The Australian Sharia Lobby

There were a bunch of demonstrations and counter-demonstrations at the weekend, sparked by supposed concerns about the possibility of Islamic sharia law being imposed in Australia. While the anti-sharia demonstrators were clearly drawn from the extremist fringe, there has been plenty of commentary on this subject from commentators generally regarded as mainstream, and from elected politicians such as Cory Bernardi and Jacquie Lambie.

The prospect of any significant legislation being based on Islamic sharia law seems pretty remote. On the other hand, those who claim to be concerned about sharia law (the Arabic term simply means ‘religious law) might want to consider the much more relevant issue of ‘shar??at al-Mas??’ (the Arabic term for ‘religious law of Christianity’).

Despite the Australian Constitutional prohibition on establishing any religion, lots of Australian laws are derived from Christian taboos, and many more have been in the past. Equally importantly, there is a group called the Australian Christian Lobby which, as the name implies, lobbies for the imposition of shar?at al-Mas??. Its activities are reported as if it is a legitimate political grouping, and not, as concerns about sharia law would suggest, a theocratic danger to our personal freedom.

When you look at the kind of issues being pushed by the Australian Christian Lobby, notably on their signature issue of opposition to gay rights, there’s not much difference from what you might expect from proponents of sharia law.

As I’ve said before, it seems highly likely that Christians will soon be in the minority in Australia. So, my unsolicited advice to the ACL is that they should support tolerance and civil liberties for all, rather than attempting to use the temporary majority status of Christianity to impose their version of sharia law. There’s nothing wrong with political activity being motivated by general religious values, but a lot wrong with attempts to impose your own religious taboos on others.

49 thoughts on “The Australian Sharia Lobby

  1. Thanks, Professor Quiggin, for having explained the situation to me at 09:29. I was worried I might have caused offence, since I deliberately didn’t give hostages to fortune by including any URLs (which, I’m told, are apt for technical reasons to muck up the moderation system on many sites).

  2. Patrickb :
    ” the imposition of shar?at al-Mas??”
    this kind of thing creeping in

    It’s been there since day one, and it’s getting better not worse for the most part. Half of the stolen children problem was the Christian conviction that heathen savages were not fit to raise children and by “bringing them up as Christians” they could be “rescued”. That didn’t start recently, but it is horrific faith-based activism.

    Abortion is a crime in many parts of Australia and has been for a long time, but recently some states have liberalised the law.

  3. @Robert (not from UK) Perhaps “practicing Christian” might be more apt.

    Census data shows that 61.1% of the population say they are Christian but churches struggle to get more than 8% of that figure.

    I guess when asked people just tick the Christian box, perhaps to keep a foot in the door (Pascalls wage) but usually only enter a church when they, or someone else, dies.

  4. Correction

    National Church Life Survey data shows that over the last four decades the proportion of Australians attending church at least once per month has more than halved from 36% (1972) to 15% currently.

  5. @Jack Strocchi
    Gosh, when a small minority slightly increases in numbers it translates to a huge percentage increase. Whoda thunk. Not you, that’s for sure.

  6. For similar reasons, the more religious parts of the US Tea Party movement are often referred to as the American Taliban. Indeed, I think many of them would feel more comfortable living in Islamic State than the United States – they could stone all the gays they want, pay jizya to avoid conscription and other state interference, not vaccinate or send their kids to school, and have their fantasies of persecution and martyrdom come true, with one simple move!

  7. Numerous Australians currently live under Sharia Law. They do so voluntarily within religious communities. Where there is conflict between Sharia Law and criminal law, as there has been recently in the case of the twelve year old girl who was married off to a much older man in the Hunter Valley, then the criminal law predominates.

    There is no problem with people agreeing to live inside communal rules so long as they have the right to independence from those rules when they want it; the right of exit from the chains of tradition is one of the main advantages of enlightened modernity. In a liberal democracy the right to individual freedoms always trumps communal rights. In the above case the state protected the rights of the child although not before she had been repeatedly raped.

    In another life, while working in child protection, I was involved in a case where a sixteen year old Australian Muslim was being forced to return to her parent’s country of origin for an unwanted, arranged marriage. She received advice to place herself on the Airport Watch List as ‘at risk of harm’ and was apprehended at Sydney prior to boarding. She was not content to adhere to her community’s traditional practices and was given an out by state agencies including the AFP. She was then whisked into the (no longer really existing) network of refuges and shelters for women and children.

    Her parents were furious when they were advised to consult with their sheik over the matter!

    Those who protest against Sharia Law in Australia would be well advised to read up on the sexual abuse of children within Australian religious institutions before complaining that ‘these people’ are ‘ruining the nation’.

    All up the weekend counter demonstrations went pretty well: bogan fascist neophytes were outnumbered, out argued and outfought. And it rained. On a whole Aussies don’t like this sort of trouble on the street and associate trouble with those who bring it. In this instance, with the idiot right.

  8. Conservatives like to point to the ALP and say that they are being controlled by trade unions, and these trade unions do not represent all workers and could be classed as a minority group.

    Clearly active Christians are also a minority group.

  9. jungney is spot on there, though I would say he’s over-egging the pudding when he says “criminal law predominates.” There is no chance that sharia law will ever get applied to criminal cases – it applies to some aspects of family and civil law at best.

    And to add to his point about sexual abuse of children within mainstream religious institutions, let us all remember the race and religious background of the UK’s most prolific sexual abuser: white, CofE.

  10. faustusnotes :
    “criminal law predominates.” There is no chance that sharia law will ever get applied to criminal cases

    In the very narrow sense of “formal Islamic jurisprudence”, no. But in the “religious law applied to non-religious people” sense … it absolutely does get applied right now. We have the “confession exemption” that’s slowly being rolled back, the de facto “pedophile transfer” exemption that applies primarily to Christian and Jewish offenders (especially when they’re sent overseas) and the various nonsenses about homosexual laws (everyone is equal, except gays can’t marry and transsexuals can’t adopt, etc), not to mention the “abortion is illegal, it says so in the bible”.

    There are some issues with rape and Sharia law as well, and it’s difficult to argue that the patriarchal focus on policing women’s sexuality is not fed by Christian (specifically Paulian) beleifs about women. We have a de facto standard that a woman making a rape complaint needs to be “of good character” and there was a specific comment made recently about a rape victim who was not “chaste” which should by rights have been kept within the Sharia legal system it originated in.

  11. @rog

    I should like to thank “rog” for his observations. The numbers which “rog” mentions about dismal church attendance confirm the anecdotal indications that I’ve seen with my own eyes, in Sydney and Melbourne (though not elsewhere in this country), for a decade.

    Of course you wonder how many of those 8.8% who do actually set the alarm early enough on a Sunday morning to rock up at some church or other have any more than the faintest, most phantasmagorical, square root of the merest suggestion of a clue as to what their church specifically teaches. Not a lot of them, I’ll wager.

    Last time the Catholic Archdiocese of Brisbane did a survey of what the little darlings in the pews actually imagined Catholicism was, something like 80% (I can’t re-Google it right now, no time, sorry, but it’ll be on Google still) were completely unaware of the doctrine of the Real Presence. They didn’t deny it. They didn’t say “Well, maybe this Real Presence caper does have legs, but I still reckon it’s much likelier that UFOs landed in Roswell.” They’d just never heard of it.

    Now whether you are a Catholic or a Protestant or a Muslim or an atheist or whatever, one of the real biggies in Catholic doctrine – as a matter of simple history – is the idea that the Real Presence is major-league important for Catholicism. Such doctrine says that if you receive communion, you really do receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ, not “a representation of Christ” or “something vaguely resembling Christ” or “a nice comforting Hallmark-greeting-card-type memory of Christ”.

    But 80% of Queensland Catholics had never even heard of the Real Presence as a theory until they came to the relevant survey question. And as I say, these were the churchgoers. Can you imagine what levels of historical ignorance must be prevailing among the non-churchgoers?

  12. Robert (not from UK) :
    Catholic … doctrine says that if you receive communion, you really do receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ

    Wasn’t there some fuss a while ago when some preist said essentially “if you really believe then it’s meat not wheat” and pushed it as a test of faith, to the detriment of a celiac parishioner? I’ve always wondered why it’s not a problem for vegetarian Catholics rather than wheat-intolerant ones. Or for members of Alcoholics Anonymous who are Catholics, for that matter.

    Just calling it “ritual cannibalism” is enough to go right over the heads of most Christians. But on that note, this is another place that the law takes a swerve to the religious. I thought that for the most part if you genuinely intend to commit a crime, and beleive you have done so, that’s evidence either of criminality or insanity? Viz, “I shot JFK” renders you guilty of some variant of attempted/conspiracy to murder, or nuts to the point where you’ll be locked up unless you’re assessed as not being a danger to yourself or others. Shouldn’t “I ate a dead guy” fall into the same category?

  13. in the UK, rulings handed down by the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal can be legally binding. This is because the Arbitration Act 1996 allows almost any body to act as a dispute resolution service if both parties agreed to be bound by its decision.

    There is a bill before the House of Lords amending the arbitration act to ensure that the evidence of men and women are weighed equally and penalties to apply to any body purporting to have the powers of a court of law.

    The UK parliament also passed a Forced Marriages Act a few years ago. This law included penalties for people who threaten self-harm if someone didn’t go through with an arranged marriage.

  14. It’s bad enough that evil shlts have infested and are using Christianity for their own perverted and often violent ends. Now we have to endure another major religion, a much more aggressive one spreading throughout Australia and the world which is spawn to even more violent and evil shlts.
    Obviously there are millions of Australians concerned about Islam that wouldn’t be bothered going to a rally. Reclaim Australia are not the group to be conveying those concerns as they are happy to be supported by racists such as ADL, Pickering and Hanson.
    While Australians should be just as concerned about abuse and violence done in the name of Christianity as that done in the name of Islam, it’s natural that people focus more on that which is new to them and they don’t understand.
    Governments are happy to take the perceived economic benefits of immigration from anywhere but not so keen to take responsibility for the social consequences.

  15. @Ikonoclast
    Yep, 10/10 (as usual!)
    I couldn’t quite decipher Tony Lynch’s comment on your posting:

    “With this mindset in place the temptations to force are unlimited by any values at all.”

    Do you think he is saying that secularists ( here, read “atheists”?) are are the sole source of those corrosive values that define our economic democracy i.e. consumption, celebrity, and wealth and that, ipso facto, theists (may god be praised) would be able to improve our current depraved system?

    I’m off to evensong just in case he’s right.
    Where’s my bloody Refidex.

  16. @Moz in Oz

    There turns out to be a group in the States called the Catholic Celiac Society, rather to my surprise. It has a website,, which might be able to deal with the particular issues you cite (I can’t say that I’ve done more than glance at the website myself). Make what you wish of the fact that the homepage has been untouched since 2012.

    Perhaps my own small experience in this matter might be relevant. I myself have no celiac disorders – never have had them – but I know two extremely devout Catholics, both female, who do have such disorders. They haven’t stopped taking communion.

  17. Does any one observe the peculiarity with the Staunch Christians in Parliament, so desperate to send Saeed Hassanloo, persecuted minority Christian from Iran, back to the tender mercies of the supposedly dreaded Muslims?

  18. @Geoff Andrews
    Yeah, I wasn’t sure how to interpret Tony Lynch’s comment. I’d add that there are Christian sects in the USA (and elsewhere too) which hold that ambition and material success are truly divine, that Jesus and God would want that of you. To each their own, I suppose.

    A a life long atheist, I can’t say that material success has ever been a driver for me—I don’t even own a car and have no compulsion to do so. Mind you, participation in modern society makes it difficult not to get caught up in the pursuit of material things: we are bombarded relentlessly with ads which target our innate need to belong, and to be seen to belong, to our in-group, or more to the point, to the slightly higher status group the ads are nudging us to consider. With the rise of big data analytics, and the capacity to narrowly identify an individual on the internet (i.e. to profile them), we are increasingly the target of ads specific to our profiling. If capitalism has one thing down pat, it is how to push that button.

  19. We should keep in mind that the current activities by what are known as “Islamic extremists” is not just a religious movement animated by religious yearnings, but also has a decidedly political element. If the West would cease bombing civilian populations in Muslim countries, it might find less active antagonism from representatives of the populations who have been bombed or whose livelihoods have been destroyed by war. Muslims and Christians are capable of living quite harmoniously side-by-side if they are not stirred up by geopolitics.

  20. @Jim Rose
    Is there a reference for
    “The UK parliament also passed a Forced Marriages Act a few years ago. This law included penalties for people who threaten self-harm if someone didn’t go through with an arranged marriage.” ?
    The second sentence seems to contradict the implication of the first.

  21. Try as I might, I have read little of what the political ‘class’ mean be ‘de-radicalisation’ as it currently refers to muslim jihadis. How does one go about getting de-radicalised? Might sound simple and logical, a case of ‘un-learning’ or ‘un-followed’ to put it in an IT context. At least a post like this seems to address the issue without ever using the dreadful word.

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