncovered meat is the problem.
"If she was in her room, in her home, in her hajib [scarf or veil], no problem would have occurred."
But the current Islamic federation president, Javed Khan, issued a statement rejecting Sheik Alhilali's claim to be the "Mufti of Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific".
"We have no dealings with this mufti," he said. "I have been president for 3 years and I have never met him."
He said the title "mufti" was given to Islamic scholars with authority to settle issues of religious law but did not carry any administrative powers such as those of Christian bishops.
Egyptian-born Sheik Alhilali attended the Auckland conference in the same month that Mr Khan was elected the federation's president.
Mr Khan said yesterday: "I attended some of the sessions but I can't remember whether he spoke. It was before my term."
The imam of New Zealand's oldest mosque, in Ponsonby, Sheik Mohammed Abdul Rahman Ayrut, attended a dinner with Sheik Alhilali at the conference. He said that, if correctly reported, the mufti's latest sermon was "a mistake".
"You have to call people to be in good morality and to follow your religion, not to condemn them and say these ladies ... are like meat on the street," Sheik Ayrut said. "If he said that, that's wrong."
Fiji-born Dr Rasheed, now a lawyer in Mt Roskill, believed the criticism was part of an international campaign against Islam by "Zionist Christians".
He said the Koran was clear that women should cover themselves "from the wrist right down to the ankles and all over except the face - that is one interpretation. The other interpretation is that they should be completely covered."
Writing on the "Info for NZ Muslims website", Syrian-born Mr Arwani called on Muslims to support Sheik Alhilali.
"The argument that men should control themselves is ludicrous. It is just like saying thieves should not rob houses whose doors and windows are left wide open," he said.
But a Hamilton Muslim woman who wears the hajib, Anjum Rahman, responded that "self-control is the basis of Islam".
"It is the meaning of submitting your will to Allah. It is one of the reasons we fast during Ramadan. It is how we strive for Jannah [Paradise] - by controlling our desires."
The argument that men should control themselves is ludicrous. It is just like saying thieves should not rob houses whose doors and windows are left wide open.
- Eyad Arwani (male).
I'd like to see any owner of property finding this treatment of thieves acceptable. Similarly, we can never find acceptable the behaviour of a man who abuses a woman.
- Anjum Rahman (female).
Source: Info for NZ Muslims, on Yahoo Groups.