Shariah Laws

Sharia means a “clear path.” It consists of a body of Islamic laws, about most of which there is no consensus among Muslims. In other words, there is no single book of Sharia. Among Sunnis themselves there are four schools of thought, with their own interpretations, mostly based on tradition. Shias have their own interpretations and legal doctrines, based on tradition as well as logical reasoning. These religious opinions are based on Quran, Hadiths (saying of Prophet Muhammad), Sunnah (Practice of Prophet Muhammad and his companions and their next two generations); and traditional law which was already in place in much of the Middle East during the time of Prophet Muhammad. Many controversial issues are not based on the above but case law and precedents.

From a theological point of view, there are essentially four types of Shariah laws that can have a bearing on state laws:

A) Hudood Laws: [Hudood means "Limits" (set by God)]. These are offences listed in the Quran, and they include adultery, defamation or false accusation of adultery, theft, and consumption of alcohol.

B). Qisas: Crimes demanding retribution: These are crimes against the life or body of another person, and they are: murder, manslaughter, rape, causing injury to another person.

C). Ta’azir: These are crimes against community such as fraud, blackmail, etc. Ta’azir laws are not based on Quran or Sunnah but are adopted by the state for the welfare of its citizens.

D). Family laws relating to marriage, divorce and wills.

Conceptually, Qisas and Ta’azir laws of a Muslim state are no different than what you would find in a non-Muslim state. Murder, robbery, fraud are crimes everywhere, even though punishments for these crimes may vary from country to country. One may object to Hudood crimes but even so, adultery and drinking are not exactly considered good things in any society. As you already know, DUI laws exist in almost every state. Adultery is cheating and leads to abusive relationships and broken hearts, and that is why Islam prohibits it. Once you enter into a relationship, you have a right to expect fidelity from your mate. Countless evils and sorrows will not exist if there is no adultery.

Now the question is, why not have the same laws but remove the religious element? To answer this question, one can just as easily ask, what’s wrong with religion? Christian Church has ill-treated its adherents in the past, and that’s why there’s a strong bias against religion in Western culture. That has not been the case with Islam where there is no “Church” and the concept of ‘ijma’ (consensus) can put constraints on religious extremism, at least as far as overall society is concerned. So the prejudice that you find in the West against religion does not exist in Muslim countries. Secondly, man-made laws are all temporal. Some laws have to appeal not only to one’s civic sense but also to something much deeper. Where and when national laws break down, Divine laws, which exist not on paper but are etched on hearts and minds, must continue to provide constraints and stability.

Hudood laws are extremely limited in scope, and the idea is that whatever is not restricted is permitted. According to Abu Daud, one of the compilers of Hadith books, these four Sayings of the Prophet contain the summary of Islamic law.

1. Actions will be judged according to intentions.

2. The proof of a Muslim’s sincerity is that he pays no heed to that which is not his business.

3. No man is a true believer unless he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.

4. That which is lawful is clear, and that which is unlawful likewise, but there are certain doubtful things between the two from which it is well to abstain.

Now we come to the issue of democracy. What is democracy, anyway? Democracy is defined as ” (a government by the people; especially : rule of the majority (b) : a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.” That’s what democracy is all about–nothing more, nothing less.

Now, lately, some atheists have tried to redefine democracy by suggesting that it must exclude all elements from the government which can remotely be associated with religion. That has the automatic effect of banning religion from public discourse, forcing people of faith to ‘sneak in’ their religious traditions by avoiding references to organized religion and by using ‘secular’ terms such as “family values.” But if people are afraid to express their fundamental religious beliefs while advocating public policy, how can they claim to be living in a free society?

Muslims, by and large, do favor democracy. Even the most fundamentalist parties in countries such as Algeria, Pakistan, Indonesia etc. have always championed the cause of democracy. But unlike Western nations, which neither have religion nor unadulterated secularism, most Muslims want democracy which respects their religious values without curtailing religious freedoms of those who are not Muslim.

Nobody has ever said that as soon as an Islamic government comes into power–democratically or otherwise–Shariah laws come into effect. In a democracy, whether in the US or in a Muslim country, each piece of legislation has to be debated and voted in. For example, Pakistan has tried for years to do away with interest in banking, but the legislative bill has failed every single time. Pakistani religious parties have also been calling for the restoration of 1973 Constitution, which pays only lip service to Islam and is not exactly Shariah-based. Similarly, the Iranian ‘Majlis’ has passed laws that seem to override Shariah laws, such as raising the marriageable age to 13; most shariah laws only require puberty. I would add that Iranian Mullahs have done more for women’s literacy than 5000 years of ‘secular’ rule! And some Indonesian Islamic parties played a key role in getting Indonesia’s ex-President Megawati Sukarnoputri elected. So the political picture in Islamic countries is far more complex than what most Americans can possibly comprehend, or acknowledge.

Muslims are not interested in imposing Sharia on any non-Muslim country.

5 thoughts on “Shariah Laws

  1. Herman January 15, 2014 at 4:22 pm Reply

    One of the Shariah Laws calls for the barbaric amputation of the hand of those who have stolen.(Koran 5:38). But Islam calls for no punishment for those who enslave others for life. Indeed, Muhammad himself owned slaves (Koran 33:50).
    So I ask the writer: please explain why stealing someone’s camel is worse than enslaving another human being for life.
    Let me get you started: “Stealing a camel is worse than enslaving another human for life because…_________ ” [fill in the blank]
    It is only fair that I provide my own explanation. Muhammad had his imaginary god Allah demand a punishment for theft because he wanted harmony among the Muslims, and Muhammad himself had no need to steal — he got 20% of the booty robbed from caravans. But Muhammad would never have his Allah demand punishment for slavery BECAUSE MUHAMMAD HIMSELF OWNED SLAVES.
    Think about it.

    • Melanie Dodge February 23, 2014 at 12:02 am Reply

      The history of slavery traces the history of slavery and the slave trade from ancient times to the present. Slavery is a legally recognised system in which people are legally considered the property or chattel of another… Slavery does not include other forced labor systems: historical forced labor by prisoners, labor camps, or other forms of unfree labor, in which laborers are not considered property…Unfree labour is a generic or collective term for those work relations, especially in modern or early modern history, in which people are employed against their will by the threat of destitution, detention, violence (including death), lawful compulsion, or other extreme hardship to themselves or to members of their families.
      (-Wikipedia)

      Note that God tells us to be responsible and wise and careful and fair regarding our family and property as such actually belong to Him. God-fearing men were therefore good to their wives, children, slaves, and animals. It is true that slaves were technically not entitled to compensation and that they could not just quit their job or switch jobs if they so desired, but that does not mean that masters were allowed to mistreat them. Such mistreatment would clearly be against God’s law.

      • sincereadvisor March 5, 2014 at 4:19 am

        I am not sure how the subject of slavery is related to what I had stated in the article. One point that I will make is that in Shariah laws, a slave could buy his/her freedom, start a business, marry a free man/woman, and the children of slaves were born free. In American chattel slavery, none of these privileges were granted or were available.

  2. Herman April 14, 2014 at 7:32 pm Reply

    “I am not sure how the subject of slavery is related to what I had stated in this article” declares sincereadvisor. Well, that’s PRECISELY the point. Sincereadvisor notes that the “Hudood” Laws “are offences listed in the Quran, and they include adultery, defamation or false accusation of adultery, theft, and consumption of alcohol.” Enslaving another human being is NOT on the list. sincereadvisor, please explain why your god prohibits drinking alcohol but has no problem with someone enslaving another. Why stealing another’s computer or camel would result in hand amputation, while forcing another to do work for you for life is just peachy keen.
    I’ll tell you my explanation: Muhammad himself owned slaves, so he wasn’t about to let his imaginary god get in the way of his fun.
    sincereadvisor writes that a slave “could buy his/her freedom.” He doesn’t tell where he got this notion from. Perhaps he is referring to Koran 24:33. But Koran 24:33 states: “And those who seek a contract [for eventual emancipation] from among whom your slaves – then make a contract with them IF YOU KNOW THERE IS WITHIN THEM GOODNESS…” Now, who is far more likely to be enslaved, Muslims or nonMuslims? Why nonMuslim of course. And how do Muslims regard disbelievers? As “THE WORST OF CREATURES” (Koran 98:6).
    So it would not be too surprising then, if few, if any at all, of the slaves were emancipated over the centuries that Muslims have enslaved people through the application of Koran 24:33. But maybe sinceradvisor has some statistics on how many slaves over the centuries did succeed in buying their freedom?
    sincereadvisor writes that the “children of slaves were born free.” What is sincereadvisor’s evidence for this, especially in the case where both of the parents are slaves?

  3. sincereadvisor April 17, 2014 at 4:12 am Reply

    Well, as I explained earlier, Islam didn’t start slavery. Nowhere in Quran would you read, “Go and make slaves of infidels.” Slavery was a reality when Quran was revealed. Now, you can blame the Quran for not coming out with Emancipation Proclamation 1400 years ago, but you can’t fault it for encouraging it either. If anything, Quran is the ONLY Holy Book which encourages its followers to free slaves for expiation of sins! This was actually better than Emancipation Proclamation because I am sure you know that it created so much resentment in the South that it has continued on to this day! Politics in America is still very much race-based, but it is not so much of an issue in Muslim countries.

    Rules for slave ownership and their freedom are all recorded in Hadith books. I would start with Malik’s Muwatta (the oldest Hadith book, and perhaps the most accurate) in which it is very easy to look up subjects. It is also available online for free.

    In verse 24:33, “goodness” doesn’t mean piety. It means what it says, goodness or honesty, because a slave would have to make an earnest commitment to pay. This is in the Tafsir:

    Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs: (Quran 24:33)

    “(And let those who cannot find a match) those who are unable to marry (keep chaste till Allah give them independence by His grace) until Allah gives them sufficiency from His provision. This was revealed about Huwaytib Ibn ‘Abd al-’Uzza who refused to agree to give one of his slaves a chance to buy out his freedom. (And such of your slaves as seek a writing (of emancipation)) to buy out their freedom, (write it for them if ye are aware of aught of good in them) if you know they are righteous and keep their promise, (and bestow upon them) upon all people (of the wealth of Allah which He hath bestowed upon you) so that they can make an agreement for their emancipation; it is also said that here the master is encouraged to forgive a third of what has been agreed upon with his slave who wants to buy out his freedom.”

    So the verse was revealed to scold al-Uzza who was refusing to give his slave a chance to buy his freedom. You may not know this but in early America, slaves could buy their freedom too. And in those days, the freed slaves were much better off and enjoyed more rights than slaves later freed by Lincoln.

    If you want statistics, I don’t think we have any. But slavery in Muslim countries has been rare. There were virtually no slaves when Muslims ruled India for about one thousand years. In the Ottoman Empire, they did have eunuchs in harems, but that’s a special case (Islamic law was against such a practice). There was white slavery, and Christian slave boys were actually brought up and trained for high government jobs, since the indigenous Muslim population was less trusted! Slavery did exist in Saudi Arabia until the reign of King Faisal but it was rare. When King Faisal visited America during the pre-Civil Right era, it created an uproar when he brought his slave with him. But when Faisal took his slave to an expensive restaurant to have dinner with him, the slave wasn’t allowed in because he was black!

    Look, slavery is no longer a relevant issue today. It’s a thing of the past. Why are you so obsessed with it? The key point is this: Did Islam encourage its followers to free slaves or to let them buy their freedom? The answer is clearly, Yes. In the Bible, on the other hand, God supposedly got angry because Jews DID NOT kill captured slaves! Every Jew and Christian thinks that was fine! So why aren’t you complaining to Jews and Christians that their God is the cruellest?

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