The Australian on 17 May 2011 by Patricia Karvelas called “Muslim Body Wants “Moderate” Sharia Law”. The article says “the nation’s peak Muslim group is using the Gillard Government’s re-embracing a multiculturalism to push for the introduction for Sharia in Australia.”
The article says that the Australian federation of Islamic Councils has submitted to the Government that as part of its new multiculturalism policy Muslims should enjoy legal pluralism. In particular the organisation’s President says that family law and specifically divorce are an area where moderate Sharia law could co-exist with the Australian legal system.
The article says “a hard line reading of Sharia confers all unilateral divorce rights on men, while women who initiate divorce are stripped of their property and financial entitlements. However a more moderate interpretation and common practice is to recognise divorce by mutual consent.”
Mr Patel, spokesperson for the Council, says that when it comes to family law this is “about personal issues about family and won’t affect any other Australians.”
His comments raise some interesting issues. Australia does pride itself on being a multicultural country, however can this extend as far as allowing different groups in society to have different laws? One of the aspects of the concept of the rule of law is that everyone in the one society is subject to the same laws and that this ensures some degree of fairness. Is it fairer to treat everyone the same? Or is true equality allowing different groups to be treated differently?
Is Mr Patel right in saying that family law in particular is a personal issue and that various cultural groups in Australian society should be free to exercise their own laws? Or is the fact that the law regulates the family in the first place, mean that there is already some intrusion of the State into the family and in a way this private sphere must adhere to a uniform public standard as set by the law? A further difficulty with introducing Sharia law is that it does conflate religion with the state.
It will be interesting to see how the Government, the media and other interest groups react to these proposals. Already many have expressed strong opposition to the proposal, as was reported on 18 May 2011 in The Australian, Goodbye to rights under Sharia.”