By Muhammad Yunus, New Age Islam
19 June 2017
(Co-author (Jointly with Ashfaque Ullah Syed), Essential Message of Islam, Amana Publications, USA, 2009)
This short paper is provoked by the recent anti-Sharia Law rallies across America. It aim is to clarify the black and white distinction between ‘the Sharia Law of Islam’ that many Americans/ non-Muslims are genuinely afraid of and the ‘Sharia of Islam,’ that unfortunately many Muslims conflate with the ‘Sharia Law of Islam.’
‘Sharia Law of Islam’ represents selective opinions of the Muslim jurists, mostly from the early centuries of Islam; it carries no divinity, it is not any part or article of Islamic faith; it is not binding on Muslims for all times and, its rulings are divergent and can range from the noblest to the vilest depending upon what a jurists or Muslim terror ideologue seeks to establish. Had it been anywhere near as exclusivist or brutal as the terror outfits of this era [ISIS, Boko Haram, and Takfiri groups] claim, the Christians, Jews and all non-Muslims would have long perished in the lands that the Muslims ruled for almost half a millennium, while Muslims, Christians and Jews would not have lived in peace and harmony in the Muslim Spain for almost 700 years. The present day radical proponents of Sharia Law are simply terrorizing the West by feeding to their fear of Islam - thanks to the grandiose Islamophobic industry.
‘Sharia of Islam’ on the other hand is represented by the Qur'an. For the Muslims, it is divine, unalterable, and eternally binding source of guidance. It encompasses a broad spectrum of positive commandments - justice, liberty, equity, good deeds, charity, generosity, kindness to all humanity for example as well as a whole string of noble virtues – mercy, compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, moderation, and prohibitions against all that is evil and reprehensible. Its tenets are largely compatible with universal secular/ Christian values. It also alludes to, among other things, some existential aspects of its era of introduction (seventh century Arabia) which do not form any explicit part of its message as it expressly asks humanity to focus on its clear and unambiguous commandments (3:7) and to seek its best meaning (39:18, 39:55).
As these two notions are engraved in the Muslims’ collective memory as complementary or synergetic, verging on the synonymous, it may be useful to illustrate this difference with the following familiar illustration:
In the case of ‘Sharia Law of Islam,’ the tag ‘Islam’ is symbolic as the pre-fix ‘Arabic’ in the popular dish ‘Arabichaleem.’ The recipe of Arabic Haleem can change from shop to shop, time to time, and people can throw it out into the waste bin if it becomes stale.
The tag ‘Islam’ in the ‘Sharia of Islam’ represents ‘Islam’ as represented by the Qur’an (5:48). Its text does not change with place and time. It cannot get outdated and no one can trash it.
So, there is black and white difference between ‘Sharia Law of Islam’ and ‘Sharia of Islam.’
It is not surprising therefore that great many rulings of ‘Islamic Sharia Law’ contradict the ‘Sharia of Islam’ (Qur’anic message). These include, among others, stoning to death for adultery, capital punishment for apostasy and blasphemy, institutionalized slavery, temporary marriage, parental immunity against child abuse, instant (triple) Talaq, rape law, mobility restriction, full veiling and gender-based segregation of women, discrimination and hatred against non-Muslims, demographic division of the world between the Muslims and non-Muslims, perpetual jihad against non-Muslims, forced conversion of captive non-Muslim women, prohibition of all art forms – song, dance and music– to cite some commonplace examples. In historical relativism these may have been compatible with those of the other civilizations, but with sea change in paradigms of civilization since the Classical Islamic era, they stand in sharp stark contrast with the realities of the modern era, and cause genuine fear and concern among the non-Muslims in the Western world with growing Muslim population.
The truth is, the vast majority of Muslims settled in the Muslim minority countries of the world including America do not aspire to install the ‘Sharia Law of Islam’ in their countries as a parallel system of governance or moral code. They simply want to be good, peaceful and active citizens, have reasonable levels of income and entertain similar civil aspirations, entertainments, consumption addictions and material ambitions as the others – except that, outwardly, they may more devoted to religious rituals as a group. All they want is to practice their religion freely, live with others in peace and harmony, and avail of the blessings of life – without coming anywhere near the theological or juristic issues of Islam that has plagued this religion for over a millennium.
Hence, the American people and the mainstream societies in the Muslim minority countries have nothing to fear against any demand from its minority Muslim population to implement ‘Sharia Law of Islam. ‘A section of conservative Muslims and first generation immigrants in the Western countries may show their preference for Islam’s Sharia Law in any survey – but the ‘Sharia law’ that they have in mind is nostalgic of the classical period of Islamic civilization, which boasted of a highly structured, just and pluralistic system of governance under its ambit. That is like an old man dreaming to going back to the days of his youth. It can never be realized, given the abysmal decline in Islam’s juristic scholarship and the irrevocable march forward of human civilization in the track of history, and is therefore not to be afraid of or aspired for.
The Muslims of the world – particularly the Arab world must clearly understand the black and white distinction between the ‘Sharia of Islam’ and the ‘Sharia Law of Islam’ or else they will never be able to form a cohesive society in another one thousand years. The proof of the cataclysmic danger in this unholy mix up lies in the victory of Muslim Brotherhood leaning candidate, Mohammed Morsi in Egypt’s 2012 elections. The Egyptian masses conflated the Islamic Law that Morsi’s Freedom and Justice Party promised with a progressive, enlightened and liberating form of government that could parallel the Western democracy but would be free of its pitfalls. This was their notion of the Sharia of Islam. But what Morsi gave them was close to the Classical Sharia Law that was a far cry from the Sharia they voted for. The result is known to the world.
So the Muslims of the world – especially its leaders and educated elite must clearly understand the black and white distinction between ‘Sharia of Islam’ and the ‘Sharia Law of Islam’ (‘Islamic Law’) as this paper attempts to expound in very simple but compelling terms - otherwise they will live in perpetual confusion and chaos and allow a handful of proponents of Sharia Law to form mini-Caliphates, terrorize the whole world and create mayhems in their own lands.
To conclude this exposition, the author will remind the Islamists and the proponents of the Sharia Law of Islam - who project it as the Sharia of Islam, of the axiom that “one cannot fool all the people all the time” and therefore there is no way that they can fool God Almighty indefinitely by attributing to Him or to His Prophet all the vilest rulings of the ‘Sharia Law of Islam.’ Therefore, they must use reason unless they want to appropriate the following pronouncement of the Qur’an for themselves:
“Indeed the worst of creatures in God’s sight are the deaf and dumb, who do not use reason (8:22).
This article follows up on this author’s exhaustive technical article on the subject referenced below posted at New Age Islam more than five years ago.
Muhammad Yunus, a Chemical Engineering graduate from Indian Institute of Technology, and a retired corporate executive has been engaged in an in-depth study of the Qur’an since early 90’s, focusing on its core message. He has co-authored the referred exegetic work, which received the approval of al-Azhar al-Sharif, Cairo in 2002, and following restructuring and refinement was endorsed and authenticated by Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl of UCLA, and published by Amana Publications, Maryland, USA, 2009.
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