The head of the largest law firm in the Middle-East has told an Australian audience that sharia law is compatible with western arbitration systems.
Essam Al Tamimi, a Dubai-based senior partner with Al Tamimi & Company, delivered an address in Ceremonial Court of the Federal Court in Sydney last night (8 November) on the topic of Islamic influences on international arbitration.
Invited to speak by Clayton Utz partner Doug Jones, who is also the president of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, Al Tamimi acknowledged that sharia law is often regarded skeptically by western countries, due to its political connotations, but said that should not disqualify it from being a topic of discussion as it applies to many areas of civil and legal life.
"Islamic religion gets involved in the transactional side of life, and does not confine itself to the Mosque, to my bedroom, to my house and to the praying carpet. It gets outside that to tell me how I should behave in my training, how I should pay, and what is legal," he said. "Islamic law is relevant to commercial transactions and doing business."
Speaking to Lawyers Weekly before the lecture, Al Tamimi said that sharia law, which is the general law in Islam, and the system of arbitration and settling disputes developed in tandem with each other. He said that western countries such as Australia could benefit by understanding those links.
"The principle of arbitration, and the use of arbitration to settle disputes, existed during the early period of Islam," he said. "The word 'arbitration' was used in the Koran."
Al Tamimi addressed issues such as whether the appointment of female judges was compatible with sharia law. He said that Iraq has over 70 female judges and his own country, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), has 10 female judges.
"There is no specific prohibition against a female judge," he said. "Arbitrators need to have the same qualifications as judges, and if the only judge available and qualified is a man, then there will be no female arbitrators."
Leaving controversy behind
Al Tamimi flew to Sydney on Saturday (5 November) after being the chair of the host committee at the International Bar Association (IBA) Conference which finished on 4 November.
He confirmed with Lawyers Weekly that political authorities in Dubai altered the topic headings of five of the 170 topics discussed, including replacing reference to the "death penalty" with "capital punishment" in one session. Al Tamimi said this decision was taken so as not to offend neighbouring countries affected by recent political demonstrations and regime changes.
"We had a request from UAE authorities to change the headings on certain topics," he said. "We don't want to be seen to be hosting a conference in Dubai during the current Arab Spring which someone might construe as sending missiles out of Dubai into those territories."
Al Tamimi said that none of the speakers at the conference, attended by around 5,500 lawyers, was changed and that he "would not accept" any alterations to the substance of those discussions.
Al Tamimi also said the 13 Israeli delegates were not subject to restrictions and were given "the red carpet treatment" when in Dubai.