‘Shariah’ is not a scary word

By Elias Karmi, Engage Minnesota

 
The word ‘Shariah’ is a bit prickly even among many of the better educated in the West. I and many Muslims, however, grew up viewing Shariah as an exit from current-day injustices. Now, instead of having to read me blabbering away about it, fortunately for you I came across a highly insightful article by professor Noah Feldman, law professor at Harvard University and adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. The following are two paragraphs from the first page of the article. Please check out the article and let professor Feldman do all the talking:


“In some sense, the outrage about according a degree of official status to Shariah in a Western country should come as no surprise. No legal system has ever had worse press. To many, the word ‘Shariah’ conjures horrors of hands cut off, adulterers stoned and women oppressed. By contrast, who today remembers that the much-loved English common law called for execution as punishment for hundreds of crimes, including theft of any object worth five shillings or more? How many know that until the 18th century, the laws of most European countries authorized torture as an official component of the criminal-justice system? As for sexism, the common law long denied married women any property rights or indeed legal personality apart from their husbands. When the British applied their law to Muslims in place of Shariah, as they did in some colonies, the result was to strip married women of the property that Islamic law had always granted them — hardly progress toward equality of the sexes.

In fact, for most of its history, Islamic law offered the most liberal and humane legal principles available anywhere in the world. Today, when we invoke the harsh punishments prescribed by Shariah for a handful of offenses, we rarely acknowledge the high standards of proof necessary for their implementation. Before an adultery conviction can typically be obtained, for example, the accused must confess four times or four adult male witnesses of good character must testify that they directly observed the sex act. The extremes of our own legal system — like life sentences for relatively minor drug crimes, in some cases — are routinely ignored. We neglect to mention the recent vintage of our tentative improvements in family law. It sometimes seems as if we need Shariah as Westerners have long needed Islam: as a canvas on which to project our ideas of the horrible, and as a foil to make us look good.”

Instead of fearing Shariah or Islamic Law, it would be great for people to first truly try to understand how it was developed and know how it was implemented historically.

About engagemn

A Voice for Minnesotan Muslims

Posted on October 27, 2008, in Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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