THE NSW Police Commissioner, Andrew Scipione, made it clear where he stood on Islamic law as practised in Australia. ''When it comes to sharia … I've said it before and I'll say it again. There is no place in Australia for sharia law, full stop,'' he said.
But the reality for Muslims might not be so clear cut. From the religious requirements for divorce to issues around seeking a loan, the detailed religious regulatory system of all aspects of life is practised by many in the diverse Islamic community.
A Melbourne University professor of Islamic studies, Abdullah Saeed, said far from the stereotypical cutting off of hands or floggings, sharia in Australia sought to harmonise religious laws - such as the prohibition of alcohol, adultery or theft - within those of the state.
"There is no place in Australia for sharia law, full stop" ... Andrew Scipione. Photo: James Alcock
''We are not talking about punishment, we are talking about basic ethical moral norms and values that observant Muslims observe by and large in their day-to-day life.''
The alleged case of a Sydney man being whipped for drinking alcohol would only ''reinforce this negative stereotypical view of sharia that many people have.
''Even in Muslim-majority countries these punishments cannot be implemented by individuals, or by groups.''
Jamila Hussain, a lecturer in Islamic law at the University of Technology, said sharia criminal law did not operate in Australia, but the Islamic system could govern other aspects of life.
''Some people just have a religious marriage rather than having a secular marriage, [and] the only way they can undo that is by going to a religious authority,'' she said.
An article in the upcoming issue of the University of NSW Law Journal reports that, because sharia has long operated in the unofficial realm, ''the wider Australian community has been oblivious to the legal pluralism that abounds in this country".
But in Good and Bad Sharia: Australia's Mixed Response to Islamic Law, Queensland academics Ann Black and Kerrie Sadiq also note that the government had explored ways to facilitate sharia compliant investments and banking in Australia through changes to tax laws.