The future of Sheik Taj el-Din al Hilaly lies in a plan drawn up by a powerful Muslim organisation, which may ask senior clerics from Australia and New Zealand to rule on his fate.
The Herald believes the plan, thrashed out at a closed-door meeting of the Lebanese Muslim Association on Saturday, was devised after discussion of several options. They include the staging of an umma – a national consultative process – to determine whether the sheik should be stripped of his title of Mufti of Australia and New Zealand.
The association – which allows Sheik Hilaly to preach at its Lakemba Mosque – can ban him from the mosque but has no authority to strip him of his position. That can be done only through an umma, which may take several days or weeks to organise because it involves clerics, Sunni and Shiite, from every state and New Zealand.
The president of the association, Tom Zreika, confirmed the meeting had been held on Saturday but declined to give details of what the five-point plan involved. “I am not prepared to go into that at this stage.”
While declining to confirm any decision to stage an umma, he indicated the process had been discussed and confirmed it was one way of resolving the sheik’s position as Australia’s most senior Muslim cleric. “What we want at the moment is for everybody to calm down and that includes John Howard, Morris Iemma and Kim Beazley,” he said.
“This will take time to resolve and we are not going to be rushed or pressured into making a decision. The Mufti’s comments are embarrassing and we regret that he made them, but the issue of his future standing has to be worked through.”
The sheik has been under fire over his comments to a a Ramadan service, at which he suggested scantily dressed women invited rape the same way that raw meat attracted cats.
His spokesman, Keysar Trad, has again said the sheik’s comments were “misinterpreted”, and compared him to Christ.
But Mr Trad, who had said there would be a meeting of clerics at the Lakemba Mosque last night to discuss the Mufti’s comments, is also being isolated by other Muslim leaders.
“Mr Trad does not represent the association and I can assure you there is no meeting scheduled for tonight. The meeting was on Saturday,” Mr Zreika said.
Political leaders have continued to attack the Mufti. The NSW Premier, Morris Iemma, said the Lebanese Association would lose $100,000 in funding if it allowed him to continue teaching at the mosque.
The Prime Minister, John Howard, said Islamic leaders had to listen to the community and demand the Mufti’s resignation.
The Opposition Leader, Kim Beazley, said reports that the former Labor prime minister Paul Keating had intervened to save the sheik from deportation in 1989 were irrelevant now.
In Brisbane, organisers of a Muslim festival withdrew the sheik’s invitation.