Some Muslim religious leaders in the Australian state of Victoria have
been accused of condoning rape within marriage, domestic violence and
polygamy according to a new report on the training of imams. From
Sydney, Phil Mercer reports.
Research by the Islamic Womens'
Welfare Council of Victoria has found evidence that imams encouraged
women to drop complaints of domestic violence or to abandon divorce
proceedings when they had gone to their religious leaders for advice.
There are allegations too that imams also condoned welfare fraud, under-age marriages and the exploitation of women.
report's authors say Friday these problems mean that vulnerable women
are not getting the help they need from their spiritual advisers and
believe that a lack of training and regulation for imams is to blame.
community workers say these issues are not a reflection of the wider
Muslim community in Australia and that the report has highlighted
Despite such reservation, Sherene Hassan from
the Islamic Council of Victoria says that some religious teachers do
need to change their behavior.
"Obviously there are imams who
have mishandled situations and they have been ill-equipped to deal with
situations, so obviously we will be looking at strategies to, you know,
improve their capacity to deal with these situations and to re-educate
them," she said.
Australia's imams were usually born overseas
and they have often been criticized for their poor grasp of English and
a lack of understanding of Australian culture.
The Mufti of
Australia, Sheikh Fehmi Naji El-Imam, has rejected the report. He has
insisted that no official imam would condone polygamous relationships
and would not ignore a woman's rights either in marriage or divorce.
The leader of Australia's Muslims also said that qualified religious
instructors would not deliberately overlook domestic violence.
Islamic community numbers about 350,000. Its members have come from
dozens of countries, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Somali, Bosnia and
the Middle East.