Australian govt advisor says Muslims should be allowed to follow Shariah law

Professor Nicholas Aroney

An academic who is advising the Australian government on religious freedom has previously argued that Australia should allow Muslims to practise limited aspects of Shariah law, The Guardian has reported.

On Thursday the government released broad terms of reference for its religious freedom inquiry, including the new appointment of University of Queensland constitutional law Professor Nicholas Aroney to the five-person panel.

Aroney is an expert on legal pluralism, law and religion who has warned that religious freedom has become a second-class right to anti-discrimination, and argued that religious freedom should include a right to practise sharia law within “strictly justifiable limits imposed by the general law.”

In public debate before marriage equality was legalised, government conservatives warned against amendments with unintended consequences, such as creating religious enclaves shielded by law or opening a back door to sharia.

In 2012, Aroney published an academic paper called The Accommodation of the Sharia within Western Legal Systems, in which he and co-author Rex Adhar argued that committed Muslims should have the right to practise sharia, or Islamic, law “qualified only by strictly justifiable limitations imposed by the general law”.

Aroney and Ahdar said that enforcement of sharia law by state authorities “needs to be approached very cautiously, noting the nature of Sharia as [an] ‘entire way of life’, its constitutional implications for the basic structures of the state, and the possibility of its use as a tool by extremist elements.”

The authors explain that although sharia has dark connotations in the West of “floggings, stonings and amputations for crimes” the term simply denotes a body of legal rules and principles extracted from the Qur’an and the Sunna.

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