A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.
3rd November 2006
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Sheik Hilali has become the centre of a religious/political/media storm.
His sermon has been variously reported and misreported as people have taken exception to what he said and what they think he said.
The events of the last week have revealed the inadequate way our society deals with religion.
This is a complex matter so let me make some numbered summary points.
1. All rape is only ever totally wrong. There are no excuses, no extenuating circumstances. Rape is one of the most evil things that anybody can ever do to another person. The maximum penalties of the law should be applied to this crime.
2. It is a great evil to blame the victim of rape. Nobody ever “asks for it.” While it is right for the courts to be absolutely sure that they are only punishing the guilty, they must not in the process victimise the victim. If the process of the law victimises the victims, or terrifies victims from lodging complaint, we have to find some other way to deal with this horrible crime.
3. Men and women are not the same. The previous two points have been written in gender free speech. But rape is a crime that men commit. It is a crime where women are victims. The people to blame are men not women. More accurately the people to blame are not all men but those men who are rapists.
4. The Sheik's comments were about the difference between men and women. The sermon was about adultery. It was about a gender distinction made in Quranic judgement between theft and adultery. The sermon has been widely misreported and taken out of context. The media in general has not served the community well by beating up this storm. There seems to have been no acceptance of or even attempt to understand the Sheik's culture. Even so the sermon did preach contemptible ideas not the least the confusion between adultery and rape.
5. To put a wedge between the Sheik and his religion may be good politics but is basically untrue. Muslims are deeply divided. There is no single Muslim voice. However, accusing the “Mufti of Australia” of un-Islamic sentiments is nonsense. There may well be many Muslims who disagree with him. That is permitted within Islam. Yet this was a Muslim sermon expressing Muslim understanding in a Muslim way to a Muslim congregation preached by a leading Muslim Imam.
6. Islam's attitude to men and women is different to Christianity's and to the Western Society built upon Christianity. Polygamy is taught and practiced within Islam. In an address in 2004 in Sidon, the Sheik admitted without any reservation that he had four wives and many children. There is a fundamental structural inequality in polygamy. Our society and nation has never practiced polygamy or condoned it. Serialised polygamy via divorce and remarriage, and the complex relationships of casual sex and de facto marriages has weakened the Western world's commitment to monogamy. But Christians stand opposed to these practices and remain deeply committed to the sexual equality expressed in monogamy.
7. Key secularist shibboleths: multi-culturalism; freedom of speech; religious relativism; and separation of church and state have been ignored or found wanting by this ugly episode.
a) The great motto about “I will defend to the death” the person's right to speak has been significantly missing-in-action in this last week. What the Sheik is reputed to have said is indeed something we do not like—but the action of the community has been to call for his sacking not to defend his right to say what he liked.
b) And whatever happened to multi-culturalism? Here was a man chosen as the leader of his cultural enclave, preaching to them in their place of worship and in their own language. Yet his views were at such odds with the wider community that they feel the right to call for his sacking. He has even been told that he should preach in English. Many groups run meetings in their own language. Christians run churches in many languages even Arabic. Why cannot he preach in a mosque in Arabic?
c) The religious relativists have had an awful time with the Sheik's comments. It is quite clear that his sentiments are not just matters of opinion but that they are wrong. It is also clear that the Sheik preaches that all Christians are polytheists on route to hell. The idea that all religions are just different ways up the mountain has taken a terrible beating this week. All religions are not the same, and all morality is not “just a matter of opinion”.
d) The biggest failed shibboleth of the week was the separation of church and state. Political leaders from both sides of the house in both state and federal parliaments have pressured the Muslim community to sack a man for what he preached in a religious service. Secularists have been notably quiet on this issue of separation of State and Church. They have written and spoken out against the Prime Minister's plan to subsidize chaplains in schools but not in his outspoken pressure to remove the Sheik from his post.
The moral failure of men in their attitude to and treatment of women, is not to be solved by covering women up from head to toe, and never letting them out of the house. That is to blame the victim. The moral failure of men can only be solved by the Holy Spirit of the risen Lord Jesus Christ changing the hearts of sinful men: bringing them to genuine repentance and transformation.