Crazy About Sharia


In the Name of God, the Kind, the Beautiful

During the Peter King “Muslim Radicalization” hearing, one of the members – once again – raised the issue of the danger of Sharia law and how it threatens the American system and way of life. Indeed, in twelve states, laws are currently being drafted to ban Sharia law. In Tennessee, the law goes as far as making following Sharia punishable by 15 years in jail.

I sought out to read the actual text of the Tennessee bill, and the full text can be found here. The text that is most important is this:

Sharia, as defined and understood by traditional and authoritative sharia scholars and leaders, is a legal-political-military doctrinal system combined with certain religious beliefs; further, sharia is based historically and traditionally on a full corpus of law and jurisprudence termed fiqh and usul al-fiqh, respectively, dealing with all aspects of a sharia-adherent’s personal and social life and political society.  Sharia serves as national and local law in several foreign jurisdictions;

Sharia as a political doctrine requires all its adherents to actively support the establishment of a political society based upon sharia as foundational or supreme law and the replacement of any political entity not governed by sharia with a sharia political order;

Sharia requires all its adherents to actively and passively support the replacement of America’s constitutional republic, including the representative government of this state with a political system based upon sharia;

Sharia in particular includes a war doctrine known as jihad, which is an organic, intrinsic and central feature of the laws and traditions of sharia due to a consensus among sharia authorities throughout the ages;

Jihad and sharia are inextricably linked, with sharia formulating and commanding jihad, and jihad being waged for the purpose of imposing and instituting sharia;

The unchanging and ultimate aim of jihad is the imposition of sharia on all states and nations, including the United States and this state; further, pursuant to its own dictates, sharia requires the abrogation, destruction, or violation of the United States and Tennessee Constitutions and the imposition of sharia through violence and criminal activity;

This is full of mistruths and distortions. It is clear that the bill’s author(s) have no clue about what “Sharia” truly is. It is not a “legal-political-military doctrinal system combined with certain religious beliefs” at all. Sharia is not even a physical thing that can be touched and handled. There is no book called “The Sharia” that can be accessed and referenced.

In fact, according to Intisar Rabb, Associate Professor of Islamic law and American law at Boston College:

There is no codification of Sharia. There is an attempt to codify a single code of Islamic law very early on in the 8th and 9th centuries, and that was rejected. And ever since, Islamic law has been characterized by a tremendous amount of diversity, and we can’t point to any one code.

Sharia, in fact, is the attempt of Muslims throughout the history of Islam to define the will of God and how it is applied in Muslim life. It has varied across age, place, and ethnicity. It does not, as the bill’s author(s) say, require its adherents – which presumably includes all Muslims – to:

actively support the establishment of a political society based upon sharia as foundational or supreme law and the replacement of any political entity not governed by sharia with a sharia political order…and to actively and passively support the replacement of America’s constitutional republic, including the representative government of [Tennessee] with a political system based upon sharia

Islam does not require me to seek to overthrow the country of my birth and “replace it” with a “Sharia system.” That is called sedition, plain and simple, and Islam – in fact – prohibits me from being seditious and deceitful.

The bill continues:

Sharia in particular includes a war doctrine known as jihad, which is an organic, intrinsic and central feature of the laws and traditions of sharia due to a consensus among sharia authorities throughout the ages;

Jihad and sharia are inextricably linked, with sharia formulating and commanding jihad, and jihad being waged for the purpose of imposing and instituting sharia;

The unchanging and ultimate aim of jihad is the imposition of sharia on all states and nations, including the United States and this state; further, pursuant to its own dictates, sharia requires the abrogation, destruction, or violation of the United States and Tennessee Constitutions and the imposition of sharia through violence and criminal activity;

This is patently false. “Jihad” is not a “war doctrine” that is “an organic, intrinsic and central feature of the laws and traditions of the sharia.” Jihad, as defined by the Qur’an, is the struggle to do what is right on earth. It is not, as many claim, “holy war.” Again, when the bill says that the “aim of Jihad,” as if it is a tangible, physical entity, “is the imposition of sharia on all states and nations,” it is obvious that the bill’s author(s) is completely clueless when it comes to the true nature of jihad.

The aim of jihad is to make myself a better person; to make the world a better place. According to the Qur’an, jihad can be done with one’s money and one’s own self. It is separate from and broader than “qital,” which is armed conflict. The latter has very specific rules and restrictions. The bill’s author(s) seek to blend the two and make them one concept. In reality, they are nothing of the sort.

Furthermore, once again, anything that tries to destroy the American system and replace it with “Sharia” is not “jihad,” but sedition. Sedition is illegal in both American and Islamic law. There is no need for a specific bill to ban Sharia law.

Later on in the bill, it defines what is being criminalized and calls it “Sharia”:

“Sharia” means the set of rules, precepts, instructions, or edicts which are said to emanate directly or indirectly from the god of Allah or the prophet Mohammed and which include directly or indirectly the encouragement of any person to support the abrogation, destruction, or violation of the United States or Tennessee Constitutions, or the destruction of the national existence of the United States or the sovereignty of this state, and which includes among other methods to achieve these ends, the likely use of imminent violence.  Any rule, precept, instruction, or edict arising directly from the extant rulings of any of the authoritative schools of Islamic jurisprudence of Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i, Hanbali Ja’afariya, or Salafi, as those terms are used by sharia adherents, is prima facie sharia without any further evidentiary showing;

Notice how the bill’s author(s) doesn’t even understand Islamic basics: there is no “god of Allah.” Allah is the Arabic name for God, and it was the name that Jesus called God as well.

Yet, for the third time, the above definition is not “Sharia,” as there is nothing that emanates “directly or indirectly from the god of Allah or the prophet Mohammed” that encourages the “abrogation, destruction, or violation of the United States or Tennessee Constitutions…” Islam commands Muslims to follow the laws of their countries and be law-abiding citizens.

Rather, this above definition is sedition and rebellion, which is already illegal in both American and Islamic laws. Thus, it seems that the bill’s author(s) have absolutely no clue what Islam, Sharia, Islamic law, and jihad are and just slopped up a law together to ban the non-existent threat of “Sharia law.” They used classical Islamic terms in a context that is truly laughable at best.

On the other hand, perhaps the bill’s author(s) truly do understand what Islam and Islamic law is all about and, using this law, seek to criminalize Islam as a religion and Muslims as followers of that religion. If the bill’s author(s) seek to define Sharia (and by extension Islam and Muslims) as being something that is seditious and rebellious against America, this would be quite sinister indeed. I hope and pray that the latter is not the case.

The Hope Of Which I Spoke


In the Name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful

At the end of my last post about Islamic law, I mentioned that there is hope. There is hope that Muslim scholars have already begun to answer and address some of the many questions and tensions that surround the issue of implementing God’s law on earth. My hope is kindled even further after reading this article by Sheikh Ali Gomaa, the Grand Mutfit of Egypt.


Fatwas and Modernity

Almost two years ago the citizens of London were victims of a great atrocity. Those who perpetrated those crimes would like you to believe that they were inspired by the religion of Islam. Nothing could be further from the truth.

There is nothing in Islam that could ever justify these blatant acts of aggression. Islam calls on Muslims to be productive members of whatever society they find themselves in. Islam embodies a flexibility that allows Muslims to do so without any internal or external conflict. This is why we see a vast variety of cultural, artistic and civilisational phenomena all of which can be described as Islamic, ranging from the Taj Mahal in India to the winding streets of Fez to the poetry composed by English converts that represents not only the rigor of English verse, but also encompasses the beauty of Islamic piety.

This flexibility is not just present in the cultural output of Muslims; it is an integral part of the Islamic legal tradition as well. In fact, you could say it is one of the defining characteristics of Islamic law. Islamic law is both a methodology and the collection of positions adopted by Muslim jurists over the last 1,400 years. Those centuries were witness to no less than 90 schools of legal thought, and the 21st century finds us in the providential position to look back on this tradition in order to find that which will benefit us today. This is one of the first steps in the issuing of a fatwa (religious opinion/ruling).

Fatwas represent the bridge between the legal tradition and the contemporary world in which we live. They are the link between the past and the present, the absolute and the relative, the theoretical and the practical. For this reason it takes more than just knowledge of Islamic law to issue a fatwa. A Mufti who does not know the contemporary world in which he/she lives is like a person who has the ability to walk and might also have the ability to run. However, they move through a dark path without a light in their hand. It is possible that they will make it, but in most cases they will fall and perish. Muftis must also have an in-depth understanding of the problems that their communities are facing. When those who lack these qualifications issue fatwas the result is the extremism we see today, the kind witnessed on 7/7. We have to be clear about what is at stake here. When each and every person’s unqualified opinion is considered a fatwa we lose a tool that is of the utmost importance for reigning in extremism and preserving the flexibility and balance of Islamic law.

This flexibility is present in the Islamic political sphere as well, but this is a point that is often missed. Many assume that an Islamic government must be a caliphate, and that the caliph must rule in a set and specific way. There is no basis for this vision within the Islamic tradition. The caliphate is one political solution that Muslims adopted during a certain historical period, but this does not mean that it is the only possible choice for Muslims when it comes to deciding how they should be governed.

The experience that Egypt went through can be taken as an example of this. The period of development begun by Muhammad Ali Pasha and continued by the Khedive Ismail was an attempt to build a modern state. This meant a reformulation of Islamic law. This process led Egypt to become a liberal state run by a system of democracy without any objections from Muslim scholars. Muslims are free to choose whichever system of government they deem most appropriate for them.

The principles of freedom and human dignity for which liberal democracy stands are themselves part of the foundation for the Islamic world view; it is the achievement of this freedom and dignity within a religious context that Islamic law strives for.

The world has witnessed tremendous change over the last two hundred years. This change came in the form of new technologies and political ideologies. There were also new developments in communications allowing us to be aware of what is happening in nearly every part of the world the instant that it occurs, whereas in the past it would take months if not years for even the most urgent news to spread. This wave of change has caused a complete alteration of nearly every aspect of our lives. It is this modern occurrence that presents the greatest difficulty to Muslim jurists and Muftis. In the past there was little alternation of the way things worked and progressed. Even when things changed it was slow and isolated to a handful of fields. The change of the past 200 years, however, has made it necessary to re-examine how everything works. Meaning that the way in which Islamic law is applied must take into account this change.

The flexibility and adaptability of Islamic law is perhaps its greatest asset. To provide people with practical and relevant guidance while at the same time staying true to its foundational principles, Islam allows the wisdom and moral strength of revelation to be applied in modern times. It is through adopting this attitude towards the shari’a that an authentic, contemporary, “moderate” and tolerant Islam can provide solutions to the problems confronting the Muslim world and the West today. Muslims must hold fast to this tradition in order to stand in the face of those who would use our religion for their own agendas.

Sheikh Ali Gomaa is the Grand Mufti of the Arab Republic of Egypt – the second highest religious position in the country. He oversees the premier institution in the Muslim world for religious legal direction, Dar al-Ifta al-Misriyyah. This essay is distributed by Common Ground News Service.

Faithful Questions About Islamic Law (Sharia)


In the Name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful

The following article was originally published on Beliefnet.

I do not think Holloywood could have come up with a more sensational movie. The famous Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in Islamabad, Pakistan is raided by government security forces in a crackdown on militant religious seminary students locked in a stand off that lasted several days. The standoff began on July 3, when clashes erupted at the mosque and 16 people were killed. The mosque was then besieged by government forces, and negotiations began in hopes of ending the crisis.

Hundreds of students surrendered, and the mosque’s leader was caught trying to escape wearing a woman’s burqa. When negotiations finally failed, the army stormed the compound, and dozens of people were killed when it was all over. The final death toll is still unknown, with the government saying 108 people being killed, and leaders of hard-line religious parties claiming that at least 400 people were killed. Concerns about reprisal attacks from militants were well placed, as several suicide bombings have taken the lives of hundreds of people in the ungoverned tribal areas of Northwest Pakistan.

The Lal Masjid, built in 1965 and named for its red walls and interiors, has long enjoyed patronage from influential members of the Pakistani government, from prime ministers to army chiefs. Things changed, however, after the attacks of September 11, 2001. Pakistan officially allied itself with the United States in the “war on terror,” and the leadership of the Lal Masjid became a fierce opponent. In fact, frequent calls for the assassination of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf were made at the mosque.

Starting in 2006 – and this is the primary impetus for the crackdown on the mosque – the mosque’s students and leadership began a Taliban-like judicial system and instigated scores of incidents including kidnappings, arson, and murder. Many of their actions were against alleged brothels and sellers of music and movies. Apparently, they felt that if the government and local authorities will not implement “Islamic law,” then they will take matters into their own hands. The whole story is much more complicated, and I am sure more details will emerge in the coming days and weeks.

This got me thinking about the whole issue of Islamic law (known to most as Sharia law) and efforts by Muslims all across the world to implement it in their own legal systems. There are several issues that come into play when the issue of Sharia law comes up, and they are not easily resolved. First of all, what is Sharia law? For most people, I suspect, when the word “Sharia” is mentioned, they immediately think of two things: cutting off the hands of thieves and stoning the adulterer to death. Yet, it would not surprise me in the least if many – if not most – Muslims think the same about Sharia.

Yet, the Sharia is much more than that. At its essence, Sharia is the attempt on the part of human beings to discern and implement the will of God on earth. It encompasses all aspects of one’s life, not just criminal law. Muslim scholars have outlined the objectives of the Sharia to be five: preservation of religion, life, lineage, wealth, and intellect. Every “rule” in the Sharia harkens back to one of these core principles. Yet, is there one set of “rules” that all Muslims across the globe agree is the “Sharia”? Are there differences of opinion as to what the Sharia says about this thing or that?

Most definitely. While there is legal consensus on some issues, Muslim scholars have had different opinions regarding practically every aspect of Sharia. There may be a majority who believe this or that, but there usually is juristic dissent; there usually is a “minority report.” Herein, therefore, lies a problem: how can Muslims implement “Sharia” law – which has a divine connotation – when there is difference of opinion about what exactly the Sharia says about a particular matter?

If Muslims were to sit down and write a book of laws based on the Sharia, which view should be taken? If the “majority” view of the scholars is taken, is this unjust? Isn’t the “minority” opinion also valid? What about the opinions of other schools of law? Which one should be adopted? What should determine which opinion should be adopted as the “correct” view? These rules exist in the Islamic legal system, but are they being applied presently?

And what if societal norms and other circumstances change with time? Should the law change with them? The answer to this question is easy when it comes to secular law, but with Sharia law as understood by Muslims today, would this be interpreted as “changing God’s law”? How is this tension resolved? It is well known in the annals of Islamic jurisprudence that the law must be re-examined with changing times. But, there are too few Muslim scholars who espouse this view, and many hearken back to medieval legal constructs and apply today. This is simply untenable.


As far as criminal law is concerned, it seems that Muslims are so quick to implement the hudud punishments, i.e., the stoning of adulterers and cutting off the hands of thieves. Yet, there are so many mitigating circumstances when it comes to these punishments, and they are frequently neglected. A perfect example of this is the case of Amina Lawal in Nigeria (a case which many Muslim scholars also found appalling). Lawal was condemned to death by stoning for alleged adultery (even though the man was let go for “lack of evidence”). The judges presiding over her case apparently followed the Maliki school of law, but they completely ignored the procedures in the Maliki school that would have set Ms. Lawal free.

Moreover, a well known principle of Islamic law is that if the conditions in a society do not permit the application of a particular law, it should not be implemented. For instance, if poverty and privation is rampant in society, how can the law of amputation for theft be applied? Furthermore, the Prophet Muhammad was reported to have said (found in the collection of Al Tirmithi), “If there is any way (to avoid punishing someone for a legal offence), let that person go. For it is better for a leader to make a mistake in forgiving than to make a mistake in punishing.”

These basic principles, it seems, have been completely neglected and abandoned by Muslims today. Doesn’t this lead to injustice? Isn’t that the exact opposite of what Islamic law is all about? Does this fact, therefore, justify calls for a moratorium on the implementation of the criminal penal code, as made by academics such as Tariq Ramadan? In addition, under Islamic law, those punishments should be instituted only by the Caliph. The Caliphate, even in nominal form, has been absent from the Muslim world since World War I.

Then there is the whole issue of “There is no compulsion in religion.” (2:256) How does this come into play with respect to humans implementing what they believe to be God’s law? Although there is some compulsion when it comes to the government imposing law and order (people are “compelled” to drive under the speed limit), some Muslims elevate all sinful acts to the level of criminal law, which was never intended by the Sharia. For example, the students of the Lal Masjid were reported to have harrassed sellers of music, because they believe music is “haram,” or forbidden by Islam.

Yet, there are a number of Muslim scholars that have said that there is nothing in Islam that prohibits music. If these students have their way and ban all music, isn’t this “compulsion in religion”? Aren’t they imposing their own personal religious view upon the rest of the community? Doesn’t this violate the letter and spirit of 2:256? Isn’t this not Sharia but vigilantism, which is expressly forbidden by the Sharia itself?

These are only some of the many questions that need to be addressed when it comes to Sharia, and I do not even pretend to know the answers to these questions. Yet, these questions must be answered and these inherent tensions need to be resolved by the scholars of the Muslim world today. I also must say that there should be nothing wrong with raising such questions in the first place.

Many Muslims today, especially after 9/11, operate under a “siege” mentality and feel the whole world is against them. This has come about because of the intense scrutiny, heretofore absent, placed upon Islam, its tenets, and Muslim communities in the wake of horrific acts of terrorism committed in Islam’s name. Add to that the enormous amount of suspicion of the Muslim community by their non-Muslim neighbors because of the acts of a few terrorist criminals. As a result, many Muslims feel that taking a critical eye toward issues such as Sharia law is somehow being “disloyal” to Islam.

But truth does not fear investigation, and the least we can do – especially when it comes to attempting to implement His will on earth – is ask ourselves hard questions. If we do it wrong and say “God says thus,” we will be lying on behalf of God, something against which He warned us sternly: ” So woe to those who write scriptures by themselves then say it is from God in order to sell it for a petty price. Woe to them for what they have written on their own; and woe to them for what they earn ! ” (2:79)

The purpose of the Sharia is to promote justice and the common good. In fact, many people will be surprised to learn that the Sharia serves as the inspiration for the law in many Muslim countries, and there are no problems at all. In a minority of instances, however, the Sharia – as Muslims have presently applied it – has been an instrument of injustice and intolerance (think Afghanistan under the Taliban and Nigeria in the Lawal case). This was never the intention of the Lawgiver.

The problem is, too many Muslims fail to understand this, and disaster has been handed down in the name of God and His religion. This cannot be allowed to happen again. This is, admittedly, a very sensitive issue, but we cannot shy away from this in the least. Our very salvation is at stake. Yet, in speaking with Muslim scholars, there is hope. The religious establishment all across the Muslim world is working hard to update itself, under their own imperative and not from any pressure from the West. Hopefully these forces for change will win the day.