Sydney ~ July 23, 2011
Australian Muslim women choose to live by own code
Their choice: Sharia Law divorces are accepted by Muslim women Source: AP
WHEN Australian Muslim Frida Dakiz's marriage dissolved she was granted a divorce by her local imam.
The 33-year-old dress shop manager said it was only after she was officially separated by religious law that she considered secular options.
Ms Dakiz is among thousands of Australian Muslims living by a shadow civil code known as sharia law.And despite the arrests this week of three men who police allege carried out a sharia law punishment, Ms Dakiz and 28-year-old friend Rebecca Kay yesterday said their traditions have a place in Australian society.
The sharia is the code of conduct in Islam and its applications cover marriage, divorce, inheritance and custody of children.
The power of an Islamic leader, known as an imam, to settle disputes is not officially sanctioned by the Australian legal system, yet it is happening every day in Sydney's western suburbs.
In May, the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils suggested in a submission to the federal government that small changes could be introduced giving Muslims "legal pluralism". They asked the government to fund halal and kosher meat outlets and for state schools to have special sports uniforms for female Muslim students. Attorney-General Robert McClelland said at the time "there is no place for sharia law in Australian society", and this week NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione repeated the sentiment.
Sharia law's more controversial elements - including polygamous marriages, relationships where one person is legally underage, and its penal code - ensure ample opportunity for clashes with the traditional legal system.
Yet Muslims like Ms Dakiz and Ms Kay say if the police allegations are true, the attack is not consistent with their view of sharia law.
"Everyone in our community is shaking their heads, it is unbelievable," Ms Kay said.
"For moderate Muslims we take one step forward when something good happens and then 100 steps back when these sorts of things happen."
Ms Kay said sharia law covered only private issues that go to the heart of their religious beliefs, and is only used when all parties agreed to its application.
Religious courts should not replace the existing system, she added.
"It's not that the Australian laws are not good, it's just that we choose to live like this," Ms Kay said.
Ms Dakiz said she knew of religious marriages involving underage women in Melbourne, but not in Sydney.
Another Muslim woman, Ruba Naboush, 32, said she was aware of polygamous marriages in Sydney and that the women seemed happy.
However, she said she would not personally enjoy the arrangement.
Ms Kay said: "I'll quote from my husband. He said: Why would I want two headaches?"
Haset Sali, author of The Quran Simply, an English translation of the Koran, said it was an "unhealthy development" that some of the more extreme elements of sharia law were creeping into society.
"There is a small number of fanatics who are introducing it and setting themselves up as the custodians of the community," he said."It's most unfortunate that some people are trying to introduce a sub-culture into Australia under the guise of sharia law."
Keysar Trad, from the Islamic Friendship Association of Australia, says there is support for some parts of sharia law like marriage and inheritance, but the penal aspects were not accepted. "Generally religious people don't want to offend God, so they ask an imam how they can do these things in a religious way," he said.
The penal provisions of sharia can only be carried out in an Islamic state, with a caliph as head of state, and through a properly constituted court.
"It cannot be done through vigilantes," Mr Trad said.
He said that if the current allegations of a vigilante sharia law punishment were proven, it would be a crime against Islam - and a crime against the state.
"They cannot appoint themselves as a court, they have no mandate," he added.
This week, academics Ann Black and Kerrie Sadiq said Australia was right to act with caution when dealing with sharia law.
They said not all Muslims were registering their marriages and some were relying on religious ceremonies to validate unions that were in breach of the Marriage Act. This included polygamist marriages or where one member was under the legal age.