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There’s broad Muslim community support for aspects of Sharia law being adopted in Australia, a leading spokesman for the religion says.

However, harsh penal aspects of the law, including stoning and chopping off hands, will never work and aren’t being called for, Islamic Friendship Association of Australia president Keysar Trad says.

But personal aspects of the law, particularly those involving marriage and inheritance, would be broadly supported and would offer great help to ordinary Australian Muslims, he said.

Mr Trad’s remarks come after Dr Zachariah Matthews, president of the Australian Islamic Mission, made a similar call, saying aspects of Sharia law could run parallel to existing legislation.

Dr Matthews was speaking during an open day at Lakemba Mosque in Sydney on Saturday.

Some non-Muslims in the audience were reportedly left shocked by the speech.

“Most people seem to think that when it comes to Sharia law it’s just about the penal provisions, but that’s not that case,” Mr Trad said.

“(The penal provisions) can’t work here. No serious person would advocate them.”

But he said adopting aspects of Sharia marital and inheritance law – in a dual legal system – would be an advantage, particularly for women.

“At the moment it can disadvantage Muslims here, particularly women, because if a woman gets divorced through the normal civil process that divorce is not recognised in Muslim countries,” Mr Trad said.

“So they would still be considered to be married elsewhere.”

Equally, Australian governments don’t recognise divorce documents made by imams, the mosque and community leaders, Mr Trad said.

“These are all considerations that Muslims living in Australia face all the time and a lot of them support introducing these parts of Sharia law here,” he added.

Dr Matthews also said he was not proposing the introduction of wider Sharia law.

“I don’t think we are so unsophisticated that we cannot consider a multilayered legal system as long as it doesn’t conflict with the existing civil system,” he was quoted as saying by Fairfax.

There are about 340,000 Muslims in Australia, or 1.7 per cent of the population, Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show.

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A Melbourne woman trapped for years in Saudi Arabia has been deported and forced home without three of her children, who remain with her allegedly abusive former husband.

The Australian consul and embassy officials surrounded the 33-year-old Muslim convert, Jennifer Birrell, as she collapsed on the road outside her Riyadh home and pleaded with her ex-husband: ”Please, don’t take my kids from me.”

The children, Aliyah, 8, Salem, 7, and Ibraheem, 4 – all born in Australia – wept as they were separated from their mother before she was escorted to the airport with her two other children and flown to Melbourne, where they arrived late on Friday night.

After a long struggle to obtain exit visas for her family, Ms Birrell, who had been the director of English at Al-Yamamah University, says she was suddenly told this month she was being deported without charge or explanation – and with no right to the three children fathered by her ex-husband.

Her present husband, Mohammed Ahmed Nagi, the father of her baby son, languishes in jail in Riyadh where he has been sentenced to three years’ incarceration and subjected to 300 lashes for ”destruction of the family”.

Ms Birrell says her ex-husband trumped up this home-wrecking charge six months after he had granted her a divorce in February last year.

The ex-husband, a Yemeni-born Australian citizen with a Saudi passport, allegedly renewed his sponsorship of Ms Birrell illegally after their divorce, falsely stating they were still married. He defied a judge’s order to relinquish that control, which meant she could not get an exit visa.

”Now I’m expected to just accept that I will lose my children and not be able to see them for 10 years, and I can’t even come back to Saudi to visit them,” Ms Birrell said yesterday in Melbourne, where she, 11-year-old Jamilla and one-year-old Ahmed are staying, for now, with a friend.

Ms Birrell married her former husband in Adelaide in 1998. They moved to Saudi Arabia in 2004 with her eldest daughter and his three children, all Australian citizens. She left him almost two years ago after he allegedly threatened to kill her and bashed her with a candle stick, caving in her forehead.

Last month, on December 8, she says the Australian ambassador in Riyadh, Kevin Magee, called. ”He said we have a breakthrough in your case … you and all of your children can leave and go back to Australia.”

But the three children did not have passports. ”I took in the copies of my medical reports on the domestic violence I received at the hands of my ex-husband.”

Emergency passports were approved. But when the Australian consul, Benjamin Van Eldik, went to local authorities, she says, he was told the original order for her exit visas was at a police station.

After visiting the station, Ms Birrell says: ”He told me: ‘Jennifer you just have to accept it. You are being deported without your children.”’

He had said the Australians were powerless and could not be seen to be interfering with Saudi law.

”He said, ‘I know it’s not easy but when you get back to Australia you can rain down hell on them for what they have done.”’

Ms Birrell says that, at the request of a friend, the son of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud tried to intervene last Thursday. He had arranged a meeting with the king, but not until the day after her scheduled flight. She says an Australian official warned he would call the police if she did not board the flight.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Foreign Affairs said extensive consular assistance had been given to Ms Birrell and her children since March 2007 to help them return to Australia. She said Ms Birrell was the subject of an investigation for a ”serious criminal offence” under Saudi law, though she could not elaborate.

Ms Birrell said she had not been charged and knew of no such offence.

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Health authorities in Australia say they are concerned about the growing number of women who have undergone some form of genital mutilation.

Female circumcision is illegal in Australia, but experts say there is evidence that it is being practised. More and more migrant women are also seeking help after having the procedure in their home countries.

Across Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia, female genital mutilation is practised on about three million girls and women each year. The centuries-old custom has been outlawed in Australia since the 1990s.

But that has not stopped it happening here, according to Dr Ted Weaver from the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

“There is some evidence to suggest that it does happen in certain parts of Australia,” he said.

“It’s hard to gauge the actual numbers because it’s prohibited by legislation and it’s something that is performed in an underground way.

“But certainly there have been reports of children being taken to hospital after having the procedure done with complications from that procedure.”

Melbourne’s Royal Women’s Hospital says it is seeing between 600 and 700 women each year who have experienced it in some form.

Somali-born Zeinab Mohamud, from the hospital’s Family and Reproductive Rights Education Program, says much of her work involves untangling some outdated cultural traditions and religious misconceptions.

“Some questions that we ask the women is ‘why were you doing it?’ and they will tell you, ‘because of my religion’,” she said.

“We bring imams or priests to convince them that there is nothing from both books that says you have to do circumcision to girls. So why are you doing it?”

Ms Mohamud is optimistic the practice will end, but she fears migrant communities or individual women will be demonised.

“Some people when they hear they say, ‘how can that happen?’ It’s when something is cultural and the people have been doing it for so long, it’s not easy to either eliminate it or to say, ‘you have got a bad culture’,” she said.

“You have to work with them, listen to them. You have to know where they are coming from in order to help them.”

Dr Ted Weaver agrees and he says ordering people against the practice would be inappropriate.

“If we try and dictate and pontificate about this and not provide culturally appropriate care, we’ll further disenfranchise those women,” he said.

“Any progress will be incremental. I don’t think that it’s something that will stop overnight.

“But I think all we can do is advocate against it, speak out, try to educate women, try to empower women, certainly in this country, and we should do our best for international organisations that are also espousing the same message.”

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