A lot has been said and written about Islamic law over the past few years, some out of intelligence, some out of ignorance. The fear of something “different” keeps some people from seeking the truth when it comes to things Islamic. This is particularly true when dealing with the concept of Shariah, the institution of Islamic law which is based upon the teachings of the Koran (Quran.) It is also important to note that some aspects of Shariah law (a redundant term) rely upon the teachings of Islam which follow from the understanding Muslims have of the Koran. Like the Bible, it is open to some interpretation according to the lens through which the subject is studied.
It would be naive to say that Shariah is just another set of institutional laws. It is more than that. Muslims live by a code which says that there is no separation between one’s faith and one’s secular life. According to Islam, one is always conscious of the issues of faith and can never ignore them in order to make a purely secular decision. Thus, in one sense Shariah is simplistic; but in another sense it is complex.
Pure Islamic tradition is peace-loving and respectful. It almost goes overboard in its rules about treating others with honor. However, Islam holds the respect for Allah (God) in the highest regard and Muslims recoil at anything which they believe defames Allah. Some would say that there is an over-sensitivity on the part of Muslims in this regard, but that is a values judgment on the part of those of us from a society which has embraced the idea that God is capable of accepting jest or criticism, even when it is aimed at God. That concept would be anathema to a follower of Islam.
And there are social issues in Islam which are reflected in Shariah, particularly when it comes to the role of women. Islam holds women as being special, needing the protection of men. Therefore, they are given roles which western eyes see as demeaning and abusive. And punishment for “civil” crime is often defined in ancient, third century ways which are seen by westerners as horrific and inappropriate.
When a nation (such as Egypt) determines that its federal laws are going to be consistent with Shariah it sends shudders of fear through the non-Islamic citizens and those outside Egypt who have concern about the future of the nation. Notice from those in charge that all in the nation will be respected and honored is received with wariness and doubt. It seems difficult to place the idea of Shariah next to democracy and find a reasonable alliance. Among followers of Islam it makes perfect sense. To those outside Islam it seems like an inconsistency.
The role of women in the international community has changed dramatically over the past decades. It is a common understanding that to adhere to Shariah would set back the emerging role of women irreparably. The anxiety about the mix is understandable and worthy of concern.
Photo Credit: Islamic bulletin