Academic Text on Sharia and Religious Accommodation Condemned in Australia

From the Australian Daily Telegraph:

Sydney University adopts law courses pushing for recognition of sharia law, polygamy and young marriage in Australian legal system

THE most prestigious law school in Australia has two courses which call for elements of sharia law to be recognised in the mainstream legal system — including allowances for polygamy and lowering the age of consent.

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 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…

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.

The article was referenced in a brief segment of Channel 7’s Sunrise news programme, in which two talking heads (the politician Mark Latham and another man whose name I was unable to catch) were invited to express their mockery of and contempt for the course and its alleged content.

The book at the heart of the controversy is Accommodating Muslims under Common Law: A Comparative Analysis, published by the mainstream academic publisher Routledge. The text can be browsed on Google Books and Amazon, and the Introduction is available on the Routledge website. Here is the book blurb:

The book explores the relationship between Muslims, the Common Law and Shar??ah post-9/11. The book looks at the accommodation of Shar??ah Law within Western Common Law legal traditions and the role of the judiciary, in particular, in drawing boundaries for secular democratic states with Muslim populations who want resolutions to conflicts that also comply with the dictates of their faith.

Salim Farrar and Ghena Krayem consider the question of recognition of Shar??ah by looking at how the flexibilities that exists in both the Common Law and Shar??ah provide unexplored avenues for navigation and accommodation. The issue is explored in a comparative context across several jurisdictions and case law is examined in the contexts of family law, business and crime from selected jurisdictions with significant Muslim minority populations including: Australia, Canada, England and Wales, and the United States. The book examines how Muslims and the broader community have framed their claims for recognition against a backdrop of terrorism fears, and how Common Law judiciaries have responded within their constitutional and statutory confines and also within the contemporary contexts of demands for equality, neutrality and universal human rights. Acknowledging the inherent pragmatism, flexibility and values of the Common Law, the authors argue that the controversial issue of accommodation of Shar??ah is not necessarily one that requires the establishment of a separate and parallel legal system.

As a survey and a contribution to a wider debate about religious accommodation, the book contains both descriptive material and the authors’ analyses. The details about divorce and the age of consent in Islamic Family Law are descriptive, but as far as I can see the authors do not “call for” or present any kind of argument concerning lowering the age of consent in Australia or anywhere else. Indeed, they actually write that

Most Muslim countries today have legislated to provide a minimum age of marriage… and Muslim communities in the diaspora also are not calling to alter the minimum age for marriage. (p. 62)

The authors also write that “Muslims are seeking accommodation within the official system by integrating their processes and beliefs without asking for any exemption” (p. 16).

It is difficult to pronounce on the overall quality of the book without having read it or seen an authoritative review (the one academic review I found, from the University of Tasmania Law Review, is paywalled, although the first page is visible), but it seems to me that taking a couple of quotes out of context and lining up pundits and politicians to express incredulity and outrage offers nothing of value and amounts to simple scaremongering.