Well, I certainly hope that I don’t look like a can of Whiskas. It is remotely possible that I looked somewhat cylindrical for a while – my waist disappeared for a few months after I had my baby. However, I believe I have retrieved a waist by doing lots of tummy exercises. In an aside, I insist that all those celebs who return to looking svelte three weeks after giving birth must have had plastic surgery. There’s no other explanation.If Sheik Hilaly, Grand Mufti of Australia, is to be believed, whether I am cylindrical or not, I am analogous to a tin of Whiskas. Or some other kind of catmeat.
Taking my tongue out of my cheek now, I feel like so many other people have had a say on ths subject that there’s not much left to say. Still, I may as well express my five cents’ worth. For anyone who hasn’t been following the news in Australia recently, Sheik Hilaly’s recent Ramadan sermon at Lakemba Mosque has sparked a furore. It is likely to cause a rethink of the way in which Australia’s Muslim leadership will be organised from now on. It sounded to me like it needed to be reformed anyway: from what I understand, many (if not all) imams in Victoria refuse to recognise Hilaly as Mufti.
The essence of the sermon
In his sermon, Hilaly said that “adultery” is 90% the fault of the woman involved, because it is the woman who tempts the man. I am not quite sure what he means by “adultery” here; I presume it means any sexual intercourse outside the context of marriage. Further, he says that when a woman is raped, it is her fault. By referring to Long Bay jail and 65 year jail terms in this context, Hilaly implicitly argues that the victims of the notorious “Sydney gang rapes” were at fault, not the group of young Lebanese Muslim men who committed the crimes.
Hilaly likens an “uncovered woman” to uncovered meat left on the back porch which cats will eat. He says that if cats eat uncovered meat, it is not the fault of the cats; it arises because the meat is left out uncovered. He says that if women stayed in their houses, wearing a veil, they will not be victims of rape.
Hilaly finishes off by saying:
“…The woman was behind Satan playing a role when she disobeyed God and went out all dolled up and unveiled and made of herself palatable food that rakes and perverts would race for. She was the reason behind this sin taking place.”
Unfortunately, the idea that women who are victims of rape and sexual assault must have somehow “asked for it” is widespread and has a long tradition. It is not confined to Islam. All of the Abramic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) have a tradition whereby women are identified as temptresses and sources of evil who will corrupt otherwise pure and godly men. In an interesting aside, Jezebel was actually “dog meat”. She was defenestrated and eaten by dogs. Seems like a bad way to go to me. Other religions may also have such traditions, but I don’t know enough about them to comment.
In my post on burqas, I have already mentioned my irritation at the idea that women have to cover up their bodies because men have no capability for self-control. Hilaly says that if women wore a veil, rape and sexual assault would not happen. This is utter rubbish. I have no doubt that in societies where all women wear a veil, offences like rape and sexual assault still happen with exactly the same frequency that they happen in our society. This is because rape is not a crime which is motivated by what a woman is wearing, it is a crime about power and asserting one’s physical and sexual power over another person. Please excuse me for raising this disturbing example, but you hear of cases where 90 year-old ladies are raped by intruders. The woman in this case isn’t raped because she’s sexy or because she failed to wear a veil down to the bowling club. She’s raped because she’s vulnerable and the rapist wishes to assert his power over women.
Hilaly’s comments are the height of misogyny: “Your Honour, I’m not responsible for my actions, that she-devil made me do it by her tempting ways!” Some may argue (as Sheik Omran does) that Hilaly is exercising his right to freedom of speech. I find his comments disturbing, offensive and demeaning, but I recognise that Hilaly has a right to express views which are repulsive to my sensibilties. However, I think Hilaly’s sermon is more than just the expression of a repulsive point of view. It is not just the expression of a medieval point of view. I have tried to work out what it is about his comments which disturbs me so much.
First, by implying that the victims of the Sydney gang rapes “asked for it”, his sermon shows a lack of respect to the victims. I imagine that it is quite hard enough to recover from rape and sexual assault without the suggestion that it was somehow your fault.
Secondly, I think that as the Australian representative of a particular religion, he is in breach of his duty to encourage members of his religion to act lawfully. Let’s unpick the logic of Hilaly’s sermon:
- Rape and sexual assault are crimes. Our criminal law system has been reformed to try to remove suggestions by defence barristers that somehow victims “asked for it”. As I have recognised in a previous post, sometimes this notion still persists in the law.
- Hilaly suggests that if a man sees a woman who is “scantily clad” and cannot control his lust for that woman, then it is excusable for the man to rape or sexually assault the woman. In fact, it is the woman’s fault.
- The majority of Australian women (both Muslim and non-Muslim) dress in a way which Hilaly would describe as “scantily clad”. Most women do not wear veils. Most women go out into public alone. Many Australian women would think nothing of wearing a pair of shorts and a t-shirt in public. This is our culture.
- Hilaly is not just an imam at Lakemba Mosque; he is the national representative of Islam in Australia. He has a duty to require that members of religion behave lawfully.
- Hilaly is saying that the majority of Australian women are “asking for it” (because they are “scantily clad”). He is also implicitly sanctioning the notion that if a Muslim man commits rape or sexual assault against a woman who is not wearing a veil (ie, the majority of Australian women), then that conduct is excuseable.
Hilaly’s conduct is irresponsible in the extreme. He is offering excuses for, and implicitly sanctioning, illegal conduct. Sheik Omran says that in his opinion, the perpetrators of the Sydney gang rapes were treated unfairly because they were Muslim. On my understanding, this is not the case. The perpetrators of the Sydney gang rapes were given such high sentences because they expressed absolutely no remorse whatsoever for their actions, and no pity for their victims. Indeed, from all reports they were proud of their actions. Why did these perpetrators express no remorse? It was precisely because they had taken on board the message conveyed by sermons such as Hilaly’s recent sermon. I hope that the Muslim community in Australia thinks long and hard about the implications of Hilaly’s point of view.
To continue the discussion at the beginning of this post: No, I am not a can of Whiskas. Nor is any other woman in this country. I have seen some commentary suggesting that misogyny is also part of mainstream Australian culture. Unfortunately, this may be, but I do not think that excuses Hilaly’s sermon in any way. No woman “invites” rape or sexual assault: the very core of the definition of rape is that it is without consent (ie, not wanted). It is not a sermon which sits happily with Australian law or culture and there is no way to argue otherwise.