Twenty Muslim women and 10 Imams involved in Australia’s first faith-based legal training program at the Sir Zelman Cowen Centre graduated this week at a ceremony hosted by the Governor of Victoria.
The program, delivered in partnership with the Islamic Council of Victoria and the support of the Scanlon Foundation, was designed to help faith-based leaders build their knowledge and skills to deal with vulnerable sections of their communities.
During the 12-week program, Imams from mosques across Greater Melbourne, including Werribee, Truganina, Preston, Springvale and Melbourne participated in training sessions and excursions, including a visit to State Parliament.
The program brought together women from India, Singapore, Algeria, Kenya, Indonesia and Lebanon, who came from a range of professions including social work, counselling, youth work, community development, and law.
The program included a two-day camp with workshops on the Australian legal system that focused on family law, family violence and the law, and marriage and divorce.
Chair of the Sir Zelman Cowen Centre, The Hon Nicola Roxon explained the importance of the program to ABC News. She highlighted that many faith-based community organisations and religious leaders play an important role in the community.
"The Imams are trusted leaders, lots of community members go to them to solve commercial disputes let alone personal disputes," she said.
"So they need to be given more tools to do that work effectively and consistently with Australian law."
Sir Zelman Cowen Centre Director, Professor Kathy Laster said she looked forward to delivering the program again, saying its unique model of collaboration provided insights for other organisations seeking to assist vulnerable and hard-to-reach communities.
"The program was a huge success, and with the wide-ranging role these leaders play in their communities, it’s important they are not only trained and experienced in the religious precepts of their particular faith, but also well versed in the relevant requirements of Australian law and governance, and are aware of the resources and support available to them," Professor Laster said.
"Our three organisations – the Sir Zelman Cowen Centre, Scanlon Foundation and the Islamic Council of Victoria – are united in implementing culturally sensitive, whole-of-community responses to the unique issues confronting diverse faith-based organisations."
The program was developed in response to a request from the Islamic Council of Victoria to support a group of Victorian Imams in their quasi-judicial role on the Islamic arbitral body, the Mejlis.
The innovative program will be the feature of a short video to be launched during the Australian Government's Community and Philanthropy Partnerships Week from 5-11 December.