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Meditation 788
Shariah Law

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I'm returning to Talk Back 93. Under Why does Islam often seem strange? it states that Muslims "...believe that the Divine Law, the Sharee`ah, should be taken very seriously, which is why issues related to religion are still so important."

Now last year, in England, there was a row as some leading Christian clerics and some leading judges recommended that Shariah law be adopted for the benefit of Muslims living in England. Shariah law was also considered in the Canadian province of Ontario four years ago. Fortunately, in neither jurisdiction did it become law of the land, but in England, Islamic arbitration tribunals have been authorized for civil cases.

Whenever I see suggestions that it would be useful to bring Shariah law into Western jurisprudence to allow for the cultural differences of Muslims, I am reminded of an article I read in a magazine a few years ago. (I don't have the reference and what follows is from my memory of the article.)

The writer, an American Muslim man took his 12 year old daughter with him on the hajj one year. As they were not travelling as part of a group, they were accommodated in tents along with a group of Muslims from Africa - and they were all getting along quite well.

But, then the father found that a group of the women were planning on taking his daughter off to be circumcised. He protested. They told him it was the law; it was in the Qur'an that she had to be circumcised, and she would be a whore if this was not done promptly. The father challenged them on this, and eventually, they called the group's imam. The Imam asserted, yes, it was in the Qur'an and the girl must be circumcised in accordance with the law. "Show me," said the father, who had actually read the Qur'an , and of course the Imam was unable to identify any passage. Yet he stuck to his position; circumcision was Shariah law, no argument allowed.

The father and daughter (fortunately still intact) quickly left the camp and found other accommodation.

And that illustrates precisely what is wrong with the so-called Divine Law - there is no universal agreement what makes up the Shariah and in some Islamic areas, much of Shariah is still barbaric. (Female circumcision was only decreed to be not in accordance with Shariah law in Egypt in the past two years.)

Yes, some of Shariah law comes from the Qur'an . Some of it also comes from the hadith - sayings attributed to Mohammed. And a lot of it is simply ancient tribal practices handed down for generations. In much of the Islamic world, Shariah law is what the local imam thinks it is. It varies from village to village. And where it has been adopted nationally, it varies from country to country. There is no generally accepted single body of Shariah law.

In Pakistan - under national Shariah law, a university professor was found guilty of heresy for saying Mohammed's parents were not Muslim when Mohammed was born; under local Shariah law, a village council ordered a young woman gang-raped as retribution for an insult by her brother.

In Malaysia where Muslims are subject to national Shariah law - one woman was refused permission to reconvert back to Christianity (she had become Muslim on marriage), she is subject to Shariah law for life and risks a charge of apostasy; and another woman recently sentenced to caning for daring to have a beer.

In Sudan under Shariah law, a woman has been charged with public indecency for wearing trousers - standard modest leg coverings for women in some other Islamic countries.

In Nigeria where Shariah law has been declared in several states, we get far too frequent reports of women who are rape victims being whipped or stoned for the crime of adultery.

And regularly when these travesties are reported, we hear from leaders of the Islamic community in the West - "That's not Islam! That's not real Shariah law." But indeed it is.

We can expect that, in gestures of "cultural understanding," there will be more attempts to bring in Shariah law for the "benefit" of those Muslims who have freely chosen to live among us in the West. As what actually constitutes the law remains at the whim of Islamic clergy, we would best benefit our neighbors by just saying no.