Sheik Taj al-Din al-Hilali, Grand Mufti of Australia and imam of Sydney’s Lakemba Mosque, also visited the leader of Hezbollah – banned in Australia as a terrorist group – and praised it as a model.
According to a report by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), quoting a Lebanese newspaper, Sheik Hilali told Sheik Hassan Nasrallah that he blessed Hezbollah and praised its sacrifice. Sheik Hilali said: “Most of the Australian people do not support the policy of the Australian Government, which has placed Hezbollah on the terror list out of submission to the US, and the Australian Prime Minister will pay the price for this at the next election.”
According to the MEMRI report, Sheik Hilali, preaching last Friday, called for jihad against Israel, saying “the war waged by the US and Israel against the Muslims is a cruel war aimed at annihilating the (Islamic) nation”.
He also criticised Arab leaders, saying: “In the past, in Arab and Islamic history, we were governed by real men, but nowadays we are governed by semi-men.”
Sheik Hilali was also quoted in a United Arab Emirates newspaper on Monday as saying Australian media were under “Zionist hegemony” but were less racist than other Western countries in their enmity to Muslims.
Christopher Pyne, parliamentary secretary to the Minister for Family and Community Services, yesterday said the mufti’s reported comments were a “very serious matter”.
Mr Pyne said the Government should examine the mufti’s comments to see what action should be taken against him.
A spokesman for Sheik Hilali, Keyser Trad, of the Lebanese Muslim Association, said the remarks about Israel and Hezbollah were taken out of context. He said he spoke to the sheik yesterday, and the remark about jihad was a rhetorical question, as in “what does it take for Israel to respect UN resolutions – another jihad?”
“It was not a call to arms,” Mr Trad said. “It’s an effort to convince them as an alternative to military action. It’s been said many times before.”
Mr Trad said Sheik Hilali was in the Middle East visiting charities. He said the sheik did not think banning Hezbollah would have a big impact on the next Australian election.
The reference to the PM paying the price meant new Labor leader Mark Latham was a credible alternative. So is Sheik Hilali endorsing Mr Latham? “Yes, sort of,” Mr Trad said.
The president of the Islamic Council of Victoria, Yasser Soliman, said Sheik Hilali was entitled to his personal opinion but he did not speak for Australian Muslims.
“Muslims, or anybody else, are not accountable for the views of any individual,” Mr Soliman said. He said the Middle East needed an active peace process, not encouragement to violence.