Saturday, September 27, 2014

Sharia 101: a user's guide for Aussie Senator Jacqui Lambie

Sharia 101: a user's guide for Jacqui Lambie

Dear Ms Lambie,

I believe you may be having some difficulties with the meaning of Sharia law. Let me see if I can help...

The word Sharia in Arabic means a path or a way and is basically a pathway for Muslims to follow to live their lives in accordance with God's will. It is broader than the usual Western concept of law as it includes religious duties such as prayer and fasting and the compulsory annual charity tax called zakat which must be used for the benefit of the poor and less fortunate in society.

Sharia also has personal and ethical requirements – modesty in dress for men and women, refraining from alcohol, gambling and sexual promiscuity, caring for children and the elderly and acting justly in all transactions, whether commercial or interpersonal.


Sharia also includes law in the sense that we know it. It includes the law of contract, not much different from Western contract law, family law, which is still practised in most Muslim countries throughout the world, criminal law and evidence and laws relating to financial transactions including Islamic banking which has become quite important, not only in Muslim countries but also in the United Kingdom,  the  US and Europe in recent years.

The impression many Australians seem to have about Sharia is that it is all about cruel criminal punishments and terrorism.  This is incorrect. There are five specific crimes mentioned in the Qur'an, called Hudud crimes which are punished severely. Nevertheless, strict rules of evidence apply and the accused must be given a fair trial and in most cases, the opportunity to repent and so avoid the penalty. All other crimes are dealt with under laws not necessarily different from Western criminal laws. Nowadays, the Hudud laws are applied in only a handful of Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan. Australian Muslims do not call for the introduction of these laws in Australia.

Sharia should not be linked with terrorism since murder and suicide are forbidden under the Sharia. Some terrorist groups have wrongly attempted to appropriate Islam for their own nefarious purposes and have given themselves names such as Islamic State while their behaviour is far from Islamic. Terrorism is opposed by all right thinking Muslims and Muslim leaders here and abroad have condemned it on numerous occasions. It seems that this message has not yet got through to some politicians.

I understand that you also want to ban the burqa. You posted a photo of an Afghan woman holding a gun and wearing an Afghan style burqa (which is almost never seen in Australia) as an illustration of the security threat that you claim is posed by Muslim women who cover themselves. The woman turned out to be Afghanistan's first female police officer, renowned for her courage in combating offences against women. She was not threatening anyone and was killed by the Taliban for her efforts. There is no evidence that Muslim women who wear a face covering are a threat to our society. Women have the right to wear what they like in a free and democratic society like ours.

Islam does not oppress women. In the seventh century Islam gave Muslim women rights which were not attained by women in Europe, Britain or Australia until the middle of the 19th  century – the right to a separate legal personality, the right to divorce, the right to inherit property and the right to earn money and dispose of it as they wish. Certainly some of these rights were whittled down by patriarchal customs over the ages, but they endure nonetheless. Muslim women in Australia are smart, well educated and strong and do not need the "help" of uninformed politicians about their faith or life style choices.

Please get to know some Muslim women. You may be surprised.

Jamila Hussain is a research associate in the  Law faculty at UTS and teaches Islamic law.

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