Recent Developments in Muslim Law Practice in Singapore
Recently, the National University of Singapore’s Faculty of Law (NUS Law), the Syariah Court of Singapore, and the MUIS Academy, with the support of the Law Society’s Muslim Law Practice Committee collaborated to launch a new Muslim Law Practice Course (MLPC) as a continuing legal education programme. The course, which took place over three days in October, November, and December 2018, exposed participants to a range of issues concerning the practice of Muslim law in Singapore. It sought to acquaint participants with a holistic understanding of Islamic family law as practised within the Singapore context as well as to expose participants to classical and contemporary themes of Islamic law and foundational Islamic ethical and normative principles underlying Islamic legal thinking. The course also discussed important jurisdictional issues between the Syariah and civil court systems. This article provides an overview of some of the issues covered in the course, highlighting some key jurisprudential issues that have been addressed by the Syariah Court.
The 1966 Administration of Muslim Law Act (AMLA) which came into effect in 1968, shortly after Singapore became an independent state, governs the administration of Muslim law in Singapore. It is constitutionally authorised under article 153 of the Singapore Constitution, which states that, “The Legislature shall by law make provision for regulating Muslim religious affairs and for constituting a Council to advise the President in matters relating to the Muslim religion.” AMLA continues the tradition of legal pluralism that has been in place in Singapore since it was governed by the British colonials.1 See Ahmad Nizam bin Abbas, The Islamic Legal System in Singapore, 21(1) Pacific Rim Law & Policy Journal 163 (2012). It sets out the application of a limited set of laws pertaining to marriage, divorce, inheritance, and even religious practices, that applicable to Muslims and administered by state religious institutions. Most notably, AMLA establishes the Muslim Religious Council or Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura (MUIS), which advises the government on Muslim affairs, and the Syariah Court with jurisdiction over Muslims in matters concerning marriage, divorce, inheritance and religious practices.2 Section 35(1) and (2), AMLA.
The area of law being practised in the Syariah Court is Muslim family law. The primary area of legal disputes arises from divorce or dissolution of marriage between parties who are Muslims or who had been married under Muslim law, although the Syariah Court also has jurisdiction over other matters such as betrothals, maskahwins (dowry of the bride), and maintenance during the course of marriage. The Syariah Court’s jurisdiction is compulsory as long as the dispute involves a subject matter statutorily prescribed under AMLA and where parties are Muslims. Nonetheless, since 1999, legislative intervention has permitted parties the choice of commencing or continuing civil proceedings with regard to matters ancillary to divorce, such as the disposition or division of property on divorce or custody of children.3 Section 35A: (1) Any person who, on or after the commencement of proceedings for divorce in the Court or after the making of a decree or order for divorce by the Court or on or after the registration of a divorce under section 102, intends to commence civil proceedings in any court involving any matter relating to the disposition or division of property on divorce or custody of any child where the parties are Muslims or were married under the provisions of the Muslim law, shall apply to the Court for leave to commence the civil proceedings. (2) Where proceedings for divorce are commenced in the Court or a decree or order for divorce is made by the Court or a divorce is registered under section 102 after civil proceedings between the same parties are commenced in any court involving any matter relating to the custody of any child, any party who intends to continue the civil proceedings shall apply to the Court for leave to continue the civil proceedings. (3) The Court shall not grant leave to commence the civil proceedings under subsection (1) or to continue the civil proceedings under subsection (2) unless the Court is satisfied that every party who will be affected by such leave has been notified of the application at least 7 days before the grant of such leave. Under this new section, parties can agree to commence or transfer proceedings concerning disposition or division of property as well as custody of children to the civil courts. Where there is mutual agreement, the Syariah Court is required to counsel parties on their options, and if after such counselling, parties remain in mutual agreement, and the Syariah Court is required to issue a certificate of attendance for the proceedings to be heard in the civil courts.4 Section 35A: “(5) This section shall not apply if the parties to the civil proceedings (a) mentioned in subsection (1) consent to the commencement of the civil proceedings, or mentioned in subsection (2) consent to the continuation of the civil proceedings; and (b) mentioned in subsection (1) or (2) have obtained a certificate of attendance issued under subsection (7). (6) Parties mentioned in subsection (1) or (2) shall, before commencing or continuing (as the case may be) the civil proceedings by consent, attend counselling provided by such person as the Court may appoint. (7) The Court shall, after any party has been counselled under subsection (6), issue a certificate of attendance to that party.” If there is no mutual agreement, the Syariah Court may hear the application for leave and decide accordingly if the proceedings should be heard in the civil courts. Parties who are aggrieved by the decision of the Syariah Court may appeal to the MUIS Appeal Board, which is an ad-hoc tribunal.5 See section 55 of AMLA.
Indeed, over the years, various legislative interventions have been made to clarify the scope of the Syariah Court’s jurisdiction, as well as its relationship with the civil courts, most notably, the Family Justice Courts. Various jurisprudential developments within the Syariah Court have also further contributed to an understanding of the scope of its jurisdiction. Nonetheless, much more needs to be done to identify, examine, and analyse the application, both substantively and procedurally, of Muslim family law in Singapore. Indeed, that is the thinking behind a recent collaboration between the National University of Singapore’s Faculty of Law (NUS Law), the Syariah Court of Singapore, and the MUIS Academy, and with the support of the Law Society’s Muslim Law Practice Committee to launch a new Muslim Law Practice Course as a continuing legal education programme. The course, which took place over three days in October, November, and December 2018, exposed participants to a range of issues concerning the practice of Muslim law in Singapore. It sought to acquaint participants with a holistic understanding of Islamic family law as practised within the Singapore context as well as to expose participants to classical and contemporary themes of Islamic law as well as foundational Islamic ethical and normative principles underlying Islamic legal thinking. This short essay provides an overview of some of the issues covered in the course, highlighting some key jurisprudential issues that have been addressed by the Syariah Court.
Syariah Law as an Internally Pluralistic Phenomenon: A Very Brief Account of Syariah History and Development
It may seem obvious but it nevertheless bears mentioning that the origins of what we understand today as the Syariah are grounded in what Muslims hold to be the divinely-inspired experience of the Prophet Muhammad, in particular, the revelation that he was held to have received, which came to be collected in the Holy Qur’an. It is axiomatic to Muslims, therefore, that the Qur’an represents God’s words. The Qur’anic text is, thus, not only the basic scriptural basis for the Syariah but indeed its most important source. As such, it is necessary to understand that the Syariah is fundamentally grounded in a narrative of faith. This narrative anchors the Syariah in what one scholar has called a “moral hermeneutic”.6 See Roy Mottahedeh, “Introduction” in Muhammad Baqir as-Sadr, Lessons in Islamic Jurisprudence, trans and intro by R.P. Mottahedeh (Oxford: Oneworld, 2003).
As part of unpacking this moral hermeneutic, unsurprisingly, over the centuries, considerable effort has been expended on reflecting upon the Qur’anic message. This has led to a wide range of Qur’anic interpretations being offered as part of the tradition of Qur’anic exegesis (tafsir, pl. tafasir). There are hundreds, indeed thousands, of tafsir that offer different interpretations of the Qur’anic message, along with many translations of the Qur’an into different languages. Those who sought to develop Syariah norms were thus able to draw upon a large and very diverse interpretive corpus.
Notwithstanding this richness, however, it would be wrong to see the Qur’an as the only source of the Syariah. As Robert Gleave has explained:
“A defining characteristic of Muslim legal discourse is the assumption that the Qur’an represents God’s communication with humanity. There were debates about the integrity of the text itself, extensive debates about its interpretation, but the affirmation that God communicated to humankind through a revelatory process, and that the Prophet Muhammad was the initial recipient of that revelation, is taken as axiomatic for Muslim jurists. God speaks in the Quran, and among the issues he addresses is the law he has commanded his community to obey …
The limited nature, both in number and subject matter of the legal rulings in the Quranic text was recognised by early Muslim jurists, and this limitation was overcome by supplementary means of deducing God’s law (Shari’a).”7 Robert Gleave, “The First Source of Islamic Law: Muslim Legal Exegesis of the Qur’an” in R. O’Dair and A.D.E. Lewis, eds., Law and Religion: Current Legal Issues, vol 4 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 145.
Within this narrative, one basic set of relations that is addressed is that of the individual, or more broadly humanity, to the divine. These relations might be seen to be beyond the law in other legal traditions, but within the narrative of faith they are very much legal subjects. The other major set of relations of course are the relations of individuals themselves, encompassing criminal law, commercial law, family law, etc. Thus, the Syariah has been called upon to address very broad range of issues.
As Gleave has noted, the Qur’an text alone did not provide guidance (or in some instances sufficiently detailed guidance) on all issues and therefore other normative sources were developed. Primary among these was the Sunna, that is the developed tradition of accounts of what the Prophet Muhammad said or did (and to some extent what those close to him said or did) when faced with different issues, which gained normativity based on the Qur’anic injunctions to ‘obey the Prophet’. In addition, other juristic tools were employed, these included the use of reasoning by analogy (qiyas), doctrines of necessity (darura), the importance of public interest (maslaha) and jurist preference (isthisan), to give a non-exhaustive listing. After Muhammad’s death in 632CE, it came over time to fall to jurist-scholars employing the above-mentioned juristic techniques alongside knowledge of the Qur’anic interpretations, the Sunna and studies of Arabic language and grammar to expound the Syariah. The Arabic word Syariah come from a linguistic root having the meaning of path or route to be followed and so the jurist-scholars were basically articulators of the way or path for Muslims to follow. Inevitably, the jurists did not always agree and over the 1,400 odd years of Muslim history, several different legal schools have emerged, in both the (majority) Sunni tradition of Islam as well as the (minority) Shia tradition.
Muslim legal traditions thus exhibit great interpretational diversity. This diversity is not new but rather has been part of the tradition for centuries and has been shaped by different theological and legal outlooks as well as being influenced by a range of factors from the social contexts in which Muslims live. Underlying this rich tradition fundamentally has been, and still is today, a reflection and meditation on what Muslims see to be God’s message. It is thus that Khaled Abou El Fadl has said:
“I suggest that the shari’a ought to stand in an Islamic polity as a symbolic construct for the divine perfection that is unreachable by human effort – a concept summed up in the Islamic tradition by the word husn, or beauty. It is the epitome of justice, goodness and beauty as conceived and retained by God.”8 Khaled Abou el-Fadl, “Foundations” in Amyn B Sajoo, ed., The Shari’a: History, Ethics and Law (London: IB Tauris, 2018), 21-22.
Seen in this way, the Syariah is not a closed set of fixed rules but instead a never-ending discourse that Muslims will have to engage with in order always to seek to be guided on the “right path” (sirat al-mustaqim) – a supplication made in the opening chapter of the Qur’an (Sura al-Fatiha) that Muslims regularly invoke in their devotions.
Division of Matrimonial Assets
The 1999 AMLA amendments incorporated provisions on division of matrimonial assets in Women’s Charter (Charter) into AMLA. The amendments offered much needed clarity and certainty through statutory provisions for definition of matrimonial assets9 Section 112(10) of the Women’s Charter was incorporated into section 52(14) of AMLA. and how to divide matrimonial assets.10 Section 112(2) (a) to (h) and section 114(1)(a) to (g) of the Women’s Charter were incorporated into section 52(8)(a) to (m) AMLA. Nonetheless, major issues remain with regard to what is included in “matrimonial property”. Since 1999, section 52(14) of AMLA defines any asset acquired before marriage but substantially improved during marriage as well as assets acquired during marriage but does not include any asset acquired by gift or inheritance that has not been substantially improved during marriage. The Syariah Court and the MUIS Appeal Board have developed jurisprudence in numerous cases and extended the definition to include (other than the quintessential asset ie the matrimonial home) to include CPF moneys,11AI v AJ (2011) 6 SSAR 143 and Rohani bt Din v Abu Bajar b Abdullah (2013) 6 SSAR 279. gratuity and pension,12Zainal Abidin v Joraih Bt Salleh (Appeal Case No: 28/2008) & Saniah Bt Amir v Syed Hussin B Syed Ali (2002) 2 SSAR 127. shares,13Md Sabeer Osman v Saheeda Banu Md Sabeer (2012) 6 SSAR 159. and businesses.14Shazia Husain v Imran Nawaz s/o Md Nawaz (2015) 6 SSAR 399 & Asiah Bt Md Hassan v Abd Bashir s/o Saidek (2014) 6 SSAR 358.
However, one issue that has been raised is whether an asset that was not substantially improved by the other party but had been used as the matrimonial home is to be included as matrimonial property and divisible upon divorce. Section 52(14) AMLA does not seem to provide a clear and easy answer. The Appeal Board in the case of AM v AN15 (2012) 6 SSAR 202. had to interpret the “inelegantly worded” section to mean that a pre-marital asset which had been used as a matrimonial home by the parties falls within the statutory definition and will be divisible upon divorce. The Appeal Board further held that the proviso (exclusion clause) in the section merely means that if an asset is a gift or inheritance, it cannot be divided upon divorce except if it is a matrimonial home or it has been substantially improved during the marriage. Thus, the proviso recognises that a matrimonial home can be subject to division irrespective of whether it was acquired before or during the marriage.
Another issue that has arisen pertains to the manner by which matrimonial assets are to be divided. Section 52(7) AMLA mandates the court to divide matrimonial assets in such proportions as the court thinks “just and equitable”. It is currently settled law that the different roles performed by each spouse (whether economic or non-economic or in the domestic sphere) must be taken into account in the division. For instance, in Mohd Ajis b Samon v Jamaliah bt Drahman16 (2013) 6 SSAR 296. the Appeal Board held that to achieve a “just and equitable” distribution, the court must have regard to all the circumstances, especially section 52(8)(a) to (m) AMLA. This means that the court must consider both financial and non-financial contributions, as well as contributions made not just by one party but by both. The Appeal Board further noted that in case where only one spouse works, there is often no difficulty in establishing and assessing the non-working spouse’s indirect contributions but in a case where both spouses are working, the task is a lot harder. In a case where both spouses are working, it is erroneous to simply conclude that a working wife is the only one who has made indirect contributions or the one who has made the greater indirect contributions while the husband is accorded no indirect contribution whatsoever. Thus, a holistic examination of the facts is required in each case.
While the civil courts have traditionally used the “uplift” methodology in division of assets,17 The uplift method starts with financial contributions of the parties in the purchase of the assets and then adjusts the amount to give credit for non-financial contribution. This method had been criticised as it overcompensated one spouse’s indirect contribution and undercompensated the other spouse’s direct contributions. this formula has been replaced by a new structured approach articulated in ANJ v ANK.18 (2014) SGHC 189. The structured approach entails (i) expressing a ratio of the parties’ direct contributions (ii) expressing a ratio for the parties’ indirect contributions; and then (iii) averaging the 2 ratios and dividing the assets based on the average ratio, with the Court having the discretion to make adjustments as it deems fit based on the overall circumstances. The Syariah Court has yet to adopt this structured approach as the norm, although it has been referred to in several cases. For instance, in OS No. 48905/Appeal Case No. 08/2017, the Syariah Court referred to ANJ v ANK and adopted the methodology to divide assets in a dual income marriage as such: the court attributed the direct contribution as 100 per cent to the husband and 0 per cent to the wife, allocated indirect contribution as 40 per cent to the husband and 60 per cent to the wife, and finally divided the assets in the ratio of 70 per cent to the husband and 30 per cent to the wife based on the average ratio of both the direct and indirect contributions. On the facts of the case, the SYC did not find it necessary to adjust the average percentage. On appeal, the wife’s share was increased to 35 per cent.
Developments in the Treatment of Custody Issues of Muslims in Singapore
Prior to the enactment of the Administration of Muslim Law Act in 1968, the legal position was that the High Court of Singapore, under the Guardianship of Infants Act (GIA), had exclusive jurisdiction with respect to the custody of all children, whatever their race or religion. The introduction of section 16(1) of the Supreme Court of Judicature Act (SCJA) in 1970 however provided that the High Court had no jurisdiction to try any civil proceedings which come under the jurisdiction of the Syariah Court. This suggested that the Syariah Court should be the proper forum for deciding custody issues involving Muslim marriages. Nonetheless, throughout the 1970s and 1980s, there was a slew of cases which involved Muslim parties filing applications under GIA in the High Court even though there were already orders on custody made by the Syariah Court. The bulk of these applications were mainly to vary or enforce the existing Syariah Court order. It was not a desirable state of affairs as parties ended up with up two orders on the same subject matter from two different courts.
In the landmark judgement of Muhd Munir v Noor Hidah and others,19 (1990) 2 SLR(R) 348. Chan Sek Keong J (as he then was) found it necessary to deal with a variety of custody applications involving Muslim children together and studied the different circumstances in which they had been brought to the High Court. He held that in construing the proviso to section 16(1) of the SCJA, the High Court would be concerned only with whether in the particular case before it, the Syariah Court was in a position to exercise its judicial power in relation to the subject matter in which it had jurisdiction. Sans a divorce application under section 35 of the AMLA, the Syariah Court had no jurisdiction over the parties and the High Court could proceed to hearing the case at hand.
In spite of the clarification brought about by Muhd Munir, some parties continued to institute proceedings in the High Court under the GIA even where there was already a Syariah Court order as exemplified by Hafiani bte Abdul Karim v Mazlan bin Redzuan.20 (1995) SGHC 264. In Hafiani, Kan Ting Chiu J dismissed the wife’s application for custody and opined that it was for the Syariah Court to vary its own order on custody.
In Lathibaby Bevi v Abdul Mustapha,21 (1996) 3 SLR(R) 698. G P Selvam J held that an application in respect of custody of children of Muslim parents in a divorce must be made to the Syariah Court for the simple reason that where reliefs are sought on such ancillary matters, they form an integral part of the jurisdiction conferred on the Syariah Court.
The problem highlighted by cases such as Hafiani and Lathibaby, was neatly solved through legislation, by inserting section 52(6) of the AMLA in 1999 which provided for the variation of its own orders. Furthermore, as alluded to above, the 1999 amendments to AMLA allowed Muslim parties to transfer proceedings to have custody issues adjudicated in the civil courts. Under section 17(2) of the SCJA and section 35A of the AMLA, parties could only do so either by consent or after obtaining leave from the Syariah Court to commence or continue custody actions in the civil courts. Ironically, after all the controversy in the media on these amendments, there is hardly any data on the number of cases where this mechanism has been applied.
The only reported case appears to be Thameemul Ansari s/o Jainullabudeen v Farzana Begum d/o O K Mohamed Haniffa22 (2009) 4 SSAR 175. where the husband wanted the Syariah Court to allow the issue of access to continue to be determined by the Family Court as there was already an interim order issued by the Family Court. The Syariah Court allowed the application for the issuance of a continuance certificate. The Appeal Board however held that as access is an integral part of custody and since the Syariah Court was ultimately going to determine the issue of custody, the issue of access should be determined by the Syariah Court.
Over the years, the Syariah Court and the MUIS Appeal Board have repeatedly stressed that any adaptation or adoption of civil laws must be consistent with Muslim law. This was comprehensively illustrated in Zaini bin Ibrahim v Rafidah bte A Rahman,23 (2007) 3 SSAR 135. which incorporated the concept of joint-custody expounded by the Court of Appeal in CX v CY.24 (2005) 3 SLR(R) 690. The Appeal Board unequivocally stated that the position set out by the Court of Appeal in CX v CY, applies equally to the position under Muslim law in that the divorced couple remain the parents of the child and should have equal responsibilities to ensure that the child is brought up as a good Muslim.
In AC v AD,25 (2011) 6 SSAR 78. the wife was already pregnant when parties were married in October 2007. The mother’s reason for opposing joint custody was that under Islamic law, the father has no parental right over an illegitimate child. The learned Syariah Court President granted an order that both parents had joint custody. The Appeal Board held that while they agreed with his decision, they did not approve of the approach the president had taken in applying section 114 of the Evidence Act. By so doing, “the Syariah Court would be dispensing civil law and not Muslim law, a consequence which we are not comfortable with, especially when it relates to a substantive matter and not simply one that concerns procedure”.
In another interesting case, AY v YZ,26 (2015) 6 SSAR 386. a child had been taken away by the father when she was about 1.5 years old, away to Phuket, Thailand. In 2014, when she was about 12 years old, the mother brought the daughter back to Singapore and instituted divorce proceedings in the Syariah Court and sought custody, care and control of the child on the grounds that the father was no longer a Muslim and had been bringing up the child in an “un-Islamic way of life”. At the Syariah Court hearing, the learned senior president granted the care and control to the father with the added condition that “the child [was] to attend Islamic religious classes so that she [would] gradually learn to appreciate the faith tradition”.
On appeal, the Appeal Board acknowledged while the father was not averse to the daughter receiving Islamic teachings, the daughter’s upbringing as a Muslim child would be better attended to if she remained in Singapore under the care and control of the mother. While the child’s education would be disrupted in having to relocate to Singapore, this did not mean that the requirement in law that the interest of the child is paramount to all other interests would not be followed. The Appeal Board held that “in this regard, exposure and influence in a non-Muslim environment (which we believe would be more likely to be the case if the daughter is placed in the care and control of the father [rather] than with the mother) would not be in the best spiritual interest of the child”.
Relationship between Civil Court and Syariah Court: Remaining Jurisdictional Entanglements
In 1999, AMLA was amended to provide for concurrent jurisdiction between the civil and Syariah Court over most matters except disputes relating to marriage, divorce, betrothal, nullity of marriage or judicial separation.27 See section 17 of the Supreme Court Judicature Act, read with section 35(2) of AMLA. On all other matters, particularly on matters concerning disposition or division of property on divorce or nullification of marriage, or the payment of emas kahwin, marriage expenses, maintenance and consolatory gifts (mutaah), the Syariah Court and the civil courts are to have concurrent jurisdiction. To ensure a harmonious working relationship between the civil and Syariah Court, the Singapore parliament also statutorily set out various scenarios in which either court would stay proceedings in favour of the other. Thus, under section 17A(3) of the SCJA, the High Court shall stay proceedings where the matter involves the custody of a child or disposition or division of property on divorce and proceedings are pending before the Syariah Court or if the decree or order for divorce has been made by the Syariah Court. On the other hand, the Syariah Court is to stay proceedings if a matter comes before it pertaining to maintenance of wife during the subsistence of marriage or to the maintenance of a child, and civil proceedings are pending. This allocation of jurisdiction is meant to overcome the possibility of concurrent proceedings being pursued with the possibility of conflicting judgments. On the ground however, the reality is that the Syariah Court does not hear any applications for maintenance of the wife during marriage and parties are informed that this particular issue is to be adjudicated at the FJC, where there are wider enforcement mechanisms available.28 See Ahmad Nizam Abbas, Custody Issues – Differences and Similarities between Civil and Syariah Courts in Singapore (2018) 30 SAcLJ 695.
While amendments to AMLA have tried to avoid jurisdictional conflicts between the Syariah Court and the civil courts, some issues remain. Two recent cases illustrate some of these issues. The first is the TMO v TMP,29 (2017) 1 SLR 585. which concerned the question of which court should have jurisdiction over division of matrimonial properties arising from a Muslim divorce granted overseas. The Syariah Court refused to grant an order for division of matrimonial assets as it considered that it did not have jurisdiction under section 52(3) of AMLA since it had not decreed the divorce. The wife, who was seeking the order for division, applied to the Family Justice Court pursuant to section 121G of the Women’s Charter. The district court and the High Court held that the civil courts are unable to grant relief as they have no jurisdiction under the Women’s Charter over Muslim divorces. A five bench Court of Appeal however allowed the appeal, arguing that the High Court retained residual jurisdiction over matters not falling within the jurisdiction of the Syariah Court. This is necessary, according to the Court of Appeal, to avoid a legal vacuum.
The second case is Pereira Dennis John Sunny v Faridah Bte V Abdul Latiff,30 (2017) 5 SLR 529. which addresses the question of when the statutory requirement for the civil courts to stay proceedings arises. The case involved a couple who obtained a decree of divorce from the Syariah Court. However, before the divorce was granted, husband commenced suit seeking declaration of parties’ respective shares of joint properties. The wife challenged the suit on the basis that there were pending proceedings before the Syariah Court, including over the division of matrimonial assets. The High Court however dismissed the wife’s application for a stay on the basis that the stay requirement under section 17A(3)(a) of the SCJA is only applicable where civil proceedings were commenced on or after proceedings commenced in the Syariah Court. Here, while the wife had already registered her intention to commence proceedings, thereby initiating compulsory counselling, this did not constitute commencement of proceedings before the Syariah Court. There was no requirement to stay proceedings. Furthermore, the High Court held that the husband’s application related only to the determination of beneficial ownership of properties jointly in his and the wife’s names, in which one’s marital status was irrelevant. Instead, the matter could be decided exclusively on an application of common law principles of property ownership and trust.
These two cases contain important clarifications about the relationship between the civil and Syariah courts, though they also demonstrate that no amount of line-drawing would be adequate to neatly delineate the jurisdictions between the two courts. Indeed, in Pereira Dennis John Sunny, while the High Court emphasised that its ruling only relates to beneficial ownership of joint properties, and that the Syariah Court should order division of the assets according to relevant principles, it may be too easy to suggest that the High Court’s decision would not have any impact on the Syariah Court’s determination. Indeed, the High Court itself noted that both the civil and Syariah Court “must seek to avoid inconsistent rulings”. Nonetheless, it is important to note that this is not a one-way injunction; the High Court also acknowledged that if the Syariah Court had first made certain findings of fact, the civil courts should similarly avoid making any inconsistent factual findings.
In her opening address delivered at the launch of the Muslim Law Practice Course in October 2018, Presiding Judge of the Family Justice Courts, Justice Debbie Ong, emphasised that while there are substantive differences between Muslim and non-Muslim family law and practice in Singapore, there are also “many similarities and shared aspirations.”31https://www.supremecourt.gov.sg/Data/Editor/Documents/PJFJC%20Opening%20Words%20Muslim%20Practice%20Course%2013%20Oct%202018.pdf Indeed, she observed that the Family Justice Courts and the Syariah Court share a “strong working relationship”.32Ibid. This close relationship between the civil and Muslim law system requires a constant negotiation and renegotiation of both substantive and procedural laws governing both legal systems. What is clear in Singapore is a “blended approach” that seeks to ensure smooth interplay of two “inextricably interlinked” but “conceptually distinct” regimes.33 Mohamed Faizal Mohamed Abdul Kadir, “Muslim Law” (2016) 17 SAL Annual Review 604, at 604. In order to ensure this, a deeper understanding of the jurisprudential contributions of the Syariah legal system is imperative.
|↑1||See Ahmad Nizam bin Abbas, The Islamic Legal System in Singapore, 21(1) Pacific Rim Law & Policy Journal 163 (2012).|
|↑2||Section 35(1) and (2), AMLA.|
|↑3||Section 35A: (1) Any person who, on or after the commencement of proceedings for divorce in the Court or after the making of a decree or order for divorce by the Court or on or after the registration of a divorce under section 102, intends to commence civil proceedings in any court involving any matter relating to the disposition or division of property on divorce or custody of any child where the parties are Muslims or were married under the provisions of the Muslim law, shall apply to the Court for leave to commence the civil proceedings. (2) Where proceedings for divorce are commenced in the Court or a decree or order for divorce is made by the Court or a divorce is registered under section 102 after civil proceedings between the same parties are commenced in any court involving any matter relating to the custody of any child, any party who intends to continue the civil proceedings shall apply to the Court for leave to continue the civil proceedings. (3) The Court shall not grant leave to commence the civil proceedings under subsection (1) or to continue the civil proceedings under subsection (2) unless the Court is satisfied that every party who will be affected by such leave has been notified of the application at least 7 days before the grant of such leave.|
|↑4||Section 35A: “(5) This section shall not apply if the parties to the civil proceedings (a) mentioned in subsection (1) consent to the commencement of the civil proceedings, or mentioned in subsection (2) consent to the continuation of the civil proceedings; and (b) mentioned in subsection (1) or (2) have obtained a certificate of attendance issued under subsection (7). (6) Parties mentioned in subsection (1) or (2) shall, before commencing or continuing (as the case may be) the civil proceedings by consent, attend counselling provided by such person as the Court may appoint. (7) The Court shall, after any party has been counselled under subsection (6), issue a certificate of attendance to that party.”|
|↑5||See section 55 of AMLA.|
|↑6||See Roy Mottahedeh, “Introduction” in Muhammad Baqir as-Sadr, Lessons in Islamic Jurisprudence, trans and intro by R.P. Mottahedeh (Oxford: Oneworld, 2003).|
|↑7||Robert Gleave, “The First Source of Islamic Law: Muslim Legal Exegesis of the Qur’an” in R. O’Dair and A.D.E. Lewis, eds., Law and Religion: Current Legal Issues, vol 4 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 145.|
|↑8||Khaled Abou el-Fadl, “Foundations” in Amyn B Sajoo, ed., The Shari’a: History, Ethics and Law (London: IB Tauris, 2018), 21-22.|
|↑9||Section 112(10) of the Women’s Charter was incorporated into section 52(14) of AMLA.|
|↑10||Section 112(2) (a) to (h) and section 114(1)(a) to (g) of the Women’s Charter were incorporated into section 52(8)(a) to (m) AMLA.|
|↑11||AI v AJ (2011) 6 SSAR 143 and Rohani bt Din v Abu Bajar b Abdullah (2013) 6 SSAR 279.|
|↑12||Zainal Abidin v Joraih Bt Salleh (Appeal Case No: 28/2008) & Saniah Bt Amir v Syed Hussin B Syed Ali (2002) 2 SSAR 127.|
|↑13||Md Sabeer Osman v Saheeda Banu Md Sabeer (2012) 6 SSAR 159.|
|↑14||Shazia Husain v Imran Nawaz s/o Md Nawaz (2015) 6 SSAR 399 & Asiah Bt Md Hassan v Abd Bashir s/o Saidek (2014) 6 SSAR 358.|
|↑15||(2012) 6 SSAR 202.|
|↑16||(2013) 6 SSAR 296.|
|↑17||The uplift method starts with financial contributions of the parties in the purchase of the assets and then adjusts the amount to give credit for non-financial contribution. This method had been criticised as it overcompensated one spouse’s indirect contribution and undercompensated the other spouse’s direct contributions.|
|↑18||(2014) SGHC 189.|
|↑19||(1990) 2 SLR(R) 348.|
|↑20||(1995) SGHC 264.|
|↑21||(1996) 3 SLR(R) 698.|
|↑22||(2009) 4 SSAR 175.|
|↑23||(2007) 3 SSAR 135.|
|↑24||(2005) 3 SLR(R) 690.|
|↑25||(2011) 6 SSAR 78.|
|↑26||(2015) 6 SSAR 386.|
|↑27||See section 17 of the Supreme Court Judicature Act, read with section 35(2) of AMLA.|
|↑28||See Ahmad Nizam Abbas, Custody Issues – Differences and Similarities between Civil and Syariah Courts in Singapore (2018) 30 SAcLJ 695.|
|↑29||(2017) 1 SLR 585.|
|↑30||(2017) 5 SLR 529.|
|↑33||Mohamed Faizal Mohamed Abdul Kadir, “Muslim Law” (2016) 17 SAL Annual Review 604, at 604.|