Islam is asserting itself in new ways in Australia. Muslim groups are increasingly asking that precedence be given to sharia law over secular laws passed by our parliaments. There are also calls for greater public acceptance of Islamic practices in economic and social life. Some of those social practices extend to religious and cultural customs concerning vesture such as the burqa, a garment that looms larger in public conversation than religious clothing worn by Hindus and Jews.
Individuals in an open, liberal society should enjoy the fundamental right to live in obedience to any religion of their choosing. Australians are generally very tolerant of different religions. The limits of this tolerance can soon be reached, however, if any particular religion threatens to unsettle the stable secular social compact.
This report examines arguments about the burqa and investigates the way Australia balances the right of an individual to live in obedience to a religion with the wider obligation of the state to promote social cohesion.