Australian Muslim cleric.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Prime Minister John Howard on Sunday urged Muslim leaders to heed Australia's outrage when they decide the fate of the nation's top Islamic cleric who sparked a storm by blaming women who dressed immodestly for rapes.
"If the matter is not satisfactorily resolved, it will create a very significant problem, I fear," Howard told reporters after Australia's largest mosque accepted Sheik Taj Aldin al-Hilali's apology for any offense caused by his sermon.
Al-Hilali, a 65-year-old Egyptian-born Sunni cleric, agreed to stop preaching at Australia's largest mosque in Sydney for three months because of the public backlash over his sermon that compared women who do not wear head scarves to "uncovered meat."
The sermon was given a month ago but triggered demands for his resignation from Muslims and non-Muslims alike when The Australian national newspaper reported excerpts translated from Arabic last week.
Toufic Zreika, president of the Lebanese Muslim Association which runs the mosque, said there was a secret plan to resolve the crisis. A meeting open to all Islamic leaders slated for Sunday was canceled.
"We have put together a plan and hopefully we can get ourselves out of this crisis," Zreika said, declining to detail the plan.
Relations between Australia's 300,000-strong Muslim minority, among the country's 20 million mostly Christian population, and the government has been tested by Howard's complaints that Islamic leaders are failing to condemn radicals.