Sunday, 10 February 2008

Sharia shenanigans

It is hardly an understatement to say Islamic jurisprudence is a huge specialty area yet I am hardly surprised at the knee jerk hysteria of some obtuse people when the word “Sharia” is mentioned. It is a word loaded with negative baggage thanks to sensationalist, ill-informed, irresponsible and ignorant reporting in the media and by the behaviour of certain Muslims themselves.

Besides stating the obvious difference with regards to criminal and civil law, whatever the opinions of individuals regarding the merits of legal pluralism, it has existed and does currently exist under English law. To rail with indignation at what the Archbishop of Canterbury said is unwittingly disregarding and fighting against what English law itself allows.

This is because under English law people may devise their own way to settle a civil dispute before an agreed third party – provided the outcome is reasonable and both parties voluntarily agree to the process. Especially if its quicker, cheaper, fairer and more effective.

Britain had done it before – for example when it ruled India. There was a separate legal code for Muslims, organised and regulated by British experts of law.

Jews in Britain have their own religious civil courts – the Beth Din - and have done so for centuries. Yet where are the cries of fears of stoning to death that will overturn the English way of life?…after all, did anyone not bother to read about Mosaic Law at Sunday school? Does not English law itself have a strong foundation on Biblical teachings? I find it a shame that the majority of British people have voluntarily abandoned their Anglican faith and teachings and have thus lost an essential part of their culture. In fact Catholics, due largely to immigration, now outnumber Anglicans in the UK.

Religious beliefs influencing English law also exist in other areas – for example, medical professionals can legally opt out of performing abortions.

Misinformed people fail to appreciate that such religious civil courts do not replace the state’s civil courts. In addition, state laws must also be complied, such as in a divorce, where both parties must fulfil the religious and civil divorce for it to be legally binding.

If one does not like English law then they should go out and protest at the politicians to amend the laws, rather than rail against what the Archbishop of Canterbury said, who is actually applying English law to be practised which English people seem to quickly and blindly lionise about without any knowledge about what it says or how it came about in the first place. It is clear that it is not a love of England but more a hatred of others that propel much of the knee-jerk completely off topic reactions.

I also want to clear up the term “fatwa” whilst I’m at it since it confuses a lot of people as I still notice erroneous terms like “formal legal ruling…”

A fatwa is not legally binding - it is an opinion at best on matters of Islamic law. The degree to which any Muslim wants to follow any particular fatwa depends on many factors, such as who issued it, the degree of authority ascribed to the author or body of legal scholars, the culture, nationality and faith of the individual. It is only binding on the author.

Just like if any priest stated an opinion regarding any topic, it is not automatically legally binding on all Christians on the planet. Or if the President of the USA stated an opinion, it is not automatically legally binding on all Americans on the planet. Yet it never ceases to amaze me to find how supposedly intelligent people fail at elementary logic and basic common sense where Islam is concerned, …especially seeing non-Muslims and Muslims insist that often contradictory, non-contextual and extreme fatawa issued by uneducated individuals with the most tenuous grip on reality as authentic, binding and the only representative interpretation (!). In fact it is plain to all but them that such an embarrassing insistence is more a reflection of their own prejudices, hatred and ignorance.

With regards to Islam, I have no doubt that extremists exists (like extremists in any belief system – secular or religious) who would want to overturn the status quo to their version of how things ought to be run.

Yet in Islam, if a Muslim lives in a non-Islamic state, it is the Muslim’s duty to obey the laws of the land. And under Shaira, as has been done in the past, non-Muslims in an Islamic state can choose a different legal system to address their civil concerns too. If English law forbids the option of the use of Sharia legal system concerning civil matters, whilst allowing a Jewish one to operate, and that the Sharia legal system itself allows for other legal systems to operate, what kind of message does that send?

That the Sharia legal system is in fact more tolerant and liberal than English law?

Workable Sharia legal pluralism exists in other countries such as the Philippines, Malaysia, India and Egypt where there is a separation of criminal and civil law. And like English law, there is no monolithic codified unalterable law with regards to many civil matters – the subtleties of law with new circumstances can change based on agreed precepts.

Legal pluralism also exists in other “western” countries, such as First Nation laws in Canada, which has worked well (there are different types of First Nations, just as there are different types of Muslims all over the world under the rubric of “Islam”) Yet where are the arrogant cries that “European Law” (try to spot the misnomer) would be overturned or that First Nation peoples do not know what the principles of honour, sharing, tolerance, civility and generosity are and that their individualism should be denied? Or that “Europeans” should submit to the laws of the host country? How much have Europeans truly integrated?…or is it, *shock* *horror*…it is they who have unilaterally insisted on their way of life as the best and only way to be imposed on others all over the world?

All criminal matters are reserved for the UK's state courts, and there is no appetite for change in the majority of people of the UK and it rightly should stay that way.

After all, disciples of liberal democracy zealously insist that this is the way people should unquestioningly and unilaterally submit to as the way things should be run in this world.

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