Islamic Council of Victoria board member Hyder Gulam was due to meet a senior bureaucrat in the Premier's Department on Thursday to discuss the idea, but the meeting was postponed to this week.
Mr Gulam, a lawyer with Logie-Smith Lanyon and also a board member of Australian Red Cross, said a sharia court could function as a voluntary and non-binding dispute resolution mechanism in matters such as divorce, access to children, disputes over wills and financial or commercial disputes.
''We are talking about a system that defuses community tensions before they reach litigation, so it can be settled at the lowest level, as quickly as possible, as cost-effectively as possible, with the best outcome. The Victorian Government is very keen on community dispute resolution mechanisms,'' he said.
''These are ideas we've raised with senior members of the community for three months, and the response has been very supportive because people see it's a cheap way to deal with intra-community disputes.''
However, the Islamic Council of Victoria has rejected the idea, because of concerns about the negative impact of the word ''sharia''. The leading Muslim women's group also rejected it.
On Friday a deeply concerned council vice-president Sherene Hassan learnt of it from The Age and held urgent phone conversations with other board members.
She said: ''Sharia courts are not on the organisation's agenda. There has been no pressure for them from the Muslim community, and we have not discussed them. The meeting with the Premier's Department this week will go ahead, but it will not discuss sharia courts.''
Ms Hassan said Mr Gulam was acting on his own initiative and the council's agenda would not be set by one individual.
Mr Gulam discusses the possibility of an Australian sharia court in an article co-written with barrister Simon Lee in an Australian Muslim newspaper, the Crescent Times. Saying their aim is to stimulate debate, they conclude the only element of sharia law feasible in Australia is dispute resolution based on mediation and conciliation.
Meanwhile, Mr Gulam has received support and advice from the Fitzroy Legal Service on securing government support.
Executive officer Rob Inglis said a sharia court ''would fill a really important need and would be a win-win situation''. It would not diminish existing law, but help create a ''safer, more culturally inclusive space'' for Muslims in legal matters.
Mr Gulam said the Jewish community had the Beth Din, Catholics had religious courts to settle marriage questions, and indigenous people had the Koori courts, which were part of the state legal system.
Islamic Women's Welfare Council of Victoria director Joumanah El Matrah said research showed women and children would be ''extremely disadvantaged'' by any sort of sharia court.
''It's grossly naive to say women can opt out from such a tribunal. Women are often not in a position to make this sort of decision.''
She said examples from Britain showed women not only felt pressured, they became caught between the tribunal and the laws of the state.
''There's no sound argument to establish such a tribunal. Muslims are bound to live by the laws of the state they are members of. They can't opt in and out, according to their convenience.''
Source: The Age