Shari’a law: misapplied, misunderstood or simply misguided?
A female prisoner combs her hair after washing it in the courtyard of the women's prison October 22, 2010 in Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan. According to Afghanistan's Ministry for Women and the Independent Human Rights Commission, many of the females that are incarcerated are being detained for 'moral crimes'. With the courts at many times refering to Islamic Sharia law, the court system in Afghanistan can be easily adapted to work against, in what many critics of Afghan law see, as the rights of Afghan women.
The first group would accuse me of being a Westernised or secular person seeking to erase Islamic teaching from our life.
While the Western citizens, who couldn’t stand hearing the word Shari’a, would wish that I had focused on the application of Shari’a in the first place, as did reader Tracy Geiger in an e-mail she sent to me last week.
It read: “I would like to congratulate you on today's column in The Gazette. As a foreigner, I found your point of view interesting: It would seem you're not questioning the Shari’a itself but its wrongful and biased application in some countries.
“However (and please excuse my ignorance as I am not versed in the Shari'a), would you not agree that using the Qur'an literally nowadays, even if applied correctly, could seem like extremely harsh and degrading punishment?
With the advance in human rights, I cannot help but feel very uncomfortable, when I see flogging being used, in cases of fornication, for instance… “As a Westerner I have my own point of view on Shari'a (I don't like it), but I has been deeply influenced by Sudan and SA’s [Saudi Arabia] use of it ... hence confirming your article.
“Still, your column struck me and made me wonder if more Muslims would be okay with applying physical punishments in the case they were rightfully applied.
It's a question worth pondering, I think.” I do respect and understand the view of my dear reader, who has made it clear that as a Westerner she doesn’t like the Islamic Shari’a, especially with the wrong image today’s applications are giving it, as I indicated in last week’s article.
However, I still don’t share her view not only in respect of giving up the Shari’a, merely as it depends on Qur’anic verses from some 14 centuries ago.
What is important about the Qur’an is its source and not its lifetime. During these many centuries not a single letter has been changed from this Holy Book revealed by Allah to his last Prophet Mohamed (PBUH).
The manufacturer of a certain commodity or machine knows best how to operate, maintain and fix it, if it is subjected to any damage.
Similarly, God, our Creator, is the best to draw up the rules to govern our life and ensure justice, security and respect for human rights in different societies.
Accordingly, as long as I am a Muslim believing in the Holy Qur’an, I don’t have the slightest doubt of its fairness and wisdom in all its rulings.
However, the Qur’an and the Islamic Shari’a are not limited to the penalties imposed on offenders.
They also set rules that rulers should follow to ensure justice, security and protection of their people.
So, if the Qur’an includes a verse setting the penalty of theft as the cutting off of the hand, for example, it includes many other verses requesting the ruler and the rich people of society to help the poor and the needy.
Islam has even established the solidarity system of zakat, (obligatory alms) on rich people, merchants, farmers and those having a plenty of gold so that they would allocate a specific portion of their gains to the poor.
It also shoulders the ruler with the responsibility of creating jobs or assisting the aged, the disabled and people in debt to enjoy sustainable financial aid.
It urges society to enable young people to get married. Herein we can refer to tens of hadith (sayings and tradition) of Prophet Mohamed (the second source of Shari’a) requesting parents to accept having their daughters marry the good Muslim men even if they were the poorest “otherwise there would be sedition and serious corruption”.
We also read how the Second Caliph Omar ben al-Khattab was living in austerity, since became the ruler of the Muslims, fearing to eat meat, for instance, or having more than one garment while any of his subjects were suffering hunger or not having good clothes to wear.
When asked about the austere life he insisted on leading, while theMuslim state greatly expanded during his rule and became wealthy, he responded, “ If a horse stumbled in the desert, I would be asked (by Allah) why I hadn’t paved the way for it.”
Therefore, a ruler with this high sensitivity and sense of responsibility towards his people, offering them the best possible care, would be trusted to apply well the Islamic Shari’a in the right way.
No one would ever accuse him of injustice or cruelty if he cut off the hand of a thief, after he had offered such an offender all the means to live in dignity without committingsuch an offence against society.
Significantly, during his rule, Omar ben Al-Khattab suspended the penalty of cutting off the hand during a year of hunger that hit the city.
This shows that the good Muslim ruler is entrusted to apply the Islamic law knowing the right conditions for enforcing it and the timewhen it should be suspended.
This is relevant to any ruler today.
If rulers, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, have offered their people the best of care and support in their life, they (the rulers and legislators) have the full right to apply the toughest penalty on robbery that stirs insecurity in society.
So applying or halting Islamic Shari’a penalty should be conditional on having just rulers, who offer their people all careand give the example of being committed to the teachings of Islam before enforcing such strict penalties.
As for flogging in cases of fornication, it seems hard to convince a Western person of Muslim society’s non-acceptance of sexual relations outside the course of marriage.
Actually, Islam is not unique in this issue as all religions anathematise such an act and consider it a sin.
So the difference is between a nation choosing to apply and live with their religious teachings and others opting to limit them to the minimum level in their life.
Furthermore, the difference is between people, who see sexual relations outside marriage as a shameful act that harms society, which should be banned by all possible means, and others who regard it as a personal freedom, even those who do not hide their concern that it is harmful to society.
By Manal Abdul Aziz
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