Australia: Muslim leaders split on polygamy

The Australian 

POLYGAMY has split the Australian Islamic community, pitting senior Muslim leaders against each other over the religious teachings on the issue.

A statement from the National Imams Council saying polygamy was banned in Australia and that calls for its legalisation were unwarranted was criticised by other senior community leaders as well as its own members.

Outspoken Muslim cleric and Sydney imam Taj Din al-Hilali attacked the imams council for putting out a statement that "contradicts the wisdom and teachings of God".

Sheik Hilali "reminded those imams" that compromise through watering down religious teaching was wrong.

The chairman of the Jemiat Ulama of Australia (Muslim Council of Theologians), Adbul Quddoos, said the imams council was not telling people the correct thing.

Islamic Friendship Association president Keysar Trad, who sparked the debate on polygamy last week, wrote to the council saying it had "no right to conceal the solutions that our faith offers to social problems".

"If they followed the comments correctly, they would see we are not asking for anything, all we are doing is offering solutions to social problems," Mr Trad said yesterday.

In The Australian last Thursday, Mr Trad admitted that he had once considered the idea of marrying another woman, backing calls by another senior member of the Islamic community, Khalil Chami, for polygamous relationships to be recognised.

Sheikh Chami of the Islamic Welfare Centre said last week there was nothing wrong with having a number of marriages: 'You allow the lesbians, you allow the gays - why not these people? What's wrong with it?"

Sheikh Chami has said polygamous marriages, although illegal, existed in Australia and he had been asked almost weekly to conduct polygamous religious ceremonies. But while he has refused, other imams did not.

Yesterday, Sheik Chami refused to comment further on the issue.

In response to the media furore, the imams council last Thursday released a statement, saying that as "Australian Muslims we recognise that the Marriage Act 1961 prohibits polygamy and we are not proposing any changes to this law".

In the first public statement since its inception more than a year ago, the imams council said calling for legalising polygamy in Australia was unwarranted in the current Australian context.

"In our experience, relationships outside the legally recognised marriages among the Muslim community in Australia are neither a significant nor a widespread practice," it said.

"The priority of the imams of Australia is to focus on strengthening existing marriages and encouraging harmony within the family unit. It is also our sincere wish to focus on issues that unify rather than those that create division and dispute within the Australian community."

Sheik Hilali said yesterday that the norm in marriage was one man and one woman and Islam did not call for polygamy. He said it was provided only as a solution for certain situations and must follow stringent rules.

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