As long as Muslims view their religion as sitting above history and culture – with the Koran as the literal word of God, which in their view makes Islam undebatable – there will always be Hilalis who can point to certain texts and argue for a social and legal structure consistent with 7th-century Arabia. Let’s not forget that a senior British cleric lavished praise on Hilali in response to this incident, saying Australia was lucky to have him, and suggesting he was “one of the greatest Islamic scholars in the world”.
This is a man who knows the Koran in intimate detail and his views are consistent with a strict reading of the Muslim holy book.
And if you believe the Koran is the literal word of God, how is anything other than a strict interpretation appropriate?
All the world’s religions have passages that are abhorrent or inappropriate to the modern age. But they were revolutionary in their time and can still inspire us today.
If Islam is seen in its context, as a product of history and not above it, there could be a meaningful debate about whether a version of the religion, inspired by but not chained to its past, can and contribute to modernity and human progress.
The Hilali incident and the loud chorus of his defenders suggest this is still some way off.