Wednesday, January 18, 2023 - 11:15




How has your first year in practice been?” asked one of the Registrars at Syariah Court, noticing that I was a newbie.My first month actually, Your Honour. It has been good!” I said, releasing a sigh of relief after concluding my first pre-trial conference under the watchful eye of my partner who was seated at the corner of the room.

I am finally practising Syariah kaw among other community-focused areas of practice! Syariah law was not an available module in Law school or at Part B. Until recently, there was no textbook on the practice and procedure of Syariah law in Singapore. In the past, when relatives and friends asked me about Syariah divorce and Faraid matters, I had to tell them that I was as clueless as they were. So, I am grateful to be able to finally learn about Syariah practice from the biggest Syariah law firm in Singapore and work with an experienced partner at the firm.

In Singapore, every single Muslim person would inevitably interact with the Syariah system for matters of Faraid or the distribution of a deceased person’s estate. That is a substantial number of the Singapore population, an entire religious community to be exact. However, the number of legal practitioners who practise in this area of law is disproportionately lower. For all the talk about the high divorce rates in the Malay/Muslim community, there aren't as many resources being channelled into the court system that has had to deal with it. So, when people asked me why I wanted to be a lawyer and/or do Syariah law, I had always said it was for the sake of representation (there aren’t many young Malay lawyers) and to improve access to justice in this area of law. But I now realise that beyond those personal ideals, this area of law has so much more to offer a young lawyer like me.

I have had many people tell me that I should not practice Syariah law because it isn’t where the money is, it isn’t the most intellectually stimulating area of law, and there isn’t room to make law or explore interesting legal questions. Even though I’ve only been practising for two months now, I can say with certainty that those people were wrong.

In my short stint so far, I have been able to assist in a polygamy matter that went to the MUIS Appeal Board (which allowed me the opportunity to delve into religious texts, past exceptional cases where polygamy was allowed, and explore policy concerns surrounding this area); contentious divorce matters; variation applications; uncontested divorce matters where we helped parties come to an agreement at mediation; and inheritance matters. It helps that I am working with a partner who is always thinking about how we can make law, does not shy away from difficult cases, and is a good litigator.




Last October, I had the opportunity to attend the launch of the first Syariah law textbook in Singapore, Muslim Family Law in Singapore, by Mr Ahmad Nizam Abbas, Ms Maryam Hasanah Rozlan, and Ms Istyana Putri Ibrahim; and published by Academy Publishing.

During the launch event, one of the writers of the book delved into the jurisprudential trends in Muslim family law, a Registrar and ex-registrar discussed the processes and procedure in the Syariah Court, and the Senior President of the Syariah Court and members of the MUIS Appeal Board discussed effective advocacy. It was during these talks that I fully realised the depth and breadth of Syariah law. There was so much to be learnt and so many more areas to be developed. I took as many notes as I could and ended up sharing a 14-page document with the rest of my team after I came back from the event that day.

Apart from the substantive law being expansive and constantly evolving, my limited experience in the Syariah Court has taught me valuable lessons in terms of the practice itself and how the court upholds the ideals of fairness and justice. I was representing a Plaintiff wife at mediation, when the Defendant husband who acted in-person, suddenly said that the law and the court was not fair to men and biased towards women. The mediator immediately stopped the process, reiterated his role as a neutral party, reminded the Husband of the rights he had, and told parties that he had instructions to stop the mediation process if a party ever alleges unfairness during a mediation. While it was frustrating to my client and I that the matter could not be settled at mediation, it gave me a lot of reassurance and confidence in the Syariah court system knowing that there were safeguards in place to ensure no unrepresented party was ever made to sign a consent order or agree to anything if he/she felt even an inkling of unfairness.  While there will always be those who question the fairness of a justice system (as any informed and concerned citizen should without going to the extent of committing contempt of court), it is important that we all do our part to preserve the public confidence in the system. I am glad that the Syariah Court has taken steps to ensure that not only is justice done, but that it is also seen to be done.

On a personal note, practising Syariah law has also felt deeply personal due to the close nature of the work to the religion that I profess. For instance, witnessing a talak being pronounced had such a deep impact on me, especially after witnessing the taklik (marriage conditions) and prayers read out at a friend’s wedding only a few days prior. Practising in this area has also allowed me the opportunity to read and learn more about Islamic principles relating to marriage, divorce, inheritance, and other areas of Syariah law. It helps that the partner I work with is currently furthering his studies in Syariah law and is always more than willing to share materials, his learnings, and have discussions with me about various subjects.

Client management and billings are other key aspects of lawyering that one must partake in. There is still much for me to learn in these areas. The group of clients that the firm often deals with are those from the lower0-income or the middle-income brackets, or at least that has been my experience in our Syariah Practice. As such, the firm has always been mindful of the fees we charge and providing clients with generous instalment plans. So, while my team (who does a substantial portion of the Syariah work in the firm) grapple with billings at the end of each month, I know that it is not because we have not done sufficient good work for our clients. However, that is not to say that we are not taking on complex Syariah matters where the pool of assets is in the millions and our professional fees are suitably high. The breadth of work that I have been able to do, the type of advocacy I have been exposed to, and the client management skills I have seen from my team, have been nothing short of impressive.

As the end of my probation period with the firm approaches, I can say with certainty that I intend to practise Syariah law for as long as I can. The Syariah Bar has the nicest lawyers I have ever met (opposing counsel once helped me during a pre-trial conference when I had been clueless about having to ask for retrospective extension of time), the practice of Syariah law itself is meaningful and thought-provoking, and I have been able to flex my Malay language skills when dealing with clients. There are truly more reasons than I can say for one to practise in this area of law, and I intend to serve as an officer of the court to the best of my ability.

I look forward to learning from the veteran lawyers and legal giants of the Syariah Bar, and I aim to be able to do more for the Muslim community in Singapore through my work. I hope to see more of my peers enter this area of practice!

Shukrina Salam is an associate at IRB Law. Muslim Family Law in Singapore is available here.