A former imam who officiated the wedding of a 14-year-old girl to a man 20 years her senior has been deemed an unfit and improper person to solemnize marriages, a tribunal has upheld.
Ibrahim Omerdic was convicted in 2017 of solemnizing an invalid marriage after conducting a wedding ceremony between a girl and a 34-year-old man in Melbourne.
At the time of the marriage in 2016, he was the Imam of the Bosnia and Herzegovina Islamic Centre in Noble Park and authorized under the Marriage Act to solemnize marriages.
Omerdic was aware when he conducted the ceremony that the girl was not of marriageable age, with official documents suggesting she would have been aged 14, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal was told.
He thought she was about 17 but accepted she could have been 15 and, in any case, believed she was “very young”.”
Omerdic ceased registering as an authorized marriage celebrant in June last year after the Registrar of Ministers of Religion Victoria struck him off the list.
He fought his removal by applying to the Tribunal to review the decision.
Camera IconFormer, imam Ibrahim Omerdic, was ruled not fit to solemnize marriages. Nicole Garmston Credit: News Corp Australia
The AAT this month upheld the ruling, finding him not remorseful or accepting of responsibility for what he did.
Omerdic argued during the hearing that he did not intend to solemnize the marriage and only intended to make a prayer that made it culturally acceptable for the man to accompany the girl in public.
He also claimed he had understood the couple would not live together until the girl turned 18.
But the Tribunal rejected that evidence.
“I am satisfied that, when solemnizing the marriage of Ms. C and Mr. S, the applicant was alive to the real risk that they would engage in sexual relations, uncaring or reckless as to the possibility that he was … facilitating a sexual offense,” AAT Senior Member Chris J. Furnell said in his decision last week.
Omerdic told the Tribunal evidence that because he had been convicted, couples “now go to Indonesia for nikahs (marriages recognized by sharia law)”.
“No one of imams performing Nikah now, because they risk. They risk. They’ll be caught (sic) like I burned my fingers… So if people are going to have Nikah, they going to Indonesia…” he said.
According to Omerdic, “…hundred of young couples who wanted to marry in Australia, they cancel, and they went to another country to-to do that.”
Camera IconIbrahim Omerdic appealed his case to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal but lost. Credit: Supplied
Mr. Furnell said Omerdic’s statements before the Tribunal and his statements when interviewed by police in 2016 were riddled with “inaccuracies and inconsistencies”.
“Again, this does not speak well of the applicant’s character, honesty, and integrity,” he said.
He also did not find Omerdic, who had been active in the community for over three decades and performed more than 1000 marriages, “profoundly remorseful”.
On his behalf, it was said that he did not harm anyone and had paid a “high price” for a “minor” charge.
“He considers that he did little harm and seemed to be of the view that his conviction was procured by a flawed judicial process influenced by Islamophobia and ignorance of cultural issues,” Mr. Furnell said in his decision.
He added that he had also tried to downplay or re-characterize what happened while blaming others for the fallout.
“In these circumstances and despite his experience, community contributions, and the comments of various referees, I am satisfied that the applicant is not a fit and proper person to solemnize marriages,” Mr. Furnell said.