By Aiman Reyaz, New Age Islam
27 January, 2014
The term ‘Sharia’, taken from a purely linguistic point of view means ‘a way’. In Islam, it means a way of life that God has chosen and prescribed for humans. This, when taken on a higher level, gives the nature of Islam, not just as a way of religion but also as a complete way of life: there is a Sharia in how to pray; there is Sharia in how to give Zakat; there is Sharia in how to fast; in how to behave- socially, politically, ethically; and also in the battlefield, there is a proper code of conduct.
The above mentioned things come under ‘God’s Sharia’ but man-made Sharia includes only the system of criminal court. In reality, criminal court is just one aspect of God’s Sharia. There is a misconception that Sharia means chopping of the hands and legs.
Many think that Sharia is an old way of life and hence it is obsolete. This raises a few questions: first, if anything is old then does it imply that it has to be obsolete? Secondly if anything is new, then does it mean that it has to be better? Take the case of water; it is old, very old. Is water obsolete? What about new things: air pollution, water pollution, noise pollution, these are all the products of our modern, industrialised age. Are they really good? The thing that should be kept in mind is that when we evaluate something we don’t just evaluate it by the criteria of time only. Things have to be evaluated on their own merits.
Another thing that people think about Sharia is that it needs to be modernised or changed. This reflects a grave misunderstanding about the internal aspects of Sharia. Sharia, to repeat, basically means a way of life. So when circumstances change, obviously the “way” has to change.
Human beings when they make laws, regardless of their knowledge, age, experience, expertise, cannot claim to be perfect. Every human has learned some kind of bias and this influences his or her decision. Humans are influenced every time they do something; like this article is also trying to influence the readers and, at the same time, the writer is being influenced by his consciousness of thoughts or, so to say, his ‘stream of consciousness’.1
Sharia posses an in-built mechanism to deal with the changing circumstances, whenever there is need for that. This would enter into the category of ‘fiqh’, which literally means ‘understanding’. It implies how a particular Sharia law can be better understood at a particular point of time.
The other major widely misunderstood aspect of Sharia is that it is incompatible with modern dignity and human rights. In fact, the opposite is true. Long before any Human Rights Commission or any United Nations’ Organization, the Quran honoured the entire human race, not just Muslims. It says:
“Indeed We have honoured the children of Adam...and We gave them greater advantages than many of Our creatures”. (17:70)
It was the Islamic Sharia which regulated the rights of people and their entitlement, as well their responsibility in all spheres of life. There are 5 primary objectives of Islamic Sharia: to safeguard faith, life, mind, honour and wealth. Everything that one can think of, pertaining to Human Rights, would fall under one of these 5 categories.
People only talk about rights, but the other side of rights is duties. Islamic Sharia has that quality which focuses on both aspects. If I am fulfilling my duties then I am also fulfilling someone else’s rights. Say, for example, I am fulfilling my duty as a son then I am also fulfilling my mother’s rights and vice versa also holds true. So there is this reciprocity.
But then we should ask here: what value is there for rights or duties if they lack enforcement, or if there is no protective mechanism to make sure that these rights are protected. This gives a unique quality about Islamic Sharia. It just does not give you a big list of “to do” things; in Islamic Sharia, with each of the above mentioned objectives, there is also an attached mechanism to make sure that these are fulfilled. And this is categorised into two groups: first, things that should be done and second, things that should not be done, i.e., the former has positive connotations and the latter has negative.
Let us take the first objective: safeguarding and protection of faith in the positive and negative sense. In the positive sense it means freedom of belief, which is clearly stated in the Quran- “there is no compulsion in religion”, “to you is your religion and to me is my religion”, “will you (O Muhammad) then compel people to believe”. It includes, by necessity, the right to practice one’s faith and to worship according to his or her belief. It, however, also includes the right to defence of one’s own faith.
It also means standing against blasphemy that belittles any religion. Forced conversion of Hindus or Christians (especially when they are in their death-bed) in Pakistan; destruction of temples, churches, shrines are totally against Islam; similarly forced conversion to Hinduism or Christianity or any other religion is against Shariah.
“If it were not for God’s supporting of some people against others, monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques—where the name of God is commemorated frequently— would have been destroyed. Absolutely, God supports those who support Him. God is Powerful, Almighty”. (22:40)
Uttering blasphemous sentences, be it of any religion, is against Sharia. The Danish Cartoons, movies like ‘Innocence of Muslims’, and even lectures by Zakir Naik and his likes, when he says “Agar Devi Ji Hongi Tabhi To Dawat Denge”, “Bible Me Pornography Hai” etc are emphatically against Sharia.2
1. David Mc Raney, You are Not so Smart
2. Zakir Naik Lectures: ‘Kya Quran Ko Samajh Kar Padhna Zaroori Hai?’ And ‘Media and Islam: War or Peace’