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Foot-in-mouth Mufti revisited…

27 Oct

It should be quite obvious from yesterday that I don’t agree with the Lakemba Mufti. However, after a good night’s sleep and further thought, I do have doubts about the way this story has played in much of the media, in the public imagination, in the mouth of our Prime Minister, and in the words of Pru Goward. (See Lateline.) Take today’s treatment in the Daily Telegraph, Sydney’s Fox-Murdoch tabloid:

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I would venture to say that is not justified, which is not to say I agree with what the Mufti said. But listening carefully to Keysar Trad on Radio National this morning, I have to say he has a point. The message was directed late at night to older observant believers, not to the world in general; Trad admitted that much of the language was unfortunate, but the context argument does have some merit. “Who says what to whom, when, where, why and how?” is still a good analytical tool for any utterance or text, one incidentally I have been drumming into English students for a good thirty years, and it applies to The Australian, the Daily Telegraph, and Paul Sheehan, as much as to Sheikh Taj El-Din Hamid Hilaly. See also the discussion on yesterday’s PM.

KATHRYN ROBERTS: Shaykh Naeem Abdul Wali is the Spokesman for the Forum on Australian Islamic Relations. He concedes the Mufti’s views are not uncommon in the Muslim community, but he says they don’t reflect the attitudes of the majority and Sheikh Hilali should have chosen his words more carefully.

NAEEM ABDUL WALI: I think it’s a way of they’re trying to articulate the importance of modesty in Islam, at the same time of a sense of your own personal moral accountability and if you act a certain way you make, you maybe assume that certain results could happen to you. I don’t, I’ve heard similar things to that before, so I can be honest about that but I don’t think that, I think that what, how it was worded was incorrect. I think that maybe the intent of it was maybe good, but I think the way it came out definitely it’s not something I would agree with, as it came out.

KATHRYN ROBERTS: This afternoon Sheikh Hilali released a statement saying he’d been misquoted. He says he wasn’t referring to, or condoning rape, rather he was speaking more generally about modesty and promiscuity. He put on the record that women have the right to dress as they choose and that any form of harassment of women is unacceptable.

Sheikh Hilali has also apologised unreservedly to anyone who may have taken offence.

But Iktimal Hage-Ali says she’s heard the address and she’s adamant the Sheikh’s comments haven’t been taken out of context.

IKTIMAL HAGE-ALI: I was speechless. I thought I was hearing things. I thought that my interpretation may have been incorrect, so I asked for the tape to be replayed again, and then again.

KATHRYN ROBERTS: She says his comments are out of step with the rest of the Muslim community and extremely damaging.

IKTIMAL HAGE-ALI: I’m not going to keep sitting on hands and allow people like the Mufti or other so called leaders of the Muslim community to come out and degrade the religion, degrade the females within the religion, tar our reputation and get rid of all the hard work that we do within the community to build bridges.

KATHRYN ROBERTS: The Lebanese Muslim Association says it’s now reviewing the tapes and transcripts of the sermon and considering if any action needs to be taken.

You can see there that there is a range of views within the Muslim community, with the Mufti at the conservative end of the spectrum. And to be fair, what can one say about this story that surfaced today in the Jewish community?

A BOY on the verge of his bar mitzvah was told he was not properly circumcised and therefore was not Jewish. Orthodox rabbis in Sydney said he had to be recircumcised within four days or the ceremony – which marks the transition of Jewish boys to adulthood at 13 – could not go ahead.

The boy’s mother, the journalist Ros Reines, said she was shocked and sickened, and refused a second circumcision.

“He’s undoubtedly circumcised. It’s just a matter of degree,” she said. She was able to arrange the ceremony on the same day this month at a Progressive synagogue (a more liberal version of Judaism)…

The Australian Jewish News quotes one of the rabbis, Moshe Gutnick, as saying the Progressive synagogue was “fooling the child” into believing he was Jewish. Rabbi Gutnick said they noticed the incomplete circumcision as they prepared to take a drop of blood from the boy’s penis to symbolise his Orthodox conversion. They called a mohel (ritual circumciser) who confirmed it needed to be done again…

As if God cares, is my immediate thought.

Finally, consider the quite well known views of Sydney’s Cardinal George Pell on issues like chastity, modest dress in women, not to mention homosexuality. What overlap is there between such views, uncontroversial probably for John Howard and the Telegraph, and the intended, if unfortunately expressed, viewpoint of the Mufti? (On this occasion at least; the Mufti has been known to say quite unforgivable things in the past, as he did in 1988 on Jews.) There is a good entry on Seeker of the Sacred and Feminine, a feminist Muslim blog (or should that be interfaith?) dedicated to “Independent Thinking [Ijtihad]: Insights, Discussion, and Creativity,” written in June 2006 after Pell’s famous remarks about Islam being intrinsically more violent than Christianity:

Dearest Cardinal Pell,

Your following comments broke my heart, not because they were misunderstandings, but because they are illusions and vanities that fail to recognize the one song we are all singing…

I could be angry. I could oppose you and go into detail about how you display a misunderstanding of “Islamic” history. I could question you about the Crusades. I could tell you about peace agreements signed by the Prophet Muhammed with “Jews” and “Christians”. I could tell you about how “Jews” sought refuge under the “Islamic” Empire when they were being exterminated from “Christian” countries. I could go on about how Jesus and Mary are revered in the Quran. I could go on about how “tolerant” “Christian” countries have been to the native indigenous peoples. I could go on about how, even now, refugees are detained & mistreated in “Christian” countries in the name of ‘border protection’, how thousands of innocent people are dying in Iraq, Palestine, Israel, Somalia all because of divisions created by “Christian” countries after WWII. …..I could seriously go on forever..but such thinking is clearly wrong, one sided, generalizations and I would be acting no differently than you.

Instead I leave you with a parable by the ever so wise Rumi…

Go and read that parable. It’s a good one.


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