On Shariah Law

April 24, 2009 at 12:30 am (Islamism, Pakistan)

Shariah – ( شريعة ), sharee’ah, literally, “way” or “path” – is the law of Islam. While some people call it the religious law, it’s not confined to religious matters, or rather all matters are religious. It codifies issues such as inheritance, civil punishments, crimes, prayer, purification, and all the other observances and performances and laws and regulations. In Sunni Islam, there are four versions of shariah corresponding to the four schools of jurisprudence: Maliki ( مالكي ), Hanbali ( حنبلي ), Hanafi ( حنفي ), and Shafi’i ( شافعي ).

From the advent of Islam through the Ottoman Empire, shariah law, or versions thereof, ruled Muslim lands. With the modernization of Muslim lands, shariah law was replaced with civil law, or shariah law was tempered with civil law. This was the case with Pakistan.

The Pakistani constitution mentions the Qur’an and sunnah (example of Muhammad and prominent early Muslims, and usually refers also to the ahadeeth or sayings of Muhammad and prominent early Muslims) but does not mention shariah, thus trying to establish a system that derives inspiration from the Qur’an and sunnah but that isn’t shariah law.

But Islamists want to reverse this: they want to oust civil law for shariah law. They want a return to the “gold old days” when Muslims behaved like Muslims, and Muslim states supported Islam. Problem is that even before the Europeans left their mark, Muslim states had not been enforcing shariah law as strictly as today’s Islamists want to do so. Indeed, the norm was not to enforce shariah law, which is why Muhiyuddin Muhammad Aurangzeb Alamgir stood out among the Mughal emperors: he tried to enforce it. Others stood out for other reasons: Aurangzeb Alamgir stood out because his Islamism. If it were the norm, why would he stand out? Of course, the Islamists know this: which is why they laud Aurangzeb Alamgir but excoriate his great-grandfather Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar. (Aurangzeb Alamgir was the son of Shah Jehan, who was the son of Jehangir, who was the son of Akbar the Great.)

It seems the Islamists are winning. Problem is that like socialism, their nizam (plan, system) has never worked. All this will do is extend suffering.

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