Australia: Muslim leaders call for Sharia divorce court

The World Today
To religious issues in Australia now, and Muslim leaders in Perth are planning to set up a special court under Sharia law to settle disputes in divorce proceedings.
At the moment, anyone whose marriage is registered in their country of origin has to go there to get an annulment.
But Abdul Jalil Ahmad, of the Islamic Council of Western Australia, says the Sharia court is needed here. However, he says it would not be a replacement for the Australian legal system.

This report from David Weber in Perth.

DAVID WEBER: Abdul Jalil Ahmad says a board of 10 Islamic leaders may be required to make up the court. He says the court would protect the interests of women going through a separation or a divorce.

ABDUL JALIL AHMAD: Sometime, you know, if they come to me as individual first, you know, it is not right for me like to decide anything because I am not a judge. I can advise them. Or if the problem is not so big, I can try to solve their problem, but sometimes big problem, especially when the husband, you know, for example, the wife has been suffering, the husband refuses to divorce here or something like that. So there's no way for them to explain it to the Sharia court, you know.

DAVID WEBER: So a Sharia court would take the place of mediator, I suppose?

ABDUL JALIL AHMAD: Yeah, something like that, like, you know, court of arbitration, you see.

DAVID WEBER: A Sharia court would not take the place of the Australian legal system?

ABDUL JALIL AHMAD: No, no, no. You know, the most we expect or we hope is that it can be recognised, you know.

DAVID WEBER: Is it possible that a court, a Sharia court, could deal with other aspects of Sharia law?

ABDUL JALIL AHMAD: You see, when we live in any country as minority you always, you know, what do you call… abide by the law of the land, you see.

Only in areas where we are legally allowed to implement our Islamic teaching we do, otherwise we cannot do because it is illegal, you understand. Especially, like, where it got to marriage, divorce and funeral, that all we have what we have been doing so far, you know. But it doesn't extend to, like, criminal law or something like that, because you have to follow the law of the land because we are a minority.

DAVID WEBER: What would you hope to say to people in Australia who may be concerned about some of the more extreme aspects of Sharia law that are in place in some parts of the world, like Sudan for instance, and the idea that that may be coming into play here?

ABDUL JALIL AHMAD: We are a minority here, we cannot do anything against the law, you see. So we can only demand or practice our diligence, you know, in the areas or the aspects in which we are allowed legally.

DAVID WEBER: The WA Ethnic Communities' Council does not support the move.

The President, Suresh Rajan, says there could be problems where two sets of laws exist.

The Chief Executive of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, Amjad Mehboob, says an imam has a mediating role where marriages are breaking down.

But he says a Sharia court would be useful in some circumstances, because it would provide a legal framework.

AMJAD MEHBOOB: Maybe where a husband is refusing to grant divorce, where the woman is asking for one, and then she could perhaps approach an avenue that has some legal powers. But the imam hasn't got directly very many legal powers in the normal sense.

Reporter: David Weber, The World Today - Thursday, 7 April 2005