Guilty meat but innocent cats

The Australian is reporting today and, as one might expect, the media is abuzz with Sheikh Taj al-Hilali’s alleged comments during Ramadan. According to the report — which I hope is untrue — the sheikh is reported to have likened rape victims to a piece of meat and those that rape her to cats merely dining on the meat that has appeared in their view.

While not specifically referring to the rapes, brutal attacks on four women for which a group of young Lebanese men received long jail sentences, Sheik Hilali said there were women who “sway suggestively” and wore make-up and immodest dress … “and then you get a judge without mercy (rahma) and gives you 65 years”.

“But the problem, but the problem all began with who?” he asked.

The leader of the 2000 rapes in Sydney’s southwest, Bilal Skaf, a Muslim, was initially sentenced to 55 years’ jail, but later had the sentence reduced on appeal.

In the religious address on adultery to about 500 worshippers in Sydney last month, Sheik Hilali said: “If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside on the street, or in the garden or in the park, or in the backyard 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.”

The sheik then said: “If she was in her room, in her home, in her hijab, no problem would have occurred.”

I still hold out hope that somehow The Australian has got it wrong because these comments are so utterly disgusting and so completely antithetical to the teachings of Islam that it is hard to believe that any human, much less a Muslim leader, would utter them. For a Sheikh to allegedly choose Ramadan — a time when many non-practicing Muslim men are gathered — to offer what might be seen by some of them as a moral escape clause for sexual violence against women demands a response. Whilst I will refrain from commenting on Sheikh Taj or his particular situation until it becomes clear that he said these words, it is nonetheless necessary to deal with the idea itself.

In essence, the argument is this: by suggesting that women are like uncovered meat and men are like cats, rape is no longer the result of human agency but of impersonal and irresistible forces of nature. In other words, the rapist is no more morally implicated in his rape than the cat that eats the uncovered meat is morally implicated in the satisfaction of his hunger. This is a complete inversion of Islamic teachings which places responsibility for one’s behaviour solely on the individual. Just because one wants to commit a crime or has the opportunity to do so does not excuse one from actually doing it. If your neighbour leaves his car unlocked, you are as morally culpable for stealing it as if he had left it locked; or, to use the example of rape, if you rape a woman without hijab, you are as morally responsible as if you raped a woman with hijab.

Whilst human agency has long been removed from behaviours such as drug addiction (“The drugs hooked me”), crimes against property (“I fell in with a bad crowd, your honour”), or violence (“The alcohol made me do it”), it is surely taking things to new and disgusting depths to blame rape not on alcohol, drugs or even social determinism but rather on the nature of men. As reprehensible as these ideas will surely be to women, men should also be deeply offended by comments such as these.

We will wait to see how Sheikh Taj responds to these reports. The Australian apparently has a tape recording of the speech. However, regardless of whether the reports are accurate, the ideas themselves deserve the most aggressive condemnation that the Muslim community can muster because of their sensitivity. The issue of rape is still in the minds of many Australians thanks the efforts of the so-called “Lebanese rape gangs” that dragged our religion into their evil crimes by using religious slurs against their victims and selectively targeting women based on their stated religious beliefs.

Some people will almost certainly use this most recent event to smear Islam or all Muslims. It is, therefore, worthwhile repeating what the Qu’ran has to say about rape. The use of violence to steal property or to rape someone is known in Arabic as hirabah. It is mentioned in the Qu’ran in the following verse (al-Maa’idah 5:33):

The recompense of those who wage war against Allaah and His Messenger and do mischief in the land is only that they shall be killed or crucified or their hands and feet be cut off on the opposite sides, or be exiled from the land. That is their disgrace in this world, and a great torment is theirs in the Hereafter….

This is what Islam says about rape and how rapists should be treated if convicted.

UPDATE: SBS, the multicultural broadcaster here, have translated some of the Sheikh’s comments and made them available online.