The controversial Muslim leader Sheik Taj el-din al Hilaly has savaged Australia in an interview on Egyptian television, claiming there is no freedom or democracy for Muslims here and that English people are the most unjust and dishonest.
The senior cleric said Muslims were more Australian than Anglo-Saxons because they came here voluntarily, that Australians played the “fear card” to keep Muslims down, and that racial prejudice was the reason for the 55-year sentence given to the gang rapist Bilal Skaf.
“Anglo-Saxons came to Australia in chains, while we paid our way and came in freedom. We are more Australian than them. Australia is not an Anglo-Saxon country – Islam has deep roots in Australian soil that were there before the English arrived,” Sheik Hilaly said.
Australia’s most controversial cleric was talking on the Egyptian news program Cairo Today, shown in Australia on the Orbit satellite network on Tuesday morning.
The interview, in Arabic, was about the furore he created in October with a Ramadan sermon in which he compared scantily clad women with “uncovered meat”, suggesting they were responsible for rape, called women Satan’s soldiers to deceive men, and said thieves often stole because they were pressured by greedy women.
After the “uncovered meat” sermon Sheik Hilaly offered to stand down as mufti if an independent panel found he had blamed women for rape. His future will be decided next month by the eight-man executive of a new national board of imams, of which he is a member.
In the half-hour program Sheik Hilaly said the controversy showed how standards were skewed and claims were fabricated. “There is no freedom and no democracy [for Muslims] – the most dishonest and unjust people are Western people and the English in particular.”
He said Australian law allowed freedoms that at times were “close to madness”, and that Australia had a third gender of “in-between people who are not male or female”.
The Prime Minister, John Howard, asked about the sheik’s reference to convicts, said: “I think it will bring a wry smile, if it’s true €¦ to the face of many Australians who sort of don’t actually feel the least bit offended that many of our ancestors came here as convicts.”