When Senator Jacqui Lambie said on Q&A, “Anyone that supports Shari’a Law should be deported,” there were cheers from her Australian audience. But how many people understand how Muslims see Shari’a and how they practice it? As a non-Muslim majoring in Islamic Studies, I have seen through the lives of my practicing friends and through the interpretations of many Islamic Law scholars that depictions of Shari’a as some sinister threat to Western civilization are largely unfounded. Shari’a actually means ‘path to God’ and comprises a series of principles deemed necessary for an ethical existence. Mariam Veiszadeh, lawyer and social commentator, told me, “Whether it’s praying or avoiding alcohol, I practice Shari’a daily.” Yet Islam continues to be seen as monolithic, with the fundamentalist Saudi brand Wahhabism as its only legitimate interpretation. As these dangerous misrepresentations of Islam and Shari’a continue to rear their ugly heads, it’s becoming more important than ever for Muslims and non-Muslims alike to challenge these preconceptions.
The likes of Pauline Hanson and Jacqui Lambie would have us believe that Muslim Australians, who make up a mere 2.5 per cent of the Australian population, want to enforce Shari’a nationally. This mindset ignores that abiding by Australian law is part of Shari’a.
While in certain Western countries Shari’a courts have been implemented, particularly for family law, there is not widespread support for this from Australian Muslims. Sherene Hassan, former Vice-President of the Islamic Council of Victoria, explains that in her eight years as an Australian Muslim leader, not one person ever brought up the desire for Shari’a Law or any parallel legal system. Professor Adis Duderija highlights that other religious communities, such as certain Orthodox Jewish and Christian groups, have been able to incorporate elements of their religious laws into Western legal systems – however, the attention remains very specifically on Islam.
Hassan explains the wider public’s “hysterical response” is largely due to the abhorrent abuses of human rights carried out in the name Shari’a, viewed by most Muslims as a “departure from Islamic teachings”. She explains penal punishments are a “tiny aspect” of Shari’a with some punishments carried out today not existing in the Quran. She further argues that the Prophet stated that penal punishments should be avoided as much as possible.
Hassan outlines the true objectives of Shari’a as “preservation and protection of five things – a person’s life, their religion, their family, intellect and their property and wealth”.
So how is Shari’a practiced currently in Australia?
Zulfiye, Entrepreneur, Designer and Blogger
Islam is a religion and a way of life. There are some countries where only elements of Shari’a are implemented, such as the punishments and this can result in injustices occurring that actually go against what Shari’a stands for – justice and the peace of society. Shari’a sets guidelines for how to eat, pray and live; it’s a code of conduct by which to live my life. I focus mainly on things that affect me personally like fasting, praying and giving charity, and also things that affect other people, such as the way I treat others, dealing honestly with people and being a trustworthy person.
Sherene, Former Vice-President of Islamic Council Victoria and Director of the Board at the Victorian Islamic Museum
Abiding by Shari’a for me is largely personal. I pray five times a day, eat halal food and I cover when I leave the home. I try to be the best person I can be by always striving to have integrity in everything I do. I never lie or cheat and treat everyone how I would like to be treated. Like the Prophet Muhammad stated: “None of you have faith unless you love for others what you love for yourself.”
I try not to lose my temper and I follow the Quranic directive when I face abuse, “repel evil with good and you will turn an enemy into a friend” (41:34). I respect and have compassion for all of God’s creations and try to never judge a fellow human being. Other people may not need religion to encourage them to be good people and that’s their prerogative, no-one should be forced to practice religion. The Quran says there is no compulsion in religion (2:256), so I don’t force my beliefs on others. For me there is no conflict between being an observant Muslim and a proud Australian citizen.
Hasan, Engineer and Mathematics Tutor
I was born in a Muslim family, and I feel blessed in a way that my parents taught me Shari’a in its true essence. Shari’a defines a complete code of conduct. This code ensures no one hurts anyone physically, mentally or verbally. It also extends to the fact that no one can force anybody to act in a particular way or adopt a certain lifestyle. It is very unfortunate to see how Shari’a gets portrayed by wrongdoers who claim themselves to be followers of it. To compensate, I consider it my responsibility to set good examples, give a very peaceful sense of Shari’a to the people around me and if I hurt someone’s feelings, I ensure that I apologise.
Adis, Professor of Islamic Studies and Gender Studies
As a believing Muslim and scholar of the Islamic tradition I consider Shari’a to be an integral part of my faith. It is important to highlight that Shari’a, as a concept, has been and continues to be subject to different interpretations. It is part of a broader Islamic cosmology which considers God as the benevolent Source of all life, a Guide and the Most Just Judge who provides various ‘signs’ (e.g. nature/creation, human reason) and ‘reminders’ (messengers and revelations) to humanity to live an ethically and morally purposeful life. In its legalistic dimension, Shari’a is a particular methodology one adopts in searching for Divine Will through revealed or non-revealed sources of knowledge, to live an ethically and morally purposeful life. The outcome of this intellectual exercise is always a human construction thus ontologically distinct from Shari’a.
Mahvash, Blogger and Commerce Graduate
Shari’a law, to me, is there to guide us and help us make better decisions. However, at the end of the day I take personal responsibility for my own actions and how I decide to practice my religion. For example, at corporate work events I am always asked the same questions, especially if I’m standing near the bar – “So you’re not allowed to drink, right?” And although the simple answer is “no, I’m not,” because Shari’a law states not to, I always go the extra step to explain that, yes, my religion says not to, however I also make a personal choice because my religion empowers me to do that. My parents have never and will never enforce anything on me. If anything they are also learning new things about our religion every day.
Foad, Masters in Electrical Engineering
Shari’a, it’s a word that terrifies most people in the West because of the barbaric acts of some ‘Muslim’ countries in the name of Islam. And although you can’t find any justification for such acts in the Quran, you do find verses that emphasise service to humanity as true righteousness and this is the Shari’a that I follow and practice. One such verse that epitomises what the Shari’a teaches a Muslim is: “It is not righteousness that you turn your faces to the East or the West, but truly righteous is he who believes in Allah and the Last Day and the angels and the Book and the Prophets, and spends his money for love of Him, on the kindred and the orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and those who ask for charity, and for ransoming the captives; and who observes Prayer and pays the Zakat; and those who fulfil their promise when they have made one…” (2:178). As an Ahmadi Muslim, I believe that the only way to live by is “Love for All, Hatred for None” and this is exactly what the Quran and acts of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) teach us.
So do your own research before you believe everything the critics say. Yes, you will find some Muslims who are anti-democracy, but you will find more who hold firmly to the Islamic concepts of consultation (Shura) and the idea of a contract (Aqd) between a community and their governing body. You will find patriarchal interpretations, as you would in any religion or ideology, but you will also see the strong history of the Muslim Feminist movement – or the many Muslims, from scholars to everyday people, who have spoken out against forced marriages and honour killings. You will find some who use the religion to support their violence, but you will find many more who stand with The Prophet, who said “All people are equal like the teeth of a comb. There is no merit of an Arab over a non-Arab, nor of a white over a black nor of a male over a female.”