Sharia is not the answer

Sharia is not the answer
Those who seek to impose religious law, or interpretations of that law, ignore the lessons of history that led to the development of the democratic system.
5 min read
19 Dec, 2014
Attempts to recreate early Islamic social and political forms are a dead end [Getty]

The new Islamists allege that they are striving to establish an Islamic state. When you ask them what this is, they say a state that implements sharia originating from the Quran and the Sunnah, the statements and actions of the Prophet.

Some even expand sharia to include the methods of the companions of the Prophet and the generation that goverened after the Prophet, even though the descendants fought among themselves over how to govern.

Unanswered questions

But what is the political system in this state? Does it have an absolute ruler? Will the ruler be a king, a sultan, a hereditary caliph, an elected caliph, a spiritual leader or sacred scholar? Will the political system be an absolute or constitutional monarchy? Will the state be a presidential republic or a parliamentary republic? Will it have a constitution, a civil and penal code, a judiciary and elections?

     What will the political system in this state be? Will it have an absolute ruler, a hereditary caliph, an elected caliph or a spiritual leader?

Will the state’s citizens have equal citizenship rights or will they be divided into various classes? Historically, caliphate society had slaves and concubines at the bottom, then the non-Muslim People of the Book (Christians and Jews) who were forced to pay a tax, and who do not enjoy the same rights as Muslims.

Free women occupied an intermediate status, and free men were at the top. The free men were divided into various strata: the ruler's family and his entourage, then merchants and rich people, skilled workers, farmers and traders, and finally the poor who faced the threat of falling into slavery.

How would economic relations be organised? And who controls the treasury? Would it be the absolute ruler as was the case throughout the history of the Islamic caliphate, or would there be a system that prevents the misuse of public funds? Who would receive the money the state collects in taxes? Would we search for those whose hearts are inclined towards Islam and give them money to attract them to religion, as the Quran instructs, or ignore the Quran, like Umar bin al-Khattab (the second caliph, d. 644), because the context has changed?

Would we distribute public funds among family and friends or use it to build a strong, modern, scientifically advanced state? And how would we take part in the global financial system given it is based on interest, which is forbidden in Islam?

Islamists say they want to implement sharia just as it was implemented at the time of the Prophet. But would they declare jihad and invade non-Muslim countries to guide them to Islam, or kill them and take them as captives, and if they were People of the Book, impose a tax upon them? They answer that they will implement the religious regulations set by the ruler.

When questioned whether the state would allow slaves and concubines and punishments such as stoning and amputation they answer yes, under certain conditions. If the failures of previous and current Islamic state experiments are pointed out, they answer that they were not the correct Islam.

If the vagueness of their answers is frustrating, the advent of the Islamic State group has been truly embarassing.

Oh, you who dream of an Islamic state to save us from our bitter reality, who seek to transform us by the grace of God to a world of piety and completion, I say this: basing a state on law from a different time and place will make us lab rats.

Ignoring the lessons of the past

     You will conduct experiments that have already been conducted, for which blood was spilt, before the development of a pluralist system.

You will conduct experiments that have already been conducted, for which blood was spilt, lives were lost and entire peoples destroyed, until humanity developed a pluralist system that rejected tyranny, in which people had equal citizenship rights regardless of race, gender or religion.

A pluralist system where power is shared through ballot boxes in free elections, and a system where people have the freedom to express themselves and form political parties.

A system that allows people to work and build their country, and follow the caravan of science and knowledge, while affording religion its spiritual space. A system described by Sheikh Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi (d.1240) in his poem:

There was a time when I used to reject those who were not of my faith.
My heart has grown capable of taking on all forms.
A pasture for gazelles, a convent for Christians.
A temple for idols, a Kaaba for pilgrims.
A table for the Torah, the book of the Quran.
My religion is love. Whatever path the caravan of love shall take, that path shall be the path of my faith.

As for this earthly life, our life, which we seek to live in a civil state (not religious or military) that rejects all forms of tyranny and servitude, we must build this state according to the best interests of its population, in a manner that does not contravene reason and justice.

As the Quran says, "and when you judge between people, you judge with justice" (Sura 4, Verse 58). Justice is what human development and experience has taught us, it does not go against reason.

This has commonly become known as the democratic system, the system of equal citizenship. Trying to build another system will only lead us through a labyrinth even worse than the one we have travelled through for more than 50 years.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic website.