Several years back, Afghanistan was a modern state just like many countries. At that time, Faith was a private matter, Burkas were optional, women and men could travel together in Afghanistan. Their neighbor, Iran, was not far behind! Iran was at par with the western world. Their Women could step out without a veil.
Even meet men at public places. But, the Iran and Afghanistan of today are a lot different than those days. Hijab is mandatory, western clothing is frowned upon, clerics dictate societal norms, religious police patrols the streets, civil rights are all but non-existent. What really happened in these countries? They came under the Sharia law!
This article will describe arguably the most controversial concept in the world, the concept of Sharia!
The topic of “Sharia Law” came back in the news after the Taliban took over Kabul, Afghanistan. Taliban rulers are planning to rule Afghanistan under the Sharia law. (Actually, under the Taliban’s own version of the Sharia law)
What is the Sharia?
Simply, The term Sharia refers to a body of Islamic religious law that governs Muslims’ daily lives as well as religious rituals.
But, to many people around the world, this word conjures horrors!! When they hear about Sharia, they think of hands being cut off, adulterers being beaten and women being oppressed. In fact, no religious law has ever had worse press as the Sharia has in recent times. This is mostly because of the misrepresentation, manipulation and misuse of the Sharia.
If someone looks into this thoroughly it can be seen that misrepresentation, manipulation and misuse of Sharia is done mostly by Islamic regimes, politicians, clerics, radicals and terrorists to rule and stay in power in the name of god. So coming back to the question,
Origin of the Sharia Law
There is no clear definition for Sharia Law. Humans have different capabilities in understanding things. Similarly understanding and application of the Sharia are done in different ways by different followers. But, if we put the broad concepts together, we can get a simple definition.
“The sharia is Islam’s legal and spiritual system, both divine and philosophical.”
It’s divine because it is said to be God’s will for humankind. It is Philosophical because it is based on the human understanding of what that “Divine will” is.
“Sharia” is an Arabic word with the meaning of “The clear well-trodden path to water”.
The human interpretation of Sharia is called the “Fiqh”. Its Arabic meaning is “Understanding”. Now, these terms are used interchangeably. But, they’re not the same.
Sharia is considered divine, permanent and infallible. But its understanding, “Fiqh”, is human. It’s a set of rules put together by Muslim scholars over the centuries.
These rules that came up with ”Fiqh” have been drafted and applied to suit those in power.
Where do the rules come from?
The people who made these rules used main three sources of Islam to define Muslims’ way of life. They’ve used their understanding of the following three sources in making those laws.
- The Quran
- The Sunnah
- The Hadith
There’s a range of other sources to guide the Muslims to live the way God wants. But, there is no single law book, definite statute or set judicial proceeding to determine what the Sharia is!
It’s basically a vast collection of different, often conflicting interpretations. With time, these interpretations gave birth to five Schools of thought. These are called “Five legal schools of Sharia”.
First four schools of thoughts are belong to Sunni Islam.
The fifth school of thought is a Shia version of Sharia.
- The Hanbali school of thought is the smallest and strictest of them all. Its primary source is the Quran. Hanbali is practiced mainly in Saudi Arabia and Qatar. It also has significant followers in Syria, Bahrain, UAE, Oman and Yemen.
- The Maliki school of thought relies mostly on independent understanding of the Quran. It is predominantly found in African nations. African nations like Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Guinea, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Sudan and Chad practice this school of thought. In addition to these countries Kuwait, a western Asian country, is also practicing Maliki school of Sharia.
- The Shafi’i school of thought relies on consensus over understanding of the Quran. It’s followed in East African countries and South-east asian countries like Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, lower Egypt, Djibouti, the Maldives, Indonesia and small communities in Malaysia.
- The Hanafi school of thought is considered the earliest and the most flexible version of the Sharia. This school of thought relies both on consensus and independent reasoning. The Hanafi school has the largest number of followers, approximately one third of muslims worldwide. Mulims who practice the Hanafi school of thought live in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh.
- The Ja’fari school of thought is followed only by Shia muslims. It is enshrined in the constitution of Iran. It also has a lot of followers in Iraq and small pockets of followers all over the world.
As described above there are five different versions of the Sharia. How are they different? Actually they are different not in the fundamentals of faith, but in their practice!
There are differences in how they pray, how they resolve legal matters, how they settle marital disputes, and how they deliver punishment for certain crimes. This is understandable because no religion is uniform. Every religion has But, the problems arise when religion is mixed with governance of a certain country. Many Muslims who embrace the Sharia, thought of it as a substitute for the law of the land. That is where the problem lies. The sharia was just supposed to be a way of living and a guide to the life of Muslims.
It was never intended to be linked to political power. The crown and the church joined forces as European colonization grew. The church was used to advance the rulers’ interests. In Muslim kingdoms, something similar happened. By the way, while many European countries eventually split religion and state, many Islamic countries have not. Much of West Asia, Africa, and Asia had been colonized by France, Britain, and other European powers. Leaders of newly founded Muslim majority countries faced a dilemma when they left. Should they govern based on prior Islamic beliefs or on laws passed down from colonial rule?
They made an easy decision and adopted Sharia as the foundation of their legal justice system. As a result, a variety of theocracies, both hardline and moderate, arose. Gradually Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Syria, Iraq, Oman, Yemen, and Pakistan were all Sharia-compliant countries. Countries that were not colonized by western powers eventually embraced Sharia Law.
Saudi Arabia became a theocratic monarchy in 1932. Iran had been a secular monarchy until 1979, when an Islamic revolution occurred. Clerics assumed authority after the revolution, and the country became an Islamic republic. The Taliban then took control of Afghanistan in 1996. They turned it into a tyrannical state based on their interpretation of Sharia.
Acceptable in some countries and horrific in others!
Sharia law is being applied in countries around the world. Some countries apply the Sharia’s most discriminatory and patriarchal characteristics. They cherry-picked verses from the Quran to justify extreme practices such as polygamy, triple talaq, and genital mutilation.
They also imposed rules that were not based on Islam. According to research, the majority of these punishments are not sanctioned by the Quran. The prophet did not practice them. However, they have now been elevated to the forefront of Sharia law. They’re being utilized to control Muslims’ daily lives all around the world.
Muslim Women; The Victims!
Muslim women are the most vulnerable victims of these actions.
Is there a difference in God’s judgment based on gender? It does for a lot of priests! Despite the fact that women assisted the prophet in his mission and fought with him.
Look at the following incidents!
- In some countries, women who do not wear a veil are not allowed to leave the house, although males are free to dress whatever they wish.
- Women are unable to run for president, while men have the ability to govern for a lifetime.
- Women are unable to choose whether or not to have an abortion, while men are permitted to have four spouses.
- Without a male guardian, women are unable to go.
- Women are unable to drive.
- After a divorce, women are unable to keep custody of their children.
- They inherit half of what their brothers receive as an inheritance from their family.
As you can see, the list of religious prohibitions on women is terrible. The misuse of Sharia law does not stop there. It is used to legitimize what they refer to as “The conquest” mentality, which is used to fight wars in the name of Islam. Particularly by terror groups who present themselves as more devoted to Islam than ordinary Muslims.
They construct beautifully prepared arguments with the help of religious academics in their ranks to make use of religion as an excuse for committing violence They take advantage of those who have a limited grasp of Islam. They enlist them to fight in their politically driven conflicts as foot soldiers.
Some join them in the name of faith, some in the name of their motherland, yet others for a good income, and still more simply because they’re murderous. But this isn’t Sharia law!
Is there any solution?
With an objective view of the world’s chaos, you may be able to realize that a great deal of harm has been done to the human race in the name of various religions by people of many faiths and cultures. That is also true of Sharia.
Religion, like everything else, must evolve with time. If some techniques are no longer relevant, they must be phased out. In modern nation states ruled by constitutions, religious legislation may not have a position.
If the Sharia’s interpretation and practice conflict with today’s way of life and social institutions, it may be time for change and introspection rather than resentment.