Keating Mufti link questioned

The Australian newspaper reported yesterday the federal government was warned in 1984 that Sheik Alhilali was linked to an Egyptian extremist group.

Moves to deport the sheik were reportedly opposed by then treasurer Paul Keating and backbencher Leo Macleay on grounds that Labor needed to shore up support from members of the Muslim community.

But ASIO boss Paul O’Sullivan told an estimates committee he can’t say if such a security report ever actually existed or who might have seen it.

“It is impossible for me to speculate on a report that I don’t know existed, what distribution it might have been given or whether any particular distribution would have been appropriate or inappropriate,” he said.

The sheik has drawn fire after it was revealed he compared skimpily dressed women to uncovered meat, suggesting they could be blamed for sexual assaults upon them.

His remarks – made in a Ramadan sermon to 500 people last month at Australia’s largest mosque at Lakemba, Sydney – have been widely condemned.

Senior politicians are urging Australian Muslim leaders to step up and show the country that the controversial cleric does not represent them or their views.

Federal Health Minister Tony Abbott today hailed the imbroglio as an opportunity for other Australian Muslims to represent their community.

“I certainly think that it’s about time that we started to hear diverse voices in the Islamic community and perhaps one of the good things to come out of the recent controversy is the range of Islamic people here in Australia who are now starting to break ranks, so to speak, from the Sheik Alhilali fan club,” Mr Abbott told ABC Radio.

And Opposition Leader Kim Beazley said Australian Muslims now had the chance to move past the controversy.

“Here’s a chance to have your young people out there, those in the mainstream Muslim community who are genuinely committed to the Australian community values”, Mr Beazley told reporters in Canberra.

Treasurer Peter Costello also launched a scathing attack on the mufti today, saying Sheik Alhilali’s recent comments were just the tip of the iceberg of extremist views that could have damaged Australian society in the past decade.

“You go right through the (last) decade, the sheik has been anti-semitic, he has supported jihadists, he has made statements that are absolutely offensive to women, such as the uncovered meat one,” Mr Costello told Macquarie Radio.

The Sheik apologised for the second time today for any offence caused by his comments and described women as “the cherished pearls, the dearest thing in the world”.

The beleaguered mufti conceded his comments were “inappropriate and unacceptable for the Australian society and the Western society in general”.

Sheikh Elhilali has now taken indefinite leave and remains in a Sydney hospital after suffering chest pains during a meeting with Muslim leaders to discuss his future.

“He has had bypass surgery, he’s got blood pressure (problems) and asthma,” friend and spokesman Keysar Trad said of the sheik’s long-term health problems.

The sheik had not resigned, Mr Trad said, but was on indefinite leave until his health improved.

The spotlight has now fallen on comments by a Melbourne cleric, Sheik Mohammed Omran who reportedly told his followers on Friday that judges discriminate against Muslim rapists.

The Australian newspaper says Sheikh Omran said rapes committed by Australian non-muslims such as bikies or football stars were treated more leniently than those committed by Muslims.

The Australian says it’s believed Sheik Omran was referring to notorious Sydney gang rapist Bilal Skaf, a Muslim who has been sentenced to 55 years jail for a series of rapes in 2000.