Shari'a Law is completely misunderstood in the west because of propaganda and misuse by muslims around the world. This speech was given on
Sharia relationship between Religion and Politics
Here is a brief intro:
Recently Pakistan has been the seat of this hot, sometime violent controversy about the Shariah. It is understood generally that if the majority of a country constitute of Muslims, then the Muslims have a right‑ rather, an obligation ‑ to enact Shariah law. It is argued that if they believe in the Holy Quran and if they believe also that the Holy Quran is a comprehensive Book which relates to every area of human activity and directs man as to how he should conduct himself in every sphere of life, then it is hypocrisy to remain contented with those claims. They should follow the logical conclusion and enact Shariah law and make it the only law valid for the country.
Now, this is what is being said on the one side. On the other side, many difficulties are pointed out ‑ such as proposed legislative problems ‑ very serious constitutional problems as well as very serious problems in almost all sphere of the enactment of Shariah. So, let me first briefly tell you, why Shariah law cannot be exercised or imposed on a people, who practically, as far their normal way of life is concerned, are the not ideal Muslims, much to the contrary. In those areas where they are free to practice Islam, they fall so much short that one wonders when they willingly cannot exercise Islam, how could they be expected to do it by coercion and by force of law. This and many others are the areas where debate is being carried on and pursued hotly, but I'll now, very briefly enumerate the points to make you understand all the sides of this issue.
Personally, I have also been participating in this debate which was going on in Pakistan and many a scholar who came to London or who wrote to me for guidance, were helped by me. Though I did not entirely dictate notes to them but to a great degree they were helped by me to understand the problem in larger perspective. Thus many an article that have been published in Pakistan did have my opinion also expressed in them.
Shariah is the law and there is no doubt about it; the law of Islam; the law for Muslims. But the question is how far can this law be transformed into legislation for running a political government. On top of that many other issues get involved in it. For instance, if a Muslim country has a right to dictate its law to all its population, then, by the same reasoning and the same logic, every other country with majority of population belonging to other religions would have exactly the same right to enact their laws.
The entire world would become a world of not only political conflict but also of a politico‑religious conflict, whereby all the laws would be attributed to God, yet they would contradict each other diametrically. There would be such a confusion that people would begin to lose faith in a God Who speaks one thing to one people and another thing to another people, and Who tells them to enforce this law on the people or 'they will be untrue to Me'.
As such, you can well imagine what would happen in India for instance, if the law of the Hindu Majority is imposed on the Muslim minority. As a matter of fact a large section of the Indian society is gradually being pushed towards this extremist demand ‑ by way of reaction, I suppose to what is happening in some Islamic countries. What would happen to the Muslims and other minorities of India? Moreover this is not a question of India alone. What if Israel enacts the law of Judaism ‑the law of Talmud ‑ I have read it and I know it will be impossible for any other non‑Jew to live there, normally and decently.
In the same manner Christianity has its own rights and so has Buddhism.
PARTICIPATION IN LEGISLATION
The next consideration is the very concept of the state: This is the most fundamental issue which has to be resolved and addressed by those who are concerned with politics or international law. The question is that anyone born in a state has a right to participate in its legislation.
In the secular concept of the running of governments and legislation, everyone, born in a given country, whatever be his religion or colour or creed acquires the basic fundamental civic rights. And the most important among these rights is the chance at least, to participate in the shaping of the legislation.
Of course, parties come and go; majority parties today may turn into minority parties tomorrow. Everybody's wish is not fulfilled or carried out. But in principle, everybody has a fair chance and an equal chance to make his say heard at least by the opposition, on matters of common principle. But what would happen if one Shariah or one religion is imposed as the law of that country? If Muslim law were imposed in a country, all the rest of the people who are inhabitants of the same land, would have to be considered as second, third or fourth rate citizens of the same country with No say whatsoever in the legislation. But that is not all the problem is further complicated within Islam itself: Because Islam has a Book revealed by God and the Muslim scholars claim that it is their right to interpret the Book.
Legislative body subordinate to Religious Scholars
On issues of differences of opinion, the legislative body stands subordinate to the scholastical opinion of such scholars who specialize in understanding the Holy Quran; or who CLAIM to specialize in understanding the Holy Quran. What would be their mutual relationship. A body is elected to legislate. They legislate and you hear from some scholars of Islam that 'what you have proposed as a law is against the fundamental principles of Islam. Islam has no room for such nonsense'.
Whose voice should be heard? On the one hand, it would apparently be God speaking behind those people; but only apparently. On the other side, there will be voice of the majority of the people of the country. So the dilemma becomes almost impossible to be resolved.
All religions split up into sects with time
But that Is not all: Every religion, at the source is one and single and unsplittable, but as you pass along in period of time, the religion begins to diverge and split within and multiply and become more and more in number, so that the same faith which, for instance, at the time of Jesus Christ (peace be on him) was one single Christianity, turned into many hundreds of Christianity. Looked from the vantage point of different sects, the one single source appears to be different in colour. Different‑coloured eye‑glasses are used by various followers of various sects. The same is true of Islam. It's not just a question of Sunni Islam and Shia Islam and how they interpret the Shariah.
Within Shia Islam there are 34 sects whose interpretation of Shariah differs with each other. Within again, Sunni Islam there are at least 34 sects whose interpretation of Shariah differs with each other. There are issues on which no two ulema of different sects agree. Not superficial issue; even the fundamental ones. You have only to read the Munir Inquiry Report. Justice Munir, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court was one of the two judges who were appointed to investigate into the background, reasons and the modus operandi of the anti‑Ahmadiyya riots in 1953. Who was responsible and who was not? How to define a Muslim?
During the course of the inquiry, justice Munir pointedly asked every Muslim scholar who appeared before him if he knew of a definition of Islam which could be acceptable by the other sects as well; which could equally apply to everyone and by the help of which we could define, 'Yes, this is Muslim', and 'That is not Muslim'. In the report justice Munir submits that no two scholars of all the Muslim scholars interrogated, agreed on a single definition of what Islam was.
In the case of one particular scholar, he wanted some more time to think over it, and justice Kayani, who was a partner with justice Munir, had a very peculiar sense of humour. His answer was: 'I cannot give you more time, because you have already taken more than thirteen hundred years to ponder over this question. Is that not enough?
If thirteen centuries, plus some years are not enough for you to be able to define the very fundamentals of Islam ‑ what is a definition? ‑ how much more time would you require?'
So this is a very grave issue. If the Shariah interpretation of one sect is imposed, then it will not just be the non‑Muslims who will be dispossessed of the fundamental right of participation in the country's legislation, but within Islam also there would be many sects who would be deprived of this right.
The Interpretation of which sect is to be imposed on Shariah Law?
Again there are so many other problems: For instance, according to some Shariah concept, the punishment for a crime is so much different from the concept of another sect, that Islam would be practised in the world so differently on the same issue, that it would create a horrible impression on the non‑Muslim world. What sort of faith that is which advises one punishment for the same crime here and another there. And in some other places it is just the very thing to do and it's no crime at all.
These and many such issues make the question of imposition of Shariah almost impossible.
Moreover, the fundamental rights of other sects are also tampered with, or trampled upon, in many possible situations. For instance on the question of drinking of alcohol. Alcohol is forbidden in Islam, alright; but, the very question of whether it is a punishable offence and whether the punishment, if any, is imposed by man in this world, is a fluid issue. It is a controversial issue and has not yet been agreed upon by all the people involved. What is the punishment of drinking? The Holy Quran does NOT mention any punishment. This is a fundamental law, the Book of law and it is inferred from some Tradition, by some scholars, that; that should be the punishment. But that inference is far‑fetched and the Traditions themselves are challenged by others not to be authentic.
So, will a large section of not only Muslim society, but also a large section of non‑Muslim society, be punished for such reasons as in themselves are doubtful. Whether it's valid or not, this is the issue. Yet there are extremists, everywhere and particularly those who go for Shariah to be imposed.
You will find many extremist who are totally intolerant of others opinion. Consequently, such grey areas also will be taken as No Doubt areas by the extremists. They will say, 'Yes, we know; it's our opinion. It's the opinion supported by a medieval scholar or our thinking. And that is law.