Sheikh Taj El-Din Hilaly, once Australia’s most prominent Islamic cleric, and the Mufti of Australia, has passed away in Egypt at the age of 82. His death marks the end of an era for Australian Muslims and brings to light the controversies and complexities that defined his public life.
Uncovered Meat Controversy
One of the defining moments of Sheikh Hilaly’s controversial career came in October 2006 when he compared women who did not cover up their skin to “uncovered meat” left to be eaten by cats. His remarks sparked outrage and condemnation across Australia, and women even planned to march in bikinis at Lakemba mosque in protest. Later, he offered an unreserved apology, stating that he had intended only to protect women’s honor. This incident illustrated the challenges of balancing cultural and religious beliefs in a diverse society.
Controversial Statements on 9/11
In 2004, Sheikh Hilaly made headlines again with a sermon that seemed to express support for the 9/11 attacks. He referred to the attacks as “God’s work against oppressors” but later clarified his stance, stating that Muslims rejected any ideology or actions supporting terrorism or harming Australia. His ambiguous statements underscored the complexity of addressing extremism within a religious context.
Mixed Messages on Jihad
Throughout his career, Sheikh Hilaly delivered mixed messages regarding Jihad and terrorism. While he praised jihadist militants fighting U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, he condemned terrorist attacks against civilians in New York, London, and Madrid. His contradictory positions reflected the challenges faced by Muslim leaders in navigating global conflicts while advocating for peace within their communities.
Legacy of Service
Despite the controversies that surrounded him, Sheikh Hilaly left a lasting impact on the Australian Muslim community. He served as the Imam of Lakemba Mosque for 31 years, from 1982 to 2013, and was appointed Mufti of Australia in 1988. His tireless efforts helped nurture the love of Islam in the hearts of Australian Muslims. His legacy is one of dedication and commitment to his community.
Tributes and Farewell
Sheikh Hilaly’s daughter, Asma, described him as an institution whose legacy will endure. He was a caring father for the community and remained steadfast despite facing public scrutiny and criticism. Colleagues, friends, and organizations like the Lebanese Muslim Association paid tribute to his contributions to Islam in Australia. A funeral prayer for Sheikh Taj will take place at Lakemba Mosque, a place where he dedicated three decades of his life.
The passing of Sheikh Taj El-Din Hilaly marks the end of a controversial and influential chapter in Australia’s Islamic community. His life was defined by both his dedication to his faith and the controversies that surrounded him. Sheikh Hilaly’s legacy will continue to spark conversations about the intersection of religion, culture, and public life in a multicultural society like Australia. His story serves as a reminder of the complexities faced by religious leaders in an increasingly interconnected world.