Muslims split on mosque proposal
  a.. Barney Zwartz 
  b.. December 1, 2008
AUSTRALIAN Muslims are deeply divided over a plan by the nation's most senior 
cleric to allow men and women to pray in the same hall, which conservative 
Sydney Muslims have vowed to fight.

A quartet of leaders has met several times to oppose the plan by the Mufti of 
Australia, Sheikh Fehmi Naji el-Imam, to return to the worship endorsed by the 
Prophet Muhammad 1400 years ago, with men and women in the same prayer space.

"There's been a huge backlash, even though he's partially right," said Keysar 
Trad, president of the Sydney-based Islamic Friendship Association, one of the 

Sheikh Fehmi - who announced his bold plan 10 days ago in response to 
complaints by women at a Melbourne conference - was unrepentant yesterday, 
saying the Sydney leaders should not start trouble based on a misunderstanding.

His announcement followed a report by the Islamic Women's Welfare Council of 
Victoria claiming some imams had condoned domestic violence, polygamy, rape 
within marriage and exploitation of women.

Yesterday, Sheikh Fehmi said: "Some people have misunderstood and talked as if 
I said women should be side by side with men, but that wasn't the practice of 
the Prophet. Women came to pray, but formed their own line," he said.

"No imams should stop women coming into the mosque to pray, but the practice 
should be exactly as it was in the Prophet's time, no more, no less.

"The women are happy about what I suggested. If so, people should not be 
starting trouble without knowing what has been said and what is going to be 
done. Anyone who wants to know what we intend can ask us, and we will tell them 
about it."

In an online article on Friday, Mr Trad accused the Mufti of a "knee-jerk 

He told The Age women usually had less space than men in mosques but this was 
because men, if they lived within two kilometres of a mosque, had to attend 
five times a day to pray. There was no such requirement for women.

Mr Trad said he had been meeting with Australian National Imams' Council 
chairman Abdul Moez Alnafti and two senior scholars - but not Sheikh Taj al-Din 
al-Hilali who is overseas - to respond to issues arising at the conference at 
the National Centre for Excellence in Islamic Studies.

He said Sydney Muslims were incensed about the Islamic Women's Council report, 
which sensationalised isolated incidents. They were also upset at Sheikh 
Fehmi's response to the report.

"His first response, where he said the women must be writing about stories they 
have heard as though they are fact, was one most people could identify with, 
but his second was a complete turn around."

(The next day Sheikh Fehmi acknowledged that some imams had made mistakes and 
that the women should be heard.)

The president of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, Ikebal Patel, 
said he supported Sheikh Fehmi's call to allow women in the same prayer hall, 
though still separate. He said the main problem for the growing Muslim 
population was the difficulty in building new mosques because of community 
opposition. In overcrowded mosques women's accommodation was sometimes 

The Australian National Imams Council did not return calls.

? Mufti wants men and women to pray in the same space.

? Opponents say there's been a "huge backlash".

? Mufti claims he's been misunderstood.

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