Australian Muslim leaders yesterday defied Prime Minister John Howard and left controversial cleric Sheikh Taj al-Din al-Hilali as mufti of Australia.
But Sheikh Hilali must reapply to the new National Board of Imams if he wishes to keep his position.
The board held its first meeting yesterday and decided to start a search for a new mufti in the next three months, but it did not rule out reappointing Sheikh Hilali, who has held the post since 1988.
Mr Howard, as well as other politicians and many Muslims, urged the Muslim community to remove the mufti after his most recent controversy, in which he compared scantily clad women with uncovered meat.
The new board is empowered to decide who should be mufti. Yesterday’s meeting in Sydney was the first opportunity. Although the board did not remove Sheikh Hilali, neither did it endorse him.
“He has three months to prove himself,” Lebanese Muslim Association president Tom Zreika said. “He’s been put on notice by quite a few senior clerics.”
The meeting elected an executive of 15, including Sheikh Hilali, with Sheikh Shady Suleiman from Lakemba Mosque as secretary. There are three Victorians on the executive.
Mr Zreika, who sought police protection last week after receiving death threats, said he believed there would be a worldwide search for the next mufti. But his predecessor as Lebanese Muslim Association president, Keysar Trad, last night said that would negate the requirement that the mufti be familiar with the local environment.