Western secularism vs Islamic sharia
Sharia law is the legal system of Islam. It is ultimately derived from the Qua’ran, Islam’s holy book, thought to be the last word of God Himself, the hadiths (sayings and actions of Prophet Muhammad) and fatwas (religious declarations) by accomplished scholars. Sharia law acts as a code for all Muslims to live their lives by, and to be aware of what constitutes illegality and what is permitted, and the consequences to various offences. Sharia law is divided into three categories :
1. Hudud: crimes against God, with severe punishments
2. Qisas: Crimes against Muslims in which equal retaliation is allowed, in direct accordance with 2:178 of the Qua’ran
3. Tazir: offences related to the Qua’ran and Hadith but which does not advocate a specific punishment , therefore up to the judge to mete out what they think is appropriate.
Countries in the world that currently implement sharia law include ; Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Brunei, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sudan and Mauritania apply the code predominantly or entirely.
Offences under sharia law include:
Apostasy from Islam
Punishments under sharia law
Sharia law demands cruel and barbaric punishments if a person commits these offences. As per the Qua’ran, (5:38) a person’s hand is cut off if they commit theft. If they steal again, then their other hand is also cut off. If they keep stealing again, the punishment is death, (5:33). For illegal sex outside marriage, the punishment is 100 lashes, as per Allah’s cold command in 24:2 of the Qua’ran. The punishment for adultery, man and woman, is stoning, al rajm. Curiously, this is not actually in the Qua’ran. No injunction of stoning can be found. However :
Volume 8, Book 82, Number 816:
Narrated Ibn ‘Abbas:
‘Umar said, “I am afraid that after a long time has passed, people may say, “We do not find the Verses of the Rajam (stoning to death) in the Holy Book,” and consequently they may go astray by leaving an obligation that Allah has revealed. Lo! I confirm that the penalty of Rajam be inflicted on him who commits illegal sexual intercourse, if he is already married and the crime is proved by witnesses or pregnancy or confession.” Sufyan added, “I have memorized this narration in this way.” ‘Umar added, “Surely Allah’s Apostle carried out the penalty of Rajam, and so did we after him.”
Stoning is incorporated in sharia based on the example of Muhammad himself. It is nothing original to Islam; its origin is enshrined in Judaism and the Torah. The Qua’ran insults the Jews at Muhamamad’s time for not carrying out the cruel practice of stoning, 62:5. An example of Muhammad carrying out stoning which forms the basis of sharia law today is :
Bukhari :: Book 6 :: Volume 60 :: Hadith 79
Narrated ‘Abdullah bin Umar:
The Jews brought to the Prophet a man and a woman from among them who had committed illegal sexual intercourse. The Prophet said to them, “How do you usually punish the one amongst you who has committed illegal sexual intercourse?” They replied, “We blacken their faces with coal and beat them,” He said, “Don’t you find the order of Ar-Rajm (i.e. stoning to death) in the Torah?” They replied, “We do not find anything in it.” ‘Abdullah bin Salam (after hearing this conversation) said to them. “You have told a lie! Bring here the Torah and recite it if you are truthful.” (So the Jews brought the Torah). And the religious teacher who was teaching it to them, put his hand over the Verse of Ar-Rajm and started reading what was written above and below the place hidden with his hand, but he did not read the Verse of Ar-Rajm. ‘Abdullah bin Salam removed his (i.e. the teacher’s) hand from the Verse of Ar-Rajm and said, “What is this?” So when the Jews saw that Verse, they said, “This is the Verse of Ar-Rajm.” So the Prophet ordered the two adulterers to be stoned to death, and they were stoned to death near the place where biers used to be placed near the Mosque. I saw her companion (i.e. the adulterer) bowing over her so as to protect her from the stones.
The brutality of such examples have rightly earned barrages of criticism towards sharia law and Islam on this basis. It flouts the 1948 Human rights Act, and is reminiscent to a 7th century mindset. Sharia law has remained firm, uncompromising, and callously discarded morals. It is a stark contrast to the developed and modern western world, the firm but tolerant law that doesn’t violate human rights. It doesn’t call for bloodshed, violence and agony like sharia does.
It’s no coincidence the countries that ardently profess sharia and adapt it are simultaneously among the worst places to live, and the most undeveloped. Saudi, for example, which is arguably the most devout Muslim nation, and the Prophet’s long ago homeland. The lack of rights for women has made huge news, with the #StopEnslavingSaudiWomen trending worldwide on Twitter, showing desperate pleas and tales of abject horror and oppression. The fact that Saudi women are virtual possessions of males, and require a guardian for every aspect of their life, to step out of the house, to marry, to study, to work. There is very little religious tolerance in Saudi, Christians and Jews are forbidden building any place of worship. Saudi ranks 4th in the world for number of executions, has no actual democratic system, as sharia controls and supersedes every single other ideal. They have a very literalist idea of the Qua’ran, and aren’t afraid to carry out the barbaric injunctions written. A woman’s testimony counts for half that of a male’s (2:282) or is sometimes not even counted at all. A non Muslim’s testimony does not count. Neither does the testimony of a Muslim who is deemed a disbeliever or belongs to a controversial sect , such as Shia or Ahmadi, the latter of which is persecuted in Saudi Arabia. This culminated in Ahmadi’s being officially banned from entering the country and performing one of the 5 main pillars of Islam, Hajj ( pilgrimage) to Mecca.
The law in Saudi Arabia is derived and based on Islam. It is considered to be divine, the right guidance, meant to supersede the laws made by mankind and birthed out of the womb of secularism. Yet we see it’s a regime of terror. People are afraid to commit such crimes because of the brutal punishments. Supporters of sharia may argue that such implications deter people from committing the crimes in the first place, therefore no use of punishment would be necessary. However , between 2007 and 2010 there were 365 public beheadings. And that number is only increasing.
The one thing western law and sharia have in common is classifying certain acts as criminal, for example :
However, sharia demands bloodshed and brutality as retribution for these crimes, whereas western law suggests imprisonment and rehabilitation is a more suitable method. True, some American states have legalised the death penalty, but this is much debated, it is only for the heinous crimes, and it is done humanely as possible. There’s a difference between killing a person who left their religion, and killing a serial murderer and rapist, for example. It is also a freedom in the west that we can debate and pass our own laws, make our voices heard and adjust it with the times and society. Before 1967, homosexuality was seen as a crime in England and punishable by imprisonment. In 2013, same sex marriage became legal, and society has relaxed and accepted people of the LGBT community. Stigma of people of non heterosexual sexuality normally stems from a religion’s homophobic beliefs. This is an example of a law adapting to society and changing.
However, sharia law is immorally enshrined in Islam. The texts cannot be altered, merely the interpretation can be. Islam calls for the death of LGBT community as Muhammad said :
Narrated by Abdullah ibn Abbas: The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: If you find anyone doing as Lot’s people did, kill the one who does it, and the one to whom it is done.
— Sunan Abu Dawood, 38:4447see also Sunan Abu Dawood, 38:4448 Sunan Abu Dawood, 31:4007 Sunan Abu Dawood, 31:4008 Sunan Abu Dawood, 11:2169 Sunan Abu Dawood, 32:4087 Sunan Abu Dawood, 32:4088
No one can challenge this, as it is a supposed ‘prophet’s word’. People in islamic countries do NOT have the freedom to debate and alter like we do. Because their law is religious based, suggesting any mild attempt at abolishment or adjusting is considered blasphemy of God’s word and constitutes to apostasy. For which there is, a unanimous death penalty. There is no freedom in sharia.
Having just explained the Islamic side of this, let us now turn our attention to the western side of this thought experiment. What we today call ‘western secularism’ did not arrive out of the ether. Rather, it’s the culmination of several centuries of small scale experiments and large intellectual movements in Europe. For example, the invention of the Gutenburg printing press, which forever damaged the Catholic Church’s stranglehold on interpretation of the Bible (dragging down to the level of the literate working and middle classes to interpret as they read), to the Protestant Reformation (also a massive blow to Papal authority; a lay priest from Germany criticising the Pope?) to the continent wide free marketplace of ideas we today called the Enlightenment.
It’s hard to narrow down just a few names in this revolutionary period (both in the literal and metaphorical sense), but a few of particular note are Voltaire, Baruch Spinoza, Montesquieu, Jefferson and others, who all shared a number of common passions. For example, free expression and free speech, separation of powers, intellectual freedom and a (purely academic) vicious anticlericalism (barring Montesquieu). We need look no further than Jefferson’s incorporation of the 1st amendment to the United States Constitution (as well as Montesquieu’s notion that the separate arms of government always need to be split).
Any atheist worth his or her salt has debated religious folk of one persuasion or another at some point, and it’s easy to take for granted the freedom with which un-falsifiable religious claims can be torn to shreds with a simple demand for evidence (and also explains the utter revulsion upon reading religious texts). It’s far rarer one thinks why this may be the case, no? The answer is very simple. After the Enlightenment (and its precursor events, which allowed it to happen like the Renaissance, printing press and Reformation), the Catholic Church started a period of irreparable decline, as just as I mentioned before, anyone literate reading the works of ‘les philosophes’ and others began to see reason as a greater guide than faith, and the primary source of authority and legitimacy. Combined with the English tradition of limited government, stretching back to the Great Charter of 1215 and the Glorious Revolution of 1688, it is no surprise Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin were the intellectual fathers of the first truly secular nation on earth, with free right of worship for any and all faiths. Not to mention even the despotisms of the day were forced to change; Frederick’s Prussia abolished torture, devised a new law code of Frederick’s own design and built Catholic churches, France with the Napoleonic Code emancipated Jews and Protestants to a great extent, even Imperial Austria, the foremost Catholic power proclaimed edicts of tolerance for the Orthodox, Protestant and Jewish peoples.
Now, you might be thinking at this point; “yes, but what of the continued troubles of women, homosexuals and other such groups?” It is undoubtedly true that people continued to suffer until fairly recently, which is undoubtedly a cautionary tale that reason isn’t infallible with humans. But the whole point of this is to show the capability of the West to change in the face of new evidence and the effect of winning a battle of ideas. Taking the UK as an example, homosexuality has only been legal since the ‘Sexual Offences Act, 1967’, but within just over 50 years, homosexuals now enjoy the legal right to marry. Compare this to the countries of the world which operate under Sharia’s unchanged position on homosexuality since the 7th century. In Francoist Spain, women were the sole responsibility of their husbands, in a manner not dissimilar to Islamic countries current treatment of women, but consider what happened when Franco’s repression of Spain ended, a mere six years after, the ‘permiso marital’ had been abolished, adultery was legalised, divorce was allowed (as opposed to just Catholic annulment) etc. with Spain today still taking women’s rights extremely seriously. Compare this with the sickening abuse Saudi Arabian women suffer daily (take a trip on the hashtag #StopEnslavingSaudiWomen to see for yourself), the callous rape of women in Shi’a Iran to prevent their gaining entry to heaven, as well as a regular punishment in the notorious Evin Prison, or even in Turkey, where the rape and murder of Ozgecan Aslan (not counting Kurdish political prisoners, both male and female) was not taken seriously by the state until forced to by the country’s women.