A Melbourne-based lawyer who has slated a Shariah law based mediation centre in Victoria told Lawyers Weekly today that the proposal would fill a major need for mediation services in the Muslim community.
Hyder Gulam, a senior associate at Logie-Smith Lanyon Lawyers, came up with the proposal following a paper he co-wrote with barrister Simon Lee for Muslim publication Cresent Times.
He labels the paper an open discussion on how a Shariah-based mediation service could work, and act as a means to approach government for funding in order to further scope out the idea.
"We basically asked, if you were going to have a Shariah court here, hypothetically speaking, firstly, would it be possible, and if it were possible, how would it be set up?," he said.
"We got to the point where we said, 'it's probably not feasible to have a Shariah court'. There are too many obstacles - especially the lack of understanding of what Shariah law actually is."
Gulam instead came to the conclusion that a system of medication and conciliation based on Shariah principles could be possible.
He said that while many people immediately assume that such an idea would only deal with family law, as a corporate lawyer, he believes its main objective would be to serve the corporate dispute needs of the Muslim community. "So how do you deal with partners or directors of Muslim-based companies that are in dispute," he said.
Gulam explained that the current means for disputing parties to solve issues via Shariah principles is to go to Imams in the community. "These guys have been very good but they don't have proper mediation training and secondly, they don't have a good understanding of Australian law."
While Imams could still be involved in a Shariah-law based mediation service, Gulam believes they should also receive legal and mediation training in order to better settle disputes.
But Gulam's plans for a Shariah mediation service have been controversial - with the director of the Islamic Women's Welfare Council of Victoria, Joumanah El Matrah, expressing concern in the Melbourne Age earlier this week that such an initiative would "disadvantage" women and children.
Gulam dismissed these claims, explaining that his vision would be for system to involve a senior non-Muslim accredited mediator, co-mediating with an Imam, or someone who is senior and respected in the Muslim community. "There is no gender obstacle to a woman being a mediator, not at all."
What's the place of Shariah law in Australia? Comment below, and see next week's edition of Lawyers Weekly for more on this story.
- Angela Priestley