Recently Feisal Abdul Rauf, Chairman of the Cordoba Initiative – described as “an independent, non-partisan and multi-national project that works with state and non-state actors to improve Muslim-West relations.” – wrote a piece describing how akin Shariah Law and U.S. law are… at least in essence.
Rauf is correct when he opines that when thinking of Shariah law: “It conjures images of women being stoned and forced into hiding behind burkas and denied educations. We think of beheadings and amputations as a form of justice.” It conjures these images, and many more, because that is what actually happens. It is not a case of rare extremism or of a few select groups abusing power. It is the norm throughout the lands that adopt Shariah law.
Rauf goes on to discuss the core essence of Shariah law, which is where it gets interesting. Rauf affirms that Shariah law is not unlike Western Secular Law… and what is outlined in our Constitution and Declaration of Independence.
But it is important that we understand what is meant by Shariah law. Islamic law is about God’s law, and it is not that far from what we read in the Declaration of Independence about “the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God.” The Declaration says “men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights; that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Rauf may be right. More right than he realizes… if one keys in on the word “men.” However, in the U.S. we interpret that passage in the pluralistic sense of mankind or all people. However, under Islamic law it tends to be far more literal. The fair and equal inalienable rights of women and non-believers, or lack thereof, in Islamic law set it drastically apart from U.S. law.
The principles behind American secular law are similar to Shariah law – that we protect life, liberty and property, that we provide for the common welfare, that we maintain a certain amount of modesty. What Muslims want is to ensure that their secular laws are not in conflict with the Quran or the Hadith, the sayings of Muhammad.
American law is secular for those very reasons… to ensure freedom from religious persecution and to ensure liberty for American citizens. To state that secular law and religious law are similar, even in so much as what they aim to achieve, is duplicitous. Throughout history it has been shown that religious law leads to persecution and the loss of liberty and property, particularly with non-believers. Despite the stated goals, it achieves the exact opposite.
What Muslims want is a judiciary that ensures that the laws are not in conflict with the Qur’an and the Hadith. Just as the Constitution has gone through interpretations, so does Shariah law.
This may very well be the case. However, show me an interpretation of the Sharia that does NOT subjugate women or use brutish and unfair punishments. There isn’t one, at least not yet. No set of laws, religious or otherwise, that fail to support equal application of those laws can be just. Granted, there have been darker times in the U.S. when ethnicity and gender determined the rights that citizens had by law. However, that was not an issue of interpretation. That was an issue of narrow mindedness and piss poor judgement. The difference here is that the Constitution did not have to be re-interpreted… simply read and applied. Thusly, those unjust laws have since been repealed and society has changed. Whereas, Sharia’s interpretations have not… and likely will not for the very reasons that Mr. Rauf states.
The two pieces of unfinished business in Muslim countries are to revise the penal code so that it is responsive to modern realities and to ensure that the balance between the three branches of government is not out of kilter.
Both of those things are long overdue. However, it probably won’t be happening any time soon. The entire premise of the penal code is misogynistic and persecutorial. Until the men in power are willing to relinquish that power, misogyny and totalitarianism the penal codes will remain unchanged. And the branches of government will never be on kilter as long as they remain Theocratic. History has shown us this.
Rather than fear Shariah law, we should understand what it actually is. Then we can encourage Muslim countries to make the changes that achieve the essence of fairness and justice that are at the root of Islam.
Free countries fear Shariah law not because we don’t understand what it is, but because we understand what it DOES. The theory behind it may be great on paper, but its inception is inherently flawed. To create laws based on religion is to bend the people under it TO that religion. Since religious freedom is at the very heart of liberty and theocracy is the antithesis of liberty, the likelihood that free world will embrace Shariah as a positive system of law is nil.