More than Just Sacred Surgery


In a recent speech to the Sydney Institute, Peter Costello said that anyone who believes in sharia should leave the country. He also said we need to toughen citizenship laws so that neon signs and lie-detectors are attached to citizenship pledges.

The following morning, Sydney Institute Director Gerard Henderson appeared (after yours truly, link here) on Radio National (link here). Although Henderson was no doubt enjoying the free publicity all the hoo-hah was generating for his institute, I can’t help but think he was a shade embarrassed by playing host to Costello’s comments.

Veiled freedom?

When asked by the delightful Fran Kelly what he thought of them, the best he could do was recite a catch-phrase from Daniel Pipes (link here) and argue that we shouldn’t be living in denial of the threat of Islamist terrorists seeking to impose that nasty creature known as the sharia.

I wonder what on earth he thinks sharia is. Then again, I wonder what most Australians think it is.

If the newspapers and TV are anything to go by, sharia is seen as little more than the practice of amputating limbs and heads without the benefit of anaesthetic. The amputations are triggered by reports from secret religious police hiding in people’s bedroom closets watching out for the odd midnight dalliance between two persons unable to produce a marriage certificate.

(Or maybe sharia is an ancient system of flying aeroplanes into buildings. I’m not sure what the classical sharia scholars would have written on the subject back in the days when the furthest you got into mid-air was on the back of a camel.)

This kind of horrific sharia appears in the great works of fiction by such celebrated authors as Daniel Pipes and Mark Steyn (link here), and in children’s books such as the one being heavily promoted on the Melbourne’s Herald Sun website (link here).

In reality, the nasty stuff involving non-surgical amputations and blowing up Buddha statues can only happen (if at all) when you have in place a single caliph who rules over all the Muslims. You cannot implement sharia criminal law without a full-fledged sharia state.

And the way Muslim countries and leaders squabble among themselves, I doubt we’ll see a caliph appearing on the scene anytime before the next Ice Age.

In Australia itself, imams cannot even agree on a procedure to determine the proper day on which to commence fasting. Every year, we have Muslims starting Ramadan on at least two separate days. Can you imagine having Christmas or Easter on two separate days? (Apologies to our more Orthodox readers.)

Sharia is none of the things we usually read about in fictional publications. In fact, for the ‘Aussie Mossie’, sharia is little more than a system of liturgy. It is the outward expression of your religious values through ritual and minor structural changes to your lifestyle. It also stipulates certain religious laws governing charity, marriages and funerals. The sharia is implemented within the bounds of Australian law, and its primary source of enforcement is that nasty thing called conscience.

For instance, Muslim marriages are largely conducted by Muslim marriage celebrants who are registered under the Marriage Act. These celebrants are bound by basic provisions of the Act in relation to registration of marriage certificates and other procedural matters. The only difference between the work of Muslim celebrants and that of Christian priests or Jewish rabbis is that Muslim celebrants say a sermon in Arabic and wear different kinds of hats and collars.

What Muslim sheik-celebrants have in common with Christian priests and Jewish rabbis is a distinct aversion to belly dancing at weddings. And they generally don’t hit the piss all that hard at the wedding reception. (Sheiks and rabbis also tend to avoid any roast pork that finds its way onto the menu.)

Before Costello starts talking about sharia and its relationship with Australian law, he should consider getting advice from his Attorney-General Phillip Ruddock. Australian law makes numerous accommodations for Muslim religious law in much the same way as it does for other religious and cultural systems.

Once he’s finished his session at Uncle Phil’s electorate office in Hornsby, Costello might want to catch a train to the city to see NSW Attorney-General Bob Debus (given the state of the trains, he might want to allow a few hours for the trip).

I’m sure Uncle Bob will be happy to give Uncle Peter a lecture on how NSW laws have made accommodations for sharia-compliant burials (link here). He might even want to head out to Lakemba to meet with representatives of the Muslim Community Co-operative (Australia) Limited (link here) and find out how sharia-compliant financial products operate within the bounds of Federal and State laws in New South Wales and Victoria.

Some women may resent the presence of the Health Minister on their ovaries, but when it comes to the male equivalent, the knife of sharia isn’t that far off. Yet this sharia-compliant amputation is even conducted in government-run institutions using public funds.

I and many of my male friends underwent this sharia procedure when we were wee toddlers. Thankfully, anaesthetic was used on all those occasions.

It’s true that some lunatics suggest that, as a Muslim lawyer, sharia doesn’t allow me to practise Australian law. Costello says they should go and find another country. I think they should also go and find another religion.

All legal systems share a concept of jurisdiction (the activity or person or place to which the law applies). If I smuggle certain drugs to Bali, I can’t expect Australian law to apply. If I commit disgusting acts with young boys in Bangkok, Australian law says it applies to me overseas.

Sharia also has the concept of jurisdiction. Sharia criminal punishments do not apply in Australia simply because sharia itself says it has no jurisdiction in criminal law in Australia. I can’t go around stoning and dismembering people in Australia in the name of sharia. Because in the area of criminal law, sharia itself says sharia doesn’t apply.

Now that we all know how harmless this creature called sharia is to Australia, we can focus on more important things like what risk our troops in Iraq faced from weapons purchased by Saddam Hussein using Australian kickbacks; or just how disastrous the GST is.

And anyway, if Aussie Mossies ever did want to implement Costello’s idea of sharia as sacred surgery in Australia, they would all be signing up to study medicine and surgery. I know a few Muslim surgeons, but they practise medicine to heal and not to punish.

And thankfully they always use anaesthetic.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.