Sheikh Taj El-Din Hamid Hilaly, the mufti of Sydney's biggest mosque, said in a Ramadan sermon that sexual assaults might not happen if women wore a hijab and stayed at home.

Hilaly criticised women who "sway suggestively", wear make-up and no hijab, or Islamic headscarf, for inviting sexual attack.

"If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside on the street, or in the garden or in the park, or in the back yard without a cover, and the cats come and eat it ... whose fault is it, the cats or the uncovered meat? The uncovered meat is the problem," Hilaly told about 500 worshippers, according to a newspaper translation.

Keysar Trad, Hilaly's spokesman, said the Egyptian-born cleric had been lecturing on the sin of adultery.
   
"He's talking about those people who prey on others, whether men or women, who seek to engage in sexual conduct outside of marriage, and do so through alluring types of attire," he said.
   
The meat comments, Trad said, referred to prostitutes.

Uproar

"If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside on the street, or in the garden or in the park, or in the back yard without a cover, and the cats come and eat it ... whose fault is it, the cats or the uncovered meat? The uncovered meat is the problem"

Sheikh Taj El-Din Hamid Hilaly, the mufti of Sydney's biggest mosque

The sermon has worsened the already strained relations between the conservative government and Muslims in Australia, who make up 1.5 per cent of the 20 million population.

John Howard, the Australian prime minister, described the comments as "appalling and reprehensible".

 

He told reporters on Thursday: "The idea that women are to blame for rapes is preposterous."
    

Peter Costello, the finance minister, told Australian television: "I hope that the moderate Muslim leaders will speak out today and condemn these comments, make it clear to Muslims that this is not the view of Islam and that they will really take some kind of action."

 

Persona non grata

 

Australia's Sex Discrimination Commission called on Thursday for Hilaly to be deported.

Pru Goward, Australia's sex discrimination commissioner,  said Hilaly, who two years ago praised martyrdom and called the September 11 attacks the work of God, should be deported for inciting rape.
   
"It is incitement to a crime. Young Muslim men who now rape  women can cite this in court, can quote this man - their leader - in court," she told Australian television.

"It's time we stopped just saying he should apologise. It is  time the Islamic community did more than say they were horrified. I think it's time he was asked to go."

Disassociation

Islamic groups quickly disassociated themselves from Hilali's remarks.

The Islamic Council of New South Wales, the region of which Sydney is the capital, said the comments were "un-Islamic, un-Australian and  unacceptable".

Sherene Hassan, the Islamic Council of Victoria spokeswoman, said Hilaly's comments were "absolutely repulsive", while Iktimal Hage-Ali, a former government adviser on Muslim issues, said the cleric should be sacked from his position.

Apology

 

Hilali later issued a statement apologising for any offence caused by his remarks.

 

"I unreservedly apologise to any woman who is offended by my comments," he said.

 

"I had only intended to protect women's honour, something lost in The Australian [newspaper] presentation of my talk."