By Ahmed Vanya
June 9th, 2014
Sharia and Islamic laws have received a great deal of scrutiny since the events of 9/11. The negative news about Sharia, where Muslims act violently and base their behaviour on Islamic laws, seem to be never ending and coming from all over the world. The latest round of bad news is coming out from the countries of Nigeria and Sudan.
For a number of years, the militant group Boko Haram in Nigeria has been causing all kinds of trouble: fighting against the government, burning churches, schools, and killing and abducting people. Their stated goal is to build a pure and pristine Islamic state, without any influence or interference from Western values. They recently kidnapped over 200 girls and are planning to sell them as sex slaves or concubines. News of the kidnapping has garnered a great deal of media coverage.
Leaders of Boko Haram are validating their violent actions by saying they are mandated by Islamic law or Sharia, but Muslim leaders and organizations around the world have condemned their actions, denying that the actions of the group have anything to do with Islam or Sharia and its values.
While it is perfectly understandable that Muslims in general do not want to have anything to do with the many violent actions perpetrated by Boko Haram, the important question that needs to be asked is: Does Islamic law or Sharia condones or accepts slavery and concubinage in principle?
Although, there are many different versions of Islamic laws, and many different interpretations of Islam using the principles of Sharia, all forms of Islamic laws accept slavery and concubinage--from the dawn of Islam in the 7th century, till the present day and age.
Under the literal interpretations of the jurisprudential rules of Sharia, accepted by most mainstream Muslim scholars and jurists, there is no way of banning the heinous and repugnant institutions of slavery and concubinage in principle, except letting it slide in practice, especially when Islamic supremacists are not in power.
The reason for this is because the rules and conditions for turning free men and women into slaves, the way to treat and maintain them, and when to release them, are all mentioned, regulated and allowed in numerous places in the Quran and the Hadith(recorded sayings and conducts of prophet of Islam). The Quran and Hadith are the two basic, foundational scriptures of Islam, from where the Sharia laws and principles have been deduced by the Islamic scholars over many centuries.
The Prophet Mohammad and his companions did indeed practice slavery and concubinage, but they were men of that time. Muslims should seriously ponder the following questions: Do we really need to blindly imitate everything they did in the 7th century Arabia to be just and ethical? Would the Prophet Mohammad, as a true prophet of God, practice slavery and concubinage, if he were to appear in the present age?
Another case, that is related to Islamic law and that has gained a lot of negative media attention, is the case of a Sudanese woman who has been convicted by a court in Sudan on the charge of apostasy under Sharia law.
Setting aside the intricacies of the case at hand, the important question to ask is: In general, is it a crime for a person to change one’s belief or religion, i.e. apostatize, under the laws of Islam?
Many Muslim leaders and organizations, especially in the West, are pointing out to several verses in the Quran, chief among which is the verse Q 2:256, which states: “There is no compulsion in religion,” which apparently supports freedom of belief and religion.
But Sheik Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, who is accepted and revered by many mainstream Muslims as a top Islamic scholar in the world, has stated that apostasy is a grave threat to the whole Muslim community and that it is the duty of all Muslims to fight against it in all forms.
Also he has stated: "The Muslim jurists are unanimous that apostates must be punished, yet they differ as to determining the kind of punishment to be inflicted upon them. The majority of them, including the four main schools of jurisprudence (Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi`i, and Hanbali) as well as the other four schools of jurisprudence (the four Shiite schools of Az-Zaidiyyah, Al-Ithna-`Ashriyyah, Al-Ja`Fariyyah, and Az-Zaheriyyah) agree that apostates must be executed."
This is not only Sheik Qaradawi’s personal opinion, but also the opinions and judgment of numerous authoritative classical scholars of Islam throughout the ages. Not only is that, in many Islamic countries, apostasy a criminal offense prescribed under the law.
How come all of these jurists and scholars seem to be unaware of the Quranic verses giving freedom of religion? Whom are we to believe?
These two cases are only the tip of the iceberg. For Muslims, who have the stomachs, the hearts of compassion, and the sense of equity and justice, there are many websites documenting the violent misdeeds of fellow Muslims perpetrating atrocities against both Muslims and non-Muslims, in the name of Islam, using blasphemy laws and apostasy laws, plus unequal and unfair treatments of women, religious minorities, dissidents and non-conformists.
It is easy to ignore and turn a blind eye to such bad news for some narcissistic Muslims, who want to hear only praise and acclaim, and accuse those who are reporting Muslim misdeeds as purveyors of hate and Islamophobia.
But if Muslims really believe in Islam and have full confidence in their religion, they must be willing to meet all the challenges truthfully and honestly, and own up to their problems.
All of these cases of apostasy, blasphemy and slavery very well illustrate the deep problems with the Islamic laws as they developed, solidified and achieved consensus, primarily during the medieval age. It is now high time that each and every Muslim stand up and speak up to reform Sharia laws, else it is likely that many Muslims in the future generations are going to get disillusioned and apostatize en masse, as it happened before in one place history.
During the 1930s, in British India, Muslim women apostatized wholesale in order to escape the strict version of Islamic divorce law they were under (Muslim women needed to wait 90 years to get a divorce under Hanafi law, even if abandoned by their husbands), and one eminent Muslim scholar had to devise a legal stratagem to provide a loophole to stem the tide.
It is reasonable to assume that many Islamic scholars know the dysfunctional nature of the Islamic laws, but they are afraid of not only losing their livelihoods but also their lives, by stepping in front of the masses. Also, in many cases, they do not have the appropriate knowledge and learning to carry out the reforms on their own, especially without a strong ecclesiastical support structure.
There are many versions of the Islamic laws, but all of them, as they stand now, unfairly discriminate against non-Muslims, against every woman and allow the practice of human bondage under prescribed conditions.
Despite all of this, it is not true that all the Islamic laws are so bad that they need to either fixed or abandoned entirely. The majority of Sharia laws have to do with religious rites and rituals. Hence, it is vital to separate religious laws and authority from state control and regulations. Muslims should be free to practice the aspects of Sharia which are purely religious and ethical in nature. We should not throw the baby with the bathwater, but if we wait too long, the water would become too cold and kill the baby, and there would be no other choice but to get rid of both together.
Islam does not have a centralized authoritative church structure; the religious authority is weak and diffused. Therefore, it is vital for the ordinary Muslims to rise up and ask their leaders to renew and revitalize Islamic laws by abandoning the strict literal approach, and by using the God-given faculty of reasoning and learning from history and nature.
While is true that only an expert chef can cook an excellent meal and that only a skillful architect can build a beautiful building, one does not have to be an expert to taste a lousy meal and see an ugly building. Every Muslim can see that the present condition of sharianeeds reform and it needs reform badly due to centuries of stagnation.
Instead of wallowing in self-pity and victimhood, organizing a series of Islamophobia conferences one after another, Muslims should be promoting and organizing deep-rooted internal reforms by holding conferences, discussions, seminars and open-debates.
Instead of superficial, cosmetic, skin-deep beatification to impress the uninformed non-Muslims, Muslims should be concentrating on deep structural reforms to bring out the true beauty of Islam by self-examination and self-criticism.
There are many bright and learned Muslims all around; they just need the space, the security and the freedom to come up with good ideas for reforming the Islamic laws. Any society that does not protect its dissidents and mavericks is not going to come up with new ideas for renewal and reform. Instead will stagnate badly and languish unhappily.
Honesty is the best policy; there is no dignity in deception. No use in holding up the head when one is a badly suffering from diarrhea from behind; everyone will see it sooner or later.
Muslims are over 1.5 billion strong today, but will it remain strong always, espousing, literal and unfair ethical norms, in the ever interconnected world, where nothing remains secret or hidden for very long?
In Muslim societies, there is always the threat of blasphemy and the religious reformers have to fear for their lives before they can open their mouths. In the West, especially in the U.S., where the First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech and expression, that is where the best chance is for the ordinary American Muslims to successfully carry out a program to enhance, renew and reform Islamic laws.
Unfortunately, most leading Muslim American organizations are using the religious freedom provided by the First Amendment as a shield to protect Sharia wholesale and thereby putting all Muslims and all aspects of Sharia--the good and the bad-- at terrible risk and jeopardy.
The objective of Sharia, the project of finding God’s way, was never a finished project in history. The prophet of Islam died without ever holding a copy of the Quran, Hadith or any Sharia law book in his hand. It is the duty of each and every Muslim to renew their faith in every age, so that, it is relevant to every situation and hopefully approximates to the true Will of the Creator on a continuous basis.
In the following video of Muslim Brotherhood spiritual leader Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Qaradawi says that if not for the Islamic law that one who leaves Islam is to be killed, there would be no Muslims left in the world:
Ahmed Vanya is an electronics engineer based in San Jose, CA and a fellow at the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD).