Many Muslim countries across the world have been facing campaigns from women’s rights activists calling for the reform of Islamic laws regarding marriage and divorce, and there’s been quite some success in certain places. However, divorce solicitors in Melbourne and the women Muslim community in Australia have not met the same success.
In Australia, Islamic law or sharia, tends to operate as semi-separate system to the country’s official legal system, with the Muslim imams, who are all men, able to administer judgment on cases with impunity, which has led to Muslim women in the country being denied their right to leave marriages.
Survivors and social workers say that, on top of that, many imams tend to be ignorant or outright dismissive of the issue of domestic violence. Notably, Australia doesn’t really have reliable empirical evidence regarding domestic abuse on Muslim women, as data is scarce and has not really been compiled and collected.
Many Muslim women still end up abused by their husbands, threatened, raped or beaten. One such case involved a Lebanese Muslim from Melbourne, who left her husband sometime in 2009, but had not been helped by divorce solicitors in Melbourne, as the Board of Imams Victoria has repeatedly denied her plea for divorce, claiming they couldn’t find her husband for approval.
Advocates across Australia are calling foul and demanding equality for Islamic women, which they claim is not only biased against women, but also outright endangers their well-being and their lives. They are saying that trapping women in marriages is akin to abuse, and is a major violation of human rights. Advocates claim that women not able to exercise their right to leave an unwanted marriage is a textbook example of structural violence, which definitely needs to be rectified.
The Board of Imams Victoria Secretary, Sheikh Muhammad NawasSaleem, says that the Board does not force women back to their husbands. The Board of Imams Victoria is one of many informal councils of Aussie imamgs that handle cases of Islamic divorce, representing the Sunni subgroup of Islam, which covers the vast majority of Islamic Aussies.
But investigations regarding domestic violence has noted otherwise, showing that, in just the earlier days of April 2018, many Islamic women who’ve received family violence intervention orders have been ordered by the Board of Imams Victoria to return to unsafe marriages.
Advocates have noted that for Islamic women, an Islamic divorce, on top of a civil divorce made with the help of divorce solicitors in Melbourne or wherever they are, is outright non-negotiable, with them saying that it’s imperative for women, seeking closure through the sharia.
Some imams in Australia, have been listening, however. Western Australia, for example, have women looking for an Islamic divorce only needing to apply to one imam for divorce; a trusted, trained, reliable imam who can fairly deliberate on their abuse.
Meanwhile, the Board of Imams Victoria says it has plans on implementing more training programmes for their faith leaders for 2018, with pre-marriage courses currently in the pipeline for teaching couples their rights and responsibilities, which also covers domestic abuse and support services.