Last week, the media was abuzz with reports on a study, funded by the previous government, into the conduct of Australian imams:
SOME Muslim religious leaders in Victoria are condoning rape within marriage, domestic violence, polygamy, welfare fraud and exploitation of women, according to an explosive report on the training of imams.
The Daily Telegraph covered the story under the headline “Rape within marriage OK: Muslim clerics” which more or less exemplifies the tone of much of the commentary on the report.
Needless to say, the Catch the Fire crowd can barely contain their excitement:
Yet a Howard government commissioned report, conducted by the Islamic Women’s Welfare Council of Victoria and released exclusively by Barney Zwartz in The Age newspaper today, reveals that what Daniel Scott said was in fact the truth and that it is certainly happening here in Victoria.
Not having seen the report yet, it’s impossible to comment on the findings or the methodology that was used to derive them. The sorts of issues identified almost certainly do occur although one must be cautious in drawing any conclusions as to how widespread or systemic such occurrences are.
The response to these allegations came today from “Australia’s most senior Muslim”:
AUSTRALIA’S most senior Muslim has said he will end segregation of men and women in mosques, in a bold response to Islamic women’s anger at entrenched discrimination.
The Mufti of Australia, Sheikh Fehmi Naji el-Imam, said he would put his proposal to the next meeting of the Australian National Imams’ Council and consider how women could share the room with men during prayers.
The response raises a number of questions.
Firstly, to what extent is forcing men and women to pray together in the same room going to solve the issues raised in the report?
Secondly, do women really want to pray with men or is it simply the case that what Muslim women want is to have their own area but for that area to be of a similar standard and with similar facilities as the areas that are provided for males?
Thirdly, as we have reported previously on this site, Muslim prayer rooms are being turned into “multifaith spiritual centers” by universities; largely in the mistaken belief that Muslims don’t really need or want a separate prayer area. For other universities, comments such as those by Sheikh Fehmi might provide justification for removing the female facilities all together and collapsing both male and female prayer areas into a single room. Would this be a step forward for Muslim women?