Why Islamic Law should be opposed?
Islamic Sharia law should be opposed by everyone who believes in universal human rights, women’s civil rights and individual freedom, freedom of expression, freedom of religion and belief and freedom from religion. Islamic law developed in the first few centuries of Islam and incorporated Middle Eastern pre – Islamic misogynist and tribal customs and traditions. Shari’a developed not only from the Koran and the Sunna but also through juristic reasoning and interpretation and hence different sects. We may ask how a law whose elements were first laid down over a 1000 years ago can be relevant in the 21st century. The Sharia only reflects the social and economic conditions of the time of Abbasid and has grown out of touch with all the human’s social, economic, cultural and moral developments. The principles of the Sharia are inimical to human’s moral progress and civilised values.
Islam is an all-encompassing religion that controls and has opinion on everything from the dowry to the periods of women, from the amputation of limbs of thief to the stoning of adulterers, from food to the creation of the World. No detail of daily life escapes its attention. It interferes in anything and everything. The Islamic law tries to legalise for every single aspect of an individual’s life, the individual is not at liberty to think or decide for himself, he has but to accept Allah’s ruling as interpreted infallibly by the doctors of law.
Islamic law forcefully opposes free thought, freedom of expression and freedom of action. Accusations of impurity, of apostasy is waiting to silence any voice of dissent. Suppression and injustice shapes the lives of all free minded people above all atheists, who are deprive of all freedom. One is borne Muslim, and one is forced to stay Muslim to the end of their life. Islamic law denies the rights of women and non- – Muslim religious minorities. Non -believers are shown no tolerance: death or conversion. Jews and Christians are treated as second – class citizens.
In countries which have proclaimed an Islamic state, such as Iran, the Sudan, Pakistan, some states in Northern Nigeria, and Afghanistan under the Taliban, we can already see the pernicious effects of the Sharia: the stoning to death of women exercising their right to personal freedom; random accusations of blasphemy – carrying a mandatory death penalty – being used to settle personal grudges, public hangings for apostasy, real or alleged, and many other cruelties.
A fundamental aspect of Islam is that the will of god should be followed. Thus it is god and not the people that decide how things are to be. In an open and free society, people lay the boundaries of powers of organs of state, that is, the people dictate the powers that state is to have over them and the people through their elected organs and representatives decide the laws. The situation is quite different under Islamic states or where Islamic law acts as an important part of the legal system. Examples are Saudi Arabia where the Koran has been declared to be the constitution and no laws contrary to it can be passed. Other examples are Iran, the Sudan, Afghanistan under the Taliban, and many other Middle Eastern countries where Islamic law has a considerable influence on the legal system. This is clearly not acceptable and is denying the people the right to determine the governance of their countries.
The Sharia & Human Rights
Human rights and the Sharia are definitely and irremediably irreconcilable and antagonistic. Oppression, massacres, intimidation, lack of freedom, ferocious censorship are the undeniable facts of all countries designated Islamic. Human rights are desirable to ensure a certain standard of living for people across the globe. It is often alleged that Human rights constitutes a means of enforcing western ideals on others who might not believe in them. It is not acceptable to let governments and authorities away with many of the abuses by using cultural relativism as an excuse. We cannot let cultural relativism becomes the last refuge of repression. To accept religion as a justification for human rights abuses is to discriminate against the abused and to send the message that they are un-deserving of human rights protection.
Perhaps the most unsavoury aspect of Islamic law from human rights perspective is the punishments doled out. Islamic law regulates individual morality, being opposed with sexual morality. From flogging to stoning to death of individuals. Sexuality and sexual behaviour is a realm that Islam has strict rule on. Adultery is strictly forbidden and harshly punished. The punishment is execution, death by stoning or flogging. Homosexuality is also forbidden and punishable by Islamic law. To add to the inhumane nature of executions, in majority of countries under Islamic states, these executions are carried out in front of crowds of people.
The Sharia & Women’s Rights
In the Koran and according to the Sharia, women are considered inferior to men, and they have less rights and responsibilities. As regards testimony in the court of law and inheritance, a woman is counted as half a man, equally in regard to marriage and divorce, her position is less advantageous that that of the man, her husband has the legal, moral and religious duty to beat her. She does not have the right to choose her husband, her clothing, her place of residence, and to travel. A very young legal age of marriage ranging from 9 in Iran to 13, 15 and 17 (in Tunisia) is also another aspect of Sharia. This is according to the way Muhammad the prophet of Islam married Aisha a 9 – year old girl when he was 43. The four orthodox law schools plus shi’i mainly differed on points important to women. In all schools marriage is a contract according to which husband should perform sexually and provide materially for the wife. The wife must have sex whenever husband wishes. A man can easily divorce a woman by pronouncing it three times. Polygamy up to four wives was permitted, in shi’i sect, temporary marriage is allowed where man can have access to unlimited number of women. The practice is known as Mot’a or Sigheh. According to Islamic law men were permitted concubines and female slaves. Islamic law and the Koran permit men to beat their wives if they disobey.
Another discriminatory rule is that in many Muslim inhabited countries a woman is not allowed to marry a non-Muslim whereas men are allowed to marry non-Muslims. With the object of protecting morality and preventing sexual anarchy women are expected to cover their whole bodies bar their faces and their hands up to their wrists. Islamic law is totally against dress freedom. This is obviously a huge infringement on the personal development of women, not allowing them to develop sexually and as people. It is inhumane to imprison women behind veils when it is men, who according to Islam and Islamic law cannot be trusted to control themselves.
Once again, in order to protect morality it is dictated that women cannot be in contact with men to whom they are not related without the presence of some male relative. The segregation of sexes in this way makes it very difficult for women to leave their houses and participate in society in any way at all. Islamic law in this way completely prevents women from taking part in society and keeps them locked up, isolated and unable to reach their potential. Women deserve to be treated as human beings and for this reason alone Islamic rule and Islamic law which are completely misogynist must be opposed.
The Sharia & Discrimination against non- Muslims
In addition to the imposition of Islamic morality on non-Muslims, Sharia law dictates that there should not be equality between Muslims and non-Muslims. Under strict Sharia law only Muslims can be full citizens of a Muslim state. Many of Islamic states shamelessly discriminate against non-Muslims. In Saudi Arabia and in Kuwait being Muslim is a precondition of naturalisation. A person who believes in a scriptural religion, such as Christianity or Judaism will have limited rights in an Islamic state; they cannot participate in public life or hold positions of authority over Muslims. Anyone else is deemed to be an unbeliever and is not permitted to reside permanently in an Islamic state. In addition, the Koran only recognises People of the Book as religious communities. Others are pagans. Pagans must be eliminated.
In many Islamic states, non-Muslims men are not allowed to marry Muslim women and in criminal prosecutions non-Muslims are given harsher punishments than Muslims. Crimes against Muslims are often punished more severely than crimes against others. In many countries the testimony of a non-Muslim in court s not equal to that of a Muslim.
Freedom of religion does not just mean freedom to hold a faith but also the freedom to change one’s religion or belief. Apostasy is when a Muslim advocates the rejection of Islamic beliefs or announces his own rejection of Islam by word or by act. That is when a Muslim abandons his or her faith. Apostates face the most ferocious violence, often are punished to death. This discrimination is clearly contrary to freedom of belief and religion and the principle that religion should be a private affair of individual. The use of any and especially such violent coercion in matters of faith is completely unacceptable.
Believing in religion should be voluntary and as a private matter, otherwise people who practice a religion are not doing so of their own convictions but rather because of the sanctions that will be imposed on them if they don’t. When the law gets involved, religion is no longer between the individual and what or whom they believe, as it should be.
The Sharia & Freedom of Expression
Under the Sharia and where Islam oppresses, writers, thinkers, philosophers, activists, artists are all deprived of their freedom of expression. Islamic regimes are notorious for suppressing freedom of expression. Often, as the government aligns itself so closely with Islam any critics of the government are accused and charged with vague charges of heresy and insulting Islam. Under Islamic law people are deprived of drinking, playing music, reading literature on philosophy, sexuality, and arts.
For the human rights abuses sanctioned by, the discrimination institutionalised in, the autonomy deprived by, the lifestyle choices deprived by and the human dignity eroded by Islamic Law, this barbaric inhumane law should be opposed.
In the west, even in countries which have a sizeable Muslim minority, any idea that the Sharia could have any sway should be strongly opposed since it conflicts with many basic human values, such as equality before the law, that punishments should be commensurate with the crime, and that law must be based on the will of the people.
Islamophobia & Racism
The problem for us in the west is how to oppose these violations of human rights without being accused of neo-colonialism and racism, and of failing to respect different cultures. There is a key – point here, that human rights are vested in the individual, not the group. As soon as rights are accorded to any group rather than to individuals it creates the possibility for conflict that only between the group and those outside it, but between the group and its own members. Any group, which denies the right of its members to leave, is in contravention of one of the most fundamental principles of human rights. It is clearly one of the reasons for the growth of Islam over the past century that becoming a Muslim is a one way street. Whether by birth or conversion (historically likely to have been a forced conversion and an imposed phenomenon) once you are a Muslim the only way out – under the Sharia – is death.
Apologists for Islam often claim that this sort of argument is based on a misunderstanding of Islam, the religion of peace. Apologists will quote this sura rather than that to prove their point. But like the Christian Bible, of course, the Koran has arguments to support every possible point of view. The only answer to this is to show by actual examples the reality of what is happening in countries that have fallen under the sway of the Sharia. It is also frequently claimed that critics of Islam are guilty of a) racism, and b) Islamophobia. Since we are discussing religion and not race, the first argument fails. Certainly in the west there is a high degree of correlation between race and religion. The Muslims in Britain, for example, tend to be of Middle Eastern origin. Nevertheless, it is perfectly feasible to love the believer but hate the belief. Human beings are worthy of respect but not all beliefs must be respected. Attempts to make Islamophobia a crime are thinly disguised attempt to equate anti-Islamic arguments with racism. It is essential to distinguish criticism of Islam both from fear of Islam and from fear, hatred or contempt for Muslims. But often, moral criticism of Islamic practices or criticising the Islamic religion is dismissed as Islamophobic.
When Islam really does promote violence by advocating jihad to achieve world domination, when it really does say that men should beat women and that the testimony of a woman in court is worth half that of a man and that followers of Islam should not befriend Jews or Christians, then why not having fear to it? Why not criticising it?
The world is a battleground of social movements and ideas. It took people in the west over 400 years of often-bloody struggle to gain the right to criticise Christianity. Even now, that right is still not fully recognised. In Britain, for example, there is still a law against blasphemy, and many Islamic clerics have argued that it should be extended to cover Islam as well. It should be scrapped. But once we are prevented from expressing our point of view in the market place of ideas: then we are on the slippery slope back to the dark ages.
Of all the existing ideologies and religions, Islam remains the greatest danger for humanity, as it has not been caged by progressive forces and because of the terrorising power of political Islam and the close ties of states and the establishment Islam.
We must recognise that our society is far larger, diverse and complex than the small primitive tribal society in Arabia, 1400 years ago, from which Islam emerged. It is time to abandon the idea that anyone in the region should live under Sharia. More than ever before, people need a secular state that respects freedom from and of religion, and human rights founded on the principle that power belongs to the people. This means rejecting the claims by orthodox Islamic scholars that, in an Islamic state, sovereignty belongs to the representative of Allah or Islamic justice. It is crucial to oppose the Islamic Sharia law and to subordinate Islam to secularism and secular states.
Adapted from a speech given by Azam Kamguian at a discussion panel & debate on 10 October 2002, organised by University Philosophical Society of Trinity College, Dublin – Ireland.
Azam Kamguian is the editor of the Bulletin of the Committee to Defend Women’s Rights in the Middle East. This article was first published on the CDWRME site and is republished here by permission.