Sheik Hilaly has called upon his fellow imams and other community members to find a better imam. On Sunday, I think I met one. The problem is he doesn’t live in Australia. Sheik Hilaly claims to lead 360,000 Muslims. But the head of the Turkish presidency of Religious Affairs, Dr Ali Bardakoglu, presides over 180,000 imams in Turkey. He has worked as a judge, a lawyer, an academic and an imam. He’s the closest thing Europe has to an Islamic pope. On Sunday, Dr Bardakoglu officially opened Sydney’s newest mosque at Bonnyrigg. One of the first things he observed was his appreciation at the large number of Muslim women in the audience, not to mention the fact that the MC at the function was a Muslim woman:

I think it is absolutely necessary that mosques involve women at all levels and in all their activities. And religious leaders must never say things to offend women members of their congregations.

Was this comment a coincidence? A committee member of the Bonnyrigg Mosque told me that Dr Bardakoglu had been fully briefed about the Hilaly situation. Many Turkish Muslims I spoke to after the formalities were concluded (including those visiting from Melbourne and other interstate locations) expressed their disgust at Sheik Hilaly’s comments as well as his contradictory posturing. Yet there are still a number of Muslims backing him. Waleed Aly writes that even Hilaly critics are upset at the barrage of media attention, not to mention infantile remarks by Sheik Peter bin Costello and Mufti Janet bint Albrechtsen, both of whom have held 360,000 Muslims jointly responsible for the failure of 500 Muslims taking their time responding to the Sheik’s comments. The Oz’s editorial lynching of Sheik Hilaly is actually diminishing the chances of his removal. Today’s editorial quotes Mick Keelty suggesting: “the value of reporting on the words of Sheik Hilali and others of his ilk is that they prompt moderate, middle-class Muslims to stand up and reject such retrograde views”. Yet The Oz allows few of such Muslims on their op-ed page or in letters to the editor. Instead, it allows room for Albrechtsen and writers whose sole qualification is having sat in a Melbourne taxi driven by someone claiming to be a “moderate Muslim”.

Peter Fray

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