Australia’s most senior Islamic cleric has called for a Muslim leader to be ostracised over comments about the prophet Mohammed that he likened to Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses.
Sheik Taj al-Din al-Hilaly yesterday accused the chairman of John Howard’s Islamic reference board, Ameer Ali, of selling out his religion to gain the support and financial backing of Muslim critics.
Dr Ali said in The Australian yesterday that Mohammed had flaws, and criticised Muslims who blindly follow the faith and failed to question the veracity of the Koran.
Sheik Hilaly, the head of Lakemba Mosque in Sydney’s southwest, said Dr Ali’s “defamatory” remarks were akin to those that in 1989 earned Rushdie a fatwa from Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini.
While Sheik Hilaly backed Dr Ali’s call for a reinterpretation of the Koran to fit modern times, he condemned his “dangerous” and “ignorant” comments about the prophet.
“We forbid such statements, from both Ameer Ali and anyone who has encouraged him to say what he said,” Sheik Hilaly said in an interview conducted in Arabic.
“We refuse to have him stand with us at any religious ceremony from now on, unless he revokes what he said about the faith and the prophet.”
But the Howard Government yesterday strongly backed Dr Ali’s comments, with Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration Andrew Robb saying Dr Ali should be congratulated.
“I do think that Ameer Ali seems to be encouraging the teaching and the practice of Islam in an Australian context, and I think that’s to be warmly applauded,” Mr Robb said.
“I think it’s critical that Islam is presented to Australian Muslims in an Australian context.”
Islamic Friendship Association president Keysar Trad said the Koran recorded that Mohammed was “rebuked” on a few occasions by God.
“(But) that different outlook is not to suggest that his human judgment was fallible,” he said. “On the balance of human judgment, it was a perfect judgment in the circumstances, but God’s judgment is greater, God’s judgment always has more wisdom.”