Australia's Malcolm Turnbull has held the first Ramadan fast-breaking meal at the prime minister's residence. The event was partially overshadowed by the presence of a Muslim cleric who had made anti-gay comments.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said on Friday he would not have invited a top Muslim cleric to an iftar dinner -- or fast-breaking dinner -- at his residence had he known about the imam's anti-gay comments.
Sheikh Shady Alsuleiman, the president of the Australian National Imams Council, alongside some 75 mostly Muslim guests, were invited to the prime minister's official residence in Sydney on Thursday to break their Ramadan fast. It was the first time an Australian prime minister had held such an event.
But the outreach to Australia's Muslim community was overshadowed by controversy when "The Australian" newspaper reported Alsuleiman had preached in a 2013 video uploaded on social media that homosexual acts "are evil actions that bring upon evil outcomes to our society."
Turnbull said he had only become aware of those comments during the dinner when a reporter brought it up. The prime minister said he condemned the comments at the dinner.
"I regard as unacceptable and I will always condemn any remarks which disrespect any part of our community, whether it is on the basis of their sexuality, their gender, their race, their religion," Turnbull told reporters on Friday.
"Had I known that the sheikh had made those remarks, he would not have been invited to the iftar," he added.
Turnbull also emphasized the valuable contribution that Muslims have made to Australia.
"Let me be very clear about this, and this was the theme of my address at the iftar -- we are the most successful multicultural society in the world," he said. "The bedrock of that, the foundation, is mutual respect and that is why I reach out to every community, every community in our country is part of our nation."
Only days earlier, Australia had cancelled the visa of a British cleric who once said homosexual acts in public should be punished by death.
The invitation to Alsuleiman was an embarrassment for the government, coming days after an American Muslim shot up a gay night club in Orlando, killing 49 people. The shooting has sparked renewed debate about Islam's -- and for that matter all religion's -- toward homosexuality. Orlando has also led to an increase in polarizing anti-Muslim sentiment and commentary.
In Australia, the shootings have renewed focus on the differing policies held on gay rights by the government and opposition ahead of elections on July 2. Same-sex marriage is still not recognized in Australia, but if re-elected Turnbull's conservatives plan to hold a referendum to allow voters to decide on the issue. Polls suggest voters support a plebiscite.
If elected, the opposition Labor Party has said it would make parliament decide within its first 100 days in power.
cw/kl (AFP, AP)