Australia: Muslim leaders' divorce proposal

Daily Telegraph
Muslim leaders want to set up a separate Islamic court in Australia to deal specifically with Islamic divorces.
The radical idea was raised by Muslim leaders in a meeting with Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs Minister Peter McGauran last week.
But Mr McGauran and Attorney-General Phillip Ruddock yesterday rejected the idea.

"The law in this country is secular. There's a clear separation between religion and the law and Australia's laws apply equally to all citizens, regardless of their religion," Mr McGauran said.

A spokeswoman for Mr Ruddock added: "It would not be appropriate for the Government to establish a separate religious court."

But the Government said it was sensitive to problems experienced by Muslims, particularly those with dual citizenship who seek a divorce.

Muslim Women's National Network spokeswoman Jamila Hussain said a divorce was only recognised under Islamic law when the husband says "I divorce you".

A Muslim woman may obtain a civil divorce under Australian law but she cannot remarry if her husband refuses to grant her a religious divorce.

In Muslim countries, a disputed break-up is settled by a special sharia court.

But these don't exist in Australia and citizens who want to remarry must travel overseas to get a judgment.

The major problem is some Muslim countries don't recognise Australia's civil divorces.

Mr McGauran suggests the Government should ask foreign governments such as Lebanon to recognise Australian Family Court divorces.

Spokesman for Australia's Lebanese community, Keysar Trad, said this was an acceptable solution.

"We're looking for a solution to make life easier for Australian citizens," he said.

"You lose the ability to register subsequent marriages and that means any new child will not be registered as legitimate," he said.

Ms Hussain said a Jewish court called the Bethdin sat in Melbourne to solve marriage disputes but it did not have the power to grant a divorce.

Canada is talking about setting up a sharia court and Malaysia had a complete Islamic law system operating, she said.

by Sue Dunlevy, Political Reporter
Originally published on 5 April 2005 in The Daily Telegraph