By Anis Chowdhury
May 06 2014
Recently the kingdom of Brunei Darussalam announced it would adopt sharia. It is the first country in Southeast Asia to do so.
The Islamic criminal law is set to include punishments such as flogging, dismemberment and death by stoning for crimes such as rape, adultery and sodomy.
As expected this drew widespread condemnation from international human rights groups. It should also draw condemnation from Muslims around the world.
Unfortunately, due to the silent majority, a vocal minority with an archaic interpretation of the Koran has hijacked Islam.
To these self-claimed puritans, Sharia is confined to a mere public display of harsh punishments.
Thus, Sharia became attractive for the despots as an effective shield against their misrule and misdeeds. In fact, it is these despots, especially the Saudi kings who are funding the puritan Wahhabi movement.
They can easily deceive innocent and unsuspecting commoners with public beheadings, amputations, stoning and flogging, while they themselves lead a life that can hardly be described as Islamic.
Their extravagance and trampling of citizens’ rights would put the Prophet and his early companions who ruled after him to great shame.
They all lived a very austere life, were easily accessible, ensured the basic social and economic rights of the people and established justice.
As renowned contemporary Muslim philosopher Muhammad Asad (Leopold Weiss) pointed out, “The great mistake [of the Wahabis] is that most of these leaders start with the […] criminal punishment.
“This is the end result of the Sharia, not the beginning. The beginning is the rights of the people. There is no punishment in Islam that has no corresponding right.”
For example, the amputation of the hand for theft can be implemented only after the state fulfils its part of the social contract by providing economic and social security to all citizens.
This was the precise reason why amputation of hands was suspended by the second Caliph of Islam, Omar, during the time of famine.
In fact, it would be germane to provide some highlights of Caliph Omar’s rule. This should expose the hypocrisy of the despots and puritan Wahabis’ erroneous interpretation of Islam.
Omar was known for his austere lifestyle. Rather than adopt the pomp and display affected by the rulers of the time, he continued to live much as he had when Muslims were poor and persecuted.
Besides his small monthly allowance, Omar would not spend a penny of public funds on himself or his family.
Once his wife asked the envoy to Byzantium to take for the Emperor’s wife her gift of a phial of scent. In return the Empress sent with him a necklace of pearls.
Omar came to know of this and gave the necklace to the public treasury, telling his wife “the scent was yours, but the envoy travelled on public expenses”.
Omar’s general instructions to his officers were: “Remember, I have not appointed you as commanders and tyrants over the people. I have sent you as leaders instead, so that the people may follow your example. […] Do not keep your doors shut in their faces, lest the more powerful of them eat up the weaker ones. And do not behave as if you were superior to them, for that is tyranny over them.”
Omar established a special department for the investigation of complaints against the state officers. This department acted as administrative court, in which the legal proceedings were personally led by Omar.
Omar personally looked into the smallest affairs of the people. At night, he went around the city to find out for himself how people lived and felt.
He would carry supplies on his shoulders and deliver them to the homes of the poor.
All citizens, including the Caliph himself, were equal before the law. Once Omar appeared before the court of Medina.
The judge stood up to show respect to the Caliph as he entered the court.
The amputation of the hand for theft can be implemented only after the state provides economic and social security.
“This is the first injustice you have done to the plaintiff,” said Omar, addressing the judge.
Even the humblest of men could approach Omar on the street. He could ask the Caliph why he had done a particular thing. A poor woman could speak back to him.
She could point out to him any of his mistakes. With all his power and piety, Omar never considered himself infallible.
He welcomed the opinions of those that differed to his. In fact he used to say, “Allah’s mercy be on those who bring me the knowledge of my shortcomings.”
Omar took turns with the attendant in riding the camel when he went to Jerusalem. It happened to be the servant’s turn to ride on the day when they were to reach the city.
“Commander of the faithful,” said the attendant, “I give up my turn. It will look awkward, in the eyes of the people, if I ride and you lead the camel.”
“Oh no,” replied Omar, “I am not going to be unjust. The honor of Islam is enough for us all.”
Can any of the present day rulers in the Muslim world introducing sharia claim to come close to Omar’s implementation of the Islamic way of life and governance?
Can they claim to have ensured people’s basic social and economic rights, a prerequisite for sharia?
Do the puritan Wahabis, bent on killing infidels and destroying their places of worship want to forget the peace treaty that Omar signed with the inhabitants of Jerusalem?
The treaty said: “The inhabitants of Jerusalem are granted security of life and property.
“Their churches and crosses shall be secure. This treaty applies to all people of the city. Their places of worship shall remain intact. These shall neither be taken over nor pulled down. People shall be quite free to follow their religion. They shall not be put to any trouble.”
When he visited the biggest Christian church of the city, it was time for the afternoon prayer.
“You may say your prayers in the church,” said the Bishop.
“No,” replied Omar, “if I do so, the Muslims may one day make this an excuse for taking over the church from you.”
So he said his prayers on the steps of the church. Even then, he gave the Bishop a writing that the steps were never to be used for congregational prayers nor was the adhan [call to prayer] to be said there.
Unfortunately, Muslims attracted by the Wahabi movement are unable to articulate themselves.
Seeing injustices, corruption and repression in the Muslim world, they are in fact demanding the kind of transparency, accountability and social justice that prevailed during the early Islamic rules, in particular of Caliph Omar; not the deceptive misuse of Sharia.
Anis Chowdhury is a former professor of economics at University of Western Sydney, Australia.
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