Friday, March 09, 2007


Australian clerics 'in media ban'
Sheikh Taj el-Din al-Hilali in a photo dated 31 July, 2006
Sheikh Taj el-Din al-Hilali's comments have provoked outrage
Five senior Australian Islamic clerics are reported to have been banned from talking to the media by Muslim leaders.

The clerics have been accused of conveying "un-Australian" messages.

The ban was issued by the Lebanese Muslim Association, which is responsible for the country's largest mosque, according to local media.

Australia's top imam, Sheikh Taj el-Din al-Hilali, is one of the five clerics mentioned. He caused uproar by likening unveiled women to uncovered meat.

'Pause and desist'

Muslim leaders say that a string of controversial remarks from the country's spiritual leaders have damaged the relationship between the Islamic community and mainstream Australia.

"Most of our clerics are selected on the basis that they have Australian values and Australian characteristics," Lebanese Muslim Association President Tom Zreika told The Australian newspaper.

"Some of them haven't lived up to that," he said.

According to The Australian, the association sent a letter to the five imams concerned, demanding that they "pause and desist" from talking to the media, especially Arabic-speaking press.

The association warned the imams that they could lose their position if they defied the directive.

It said it had introduced the gagging order so that imams could concentrate on their primary task of offering pastoral care.

Of particular concern is what the association calls the "double speak" of clerics - where they say one thing to Australia's English-speaking media and then adopt a more radical stance when dealing with Arabic-speaking journalists.

"They go onto (Sydney's Arabic radio station) the Voice of Islam and talk about something which really isn't in accordance with our views... as Australians," Mr Zreika said.

The gagging order will affect Sheikh Hilali, whose comments regularly generate unfavourable headlines, according to the BBC correspondent in Sydney, Nick Bryant.

Last October, the controversial cleric suggested that immodestly dressed women were to blame for sexual assault, then made disparaging remarks about Australia's convict beginnings.


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