Taj El-Din Hamid Hilaly (also spelled as Tajeddin Hilaly, Hilali, Al-Hilaly, Taj el-Din al-Hilali, Aldin Alhilali, Tajideen El-Hilaly, and Tajeddine) was born on 17 January 1941 and passed away on 5 October 2023. He was a prominent imam at Lakemba Mosque in Sydney and became a significant Australian Sunni Muslim leader. The Australian Federation of Islamic Councils appointed him as the Mufti of Australia in 1988. Despite referring to himself as the Grand Mufti of Australia and New Zealand, this title was not universally accepted and was considered by some as honorary.

Early Life

Born in Egypt, Hilaly migrated to Australia in 1982 using a tourist visa from Lebanon. Even though the visa was meant to be temporary, it got reissued continuously until 1988. During this year, then Minister for Immigration, Chris Hurford, tried to deport Hilaly for allegedly being against “Australian values”. However, Hilaly received significant support from the Islamic community in Australia. By 1990, Gerry Hand, Hurford’s successor, granted him permanent residence.

Appointment as Imam

Hilaly was the Imam at Lakemba Mosque, managed by the Lebanese Muslim Association. Interestingly, his wages were paid by “the Libyan Islamic Call Society and private individuals”, as mentioned by a former vice-president of the LMA.

Criminal Charges

  • In 1999, Hilaly faced charges and was subsequently imprisoned for involvement in smuggling goods from Egypt.
  • In early 2003, he was charged by the New South Wales Police for driving an unregistered and uninsured vehicle and for his behavior towards the police officers. This incident escalated, leading to an altercation between nearby Muslims and the police. However, most of the charges were later dropped, with Hilaly receiving a fine of A$400.

Negotiation to Free Abducted Australian Douglas Wood

In May 2005, an Australian contractor named Douglas Wood was kidnapped by a group called the Shura Council of the Mujahideen of Iraq. They demanded the withdrawal of Australian troops from Iraq for Wood’s release. Hilaly, in an attempt to negotiate Wood’s release, traveled to Iraq twice that month, even risking his health during the process. Despite the kidnappers initially demanding $25 million, Hilaly claimed to have reduced the amount to a few thousand dollars. However, after Douglas Wood was rescued by the Iraqi army, Wood denied ever speaking to Hilaly.

2005 Australian Muslim Achievement Award

Hilaly was honored as the “Muslim Man of the Year” in 2005 at the first Australian Muslim Achievement Awards by Mission of Hope.

Controversial Statements

  • In 1988, Hilaly delivered a speech at the University of Sydney, discussing “The Disposition of Jews in the light of the Qur’an”, which drew accusations of antisemitism from Australian Jewish organizations. He did not retract or apologize for his comments.
  • In a February 2004 sermon, Hilaly appeared to support terrorist activities, with statements that seemed to endorse suicide bombings and the 9/11 attacks.
  • By July 2006, Hilaly denied the Holocaust, terming it a “Zionist lie”, and also referred to Israel as a “cancer”. This led to his removal from Prime Minister John Howard‘s Muslim Community Reference Group.
  • A highly controversial statement came in October 2006 during a Ramadan sermon, where he compared immodestly dressed women to “uncovered meat”, suggesting that they invite sexual assault.

Reactions and Responses

Various individuals and organizations responded to Hilaly’s comments. Phong Nguyen, chairman of the Ethnic Communities’ Council of Victoria, stressed the importance of women’s rights to dress as they please. Pru Goward, Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner, even suggested that Hilaly’s comments could be seen as incitement to crime.

Proposed Political Movement

Hilaly proposed forming a political party to represent Islamic interests in Australia’s national Parliament ahead of the 2007 Federal election. However, the idea was met with criticism from leaders such as Kevin Rudd and John Howard and was eventually abandoned.

Retirement and Death

In 2007, the Council of Islamic Jurisprudence and Research reappointed Hilaly as Grand Mufti. However, he declined the offer, marking the end of his term. On 5 October 2023, Taj El-Din Hilaly passed away in Egypt at the age of 82.