An article by PAUL BIBBY at The Sydney Morning Herald
March 8, 2010
ELEMENTS of Islamic law - the sharia - should be legally recognised in Australia so that Muslims can live according their faith, a prominent Muslim leader says.
Addressing an open day at Lakemba Mosque on Saturday, the president of the Australian Islamic Mission, Zachariah Matthews, said parts of sharia could be recognised as a secondary legal system so that Muslims were not forced to act contrary to their beliefs. ''Sharia law could function as a parallel system in the same way that some traditional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander law was recognised in the Northern Territory,'' Dr Matthews told the Herald after the session.
''I don't think we are so unsophisticated that we cannot consider a multilayered legal system as long as it doesn't conflict with the existing civil system.''
The comments shocked some attending the open day. They felt Dr Matthews was advocating the introduction of the penal system under which women have been stoned to death for adultery, and corporal punishment is meted out for some offences.
''It came as quite a shock to some non-Muslims in the crowd when sharia law and the idea of a parallel legal system was mentioned,'' one audience member, Jasmine Donnelly, said.
''One group of people just left straight after that.''
But Dr Matthews said he was referring only to certain elements of family law and inheritance law and was not advocating the sharia penal system.
''I wasn't talking about sharia law in its entirety - we are not calling for the introduction of the penal system which calls for cutting off hands,'' he said.
Dr Matthews said a clash occurred in some custody matters. ''Under sharia law, if a couple divorce and the mother remarries, her former husband has the right to decide whether the children will live with the new husband or not,'' Dr Matthews said.
''There is still a preference for the child to go with the mother, but the father has the ultimate decision.
''This does not exist in Australian law but I do not believe it clashes fundamentally with Australian values or the Australian legal system.''