One of the Sydney University courses, Muslim Minorities And The Law, is taught by Salim Farrar and Dr Ghena Krayem and it uses a book the pair wrote as “the monograph upon which the unit of study bases its teaching”. The Daily Telegraph can reveal the book claims “sharia law and common law are not inherently incompatible” and that police’s failures to accommodate Islamic religious identity during operations was hampering the fight against Islamist terrorism.
Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham has warned universities that religion has no place in the law. “Equality of the law, under the law and before the law should be one of the first principles in our law schools,” he told The Daily Telegraph.
“We all operate under the one legal framework in Australia, applied consistently to all and that is not a matter for negotiation.”
Mr Birmingham’s office also warned universities about using taxpayer funds to promote ideologies at odds with the Australian public “Universities must keep in touch with Australian community expectations and that includes respect for and adherence to Australian law,” a spokesman said.
“Universities operate under a social license and we rightly expect that the taxpayer funding going to those institutions is being used to deliver benefits to all Australians.”
The book also takes aims at judges for denouncing “conservative Muslim values” during sentencing.
“Where found guilty of transgressing Western values, for example in gender equality, or violating national security, courts have clearly communicated their denunciation of ‘traditional’ or conservative Muslim values when sentencing, dispensing exemplary sentences and announcing aggravating factors, even when the written law does not explicitly demand it,” it says.
The idea of mixing sharia law with Australian law has been criticised by the legal fraternity and Islamic leaders, who said the “division between religion and courts” must be upheld.
However, the authors say when it comes to the law “we will suggest that ‘accommodation’ is not enough and that, as liberal democratic societies, we should move towards a notion of ‘recognition’.” The authors also call for research into whether polygamy should be legally recognised.
“There is no doubt that this is an area that needs to be researched, particularly given the fact that anecdotal evidence suggests that this is an increasing practice in Muslim communities,” it says.
The course brief for Mr Farrar’s undergraduate course Introduction To Islamic law says it will focus on “shari’ah (the classical laws as derived from the religious sources), and will seek to explain its relationship to the contemporary laws of Muslim states and to the cultural practices of Muslim communities living in Australia and other predominantly non-Muslim states.”
Sharia law is Islam’s religious law. It is often described as a code for living for Muslims. There is ongoing dispute between traditionalists and reformists over its application in Western society.
At its most extreme, sharia law calls for death by stoning for adulterers.
However, the Sydney academics condemn such practices in their writings.
The book says “in terms of police operational practice, there has been little evidence of accommodation of Islamic religious identity across our jurisdictions.
“Rather, evidence suggests police have targeted and discriminated against Muslims simply on grounds of religious identity. While Muslims tend not to object to greater personal intrusions where clearly justified for security reasons, such procedural unfairness is likely to be counter-productive in the fight against Islamist terrorism.”
In a chapter on Islamic Family Law, the authors say a man has the “exclusive” right to divorce his wife and states that sharia does not recognise minimum age in marriage. “There is no minimum age for a contract of marriage, but it should not be consummated if that would cause harm to the putative spouse.”
It also criticised the Australian legal system for not recognising the religious significance of paying a woman a fee to marry her, a practice known as mahr.
Law Society of NSW president Pauline Wright said universities were “places of ideas and should be exploring them but having said that in terms of the law — in my view — all Australians should be subject to the same law.
“I don’t think bringing different laws in based on the religion of people coming before the courts is appropriate.”
The Australian Federation of Islamic Councils spokesman Ali Kadri said sharia was often “misunderstood”, but expressed a similar sentiment.
“I think there is nothing within Australian law which stops me from following my religion as I am supposed to and I would not be compromising anything within my religion by following Australian law as it is,” he said.
“I don’t think we need to have religious connotations with any law because we are a secular country.”
Dr Krayem and a team of Melbourne academics were awarded a federal government research grant in 2015 to research the Response Of Australian Family Law To Islamic Community Processes, to influence “future policy developments”. Family law expert Robert Balzola said it was concerning that public funding was behind the research.
A university spokesman said the “optional” course would provide students with a “basic understanding of the sources of Islamic law and its interpretation”. Both academics declined to comment.
Read More: The Daily Telegraph
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