Sharia law has become a shadow legal system within Australia, endorsing polygamous and underage marriages, according to new research.
Legal academics from the University of New South Wales contend that the wider community has been “oblivious” to the parallel legal system “that abounds in this country”.
And their findings come in the wake of an Islamic leader’s call for Australia to embrace more than one legal system.
Ikebal Patel, President of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, later withdrew his remarks and said he supported secular law, but the researchers found that Australian Muslims have long been complying with the shadow system of religious law he had urged Australia to embrace.
In their study, Associate Professor Kerrie Sadiq and Ann Black found that in family law, not all Muslims have been registering their marriages and some have relied on religious ceremonies to validate unions that breached the Marriage Act.
These include “polygynist marriages”, in which a man takes multiple wives, and marriages where one party is under the legal age to marry.
The latest research also found that mainstream Australian law accommodates men who arrive in the country with multiple wives and gives some legal standing to multiple partnerships that originate in Australia.
“Valid Muslim polygynist marriages, lawfully entered into overseas, are recognised, with second and third wives and their children able to claim welfare and other benefits,” the researchers write.
In their article, the researchers suggested there should be a “tweaking” of family law to take account of Sharia law.
But Federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland said if there was ever any inconsistency between cultural values and the rule of law “then Australian law wins out.
“There is only one law that’s applicable in Australia – that’s Australian law based on our common law tradition”.