Dr Zachariah Matthews, the president of the Australian Islamic Mission wants certain aspects of Sharia to be implemented as a "parallel legal system".
My own opinion is that it's a stupid idea.
And I think that is a stupid idea for all religious groups. There shouldn't be a separate legal system for people of certain religions at all. I don't care if it is Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Baha'i, Christians or even Scientologists.
Nobody should have access to their own special courts because of their religion, nor should they get any special privileges given to them because of these courts.
The two examples given in the article are:
"When it comes to Muslim family law there are issues relating to the legal age of marriage," [Dr. Matthews] said.
"In Muslim law, for example, as in Singapore, the legal age for both parties is 16 rather than as it stands currently [at] 18.
"There's also the issue of the waiting period [between] separation and divorce, which is currently specified at 12 months. In Muslim family law that could be a lot shorter."
The first one looks, to me at least, as a way around current consent laws. The Sex Discrimination Act 1991 (Cth) raised the marriageable age of women to 18 from 16, bringing it in line with men.
It is, however, possible to marry at a younger age, because if you are older then 16, but younger then 18 you can go to a judge and get an order permitting the marriage, according to section 12 of the Marriage Act 1961 (Cth).
I also must wonder where Dr. Matthews got that age from. From what I've found the legal marriageable age in Singapore is 21 and the Registry of Marriages in Singapore has a whole section regarding what needs to be done if you are under 18 and want to get married, which includes a counselling session.
Taking a quick look at this list on Wikipedia most Muslim countries have marriageable ages comparable to non-Muslim countries, and a younger age appears to be typical for women.
The point on divorce just looks like queue jumping to me. From what I'm aware the intention of the year long wait is to allow for the possibility of reconciliation and also to allow both parties to calm down and work things out amicably. Religious requirements for divorce already cause problems in some cases according to letter of advice to the Attorney General and that's considering that marriage is, under the Marriage Act, secular and not religious.
I mentioned earlier that we shouldn't play favourites regarding religion, the reason I mentioned that was because of the end of the article:
But Dr Matthews says the minor changes proposed would only apply to Muslims.
"As long as that concession does not infringe on the rights of others and society at large, then the question I'm asking is, are we not mature enough or sophisticated enough to manage that type of diversity?" he said.
There's the rub. The examples given regarding marriage, in my opinion at least, do infringe on the rights of others. They are suggesting that Muslims should be treated differently and have different recourse on civil matters. Marriage and divorce are not religious matters under Australian law, they are civil matters.
And as such they should be dealt with in civil courts, not religious ones.
Perhaps I'm being a bit hasty here, all the news articles that I could find seem to cover the same thing. I haven't managed to find a copy of the speech that Dr. Matthews gave, so I don't know if I'm taking what he said out of context. But based on what I've read I feel my points are valid.