Call for Islamic divorce court

Sydney, Australia - A SPECIALIST Islamic court is among proposals Muslim leaders have raised with Howard Government ministers to resolve religious disputes such as divorce within Australian Muslim communities.

The imam from Sydney's largest mosque met Citizenship Minister Peter McGauran last week to raise concerns about a failure to adequately resolve religious disputes, a longstanding problem within Muslim communities.

Under Islamic law, a divorce is only recognised when a husband pronounces a talaq (I divorce you). If either party refuses the talaq, the common recourse is to a sharia court, of which there are none in Australia.

If the husband refuses to give her a religious divorce most Muslim women cannot remarry even if they have obtained a divorce through the nation's civil no-fault divorce system.

Disputes that accompany marriage breakdown such as property and custody rights can arise if one partner refuses to comply with the religious law for these issues.

Muslim Women's National Network spokeswoman Jamila Hussain said the present situation was particularly unfair for women, who were left with little power to secure a proper divorce from their husbands if they refused to co-operate.

"They cannot remarry within their own community unless they go overseas to have a (religious) judgment issued in a Muslim country, which is expensive, because there is no body or sharia court in Australia," said Ms Hussain, who has written a book on Islamic law and society.

She said a religious tribunal or court similar to one established within Jewish communities would solve the problem.

But the Howard Government is unlikely to agree to an Islamic tribunal or court that worked with the Family Court to resolve disputes.

During the meeting last week with Lebanese Muslim leaders, Senator McGauran raised concern about a sharia court system in Canada. Some women there, who have fled oppressive regimes such as that in Iran, want their religion kept separate from state.

Senator McGauran told The Australian that an alternative for Lebanese Muslims could be an agreement between the governments that meant civil divorces granted here were recognised in Lebanon, where religious divorces are made.