Writing in a new book, Sheik Hilali, who lost his job as mufti of Australia after comparing scantily clad women to uncovered meat, argues that the Bible and the Koran make similar demands of a woman’s modesty.
Sheik Hilali, who remains the head of Australia’s largest mosque, in the southwestern Sydney suburb of Lakemba, says the purpose of the book is to show the commonalities of Islam with the Jewish and Christian faiths when it comes to women’s modesty and clothing.
In the soon to be published The Legitimacy of the Veil for Women of the Scripture - Evidence of the Veil in the Bible, the cleric points to references in the Old and New Testaments to women wearing a veil.
“Through this I hope to raise awareness and understanding and eliminate apprehensions and misunderstandings about the veil,” he writes.
The Anglican Bishop of South Sydney, Robert Forsyth, challenged Sheik Hilali’s comments about the veil being “mandated” in the Bible, saying they were misleading.
“The New Testament does call upon people to dress modestly,” he said. “But there is no understanding that women are commanded to wear the veil. But it is mandated that you should dress appropriately for your social context.”
Sheik Hilali also says the Virgin Mary is often depicted with a veil covering her head.
“The veil upholds the modesty and protects the dignity of women, whether Muslim or non-Muslim,” he writes. “Wearing the veil creates the most realistic similarity with the Virgin Mary, the mother of Christ.”
Sheik Hilali caused an uproar with a Ramadan sermon in 2006 in which he talked about immodestly dressed women being like “uncovered meat” and made remarks about Sydney’s notorious gang rapes.
He has used the book to hit back at criticisms of his comments, which were given during a lesson to Muslim men and women on theft and adultery, and which he says were misinterpreted with “ill-intent” and with the intention to “slander” him.
He has included an “explanatory statement” to clarify his position, saying that rape is a heinous crime and the perpetrator deserves the maximum punishment. He also says women in Australia, or any Western society, have absolute freedom to wear whatever they like.
“The Muslim has no right to impose the rules of his religion on others. My religious duty is to advise the Muslim woman to be modest and to wear the Islamic dress. It is her choice whether to comply or not.”
He said his comments about uncovered meat were drawn from an analogy used by the Arab writer Al-Rafii that uncovering flesh publicly may be degrading to the woman and may make her vulnerable to those with a diseased heart.
“Through these words I wanted to protect women from rapists who have lost their humanity, lost their minds and religion.
“Whilst I believe that the rapists are responsible for their crimes, I wanted to protect my daughters by encouraging them to adopt all available lawful means of protection,” he writes.
Sheik Hilali concedes that the uncovered meat example was not correct or appropriate for the Western mentality.
“I did not mean this analogy to denigrate immodestly dressed women; rather I meant to denigrate those men who set aside their humanity and turn into predators.”