The pluses, minuses, and hows of Shariah Law

If you are a westerner, you are generally told Shariah Law is something to be feared more than nuclear weapons, another great depression, and a Nickleback Christmas album combined.

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But why is Shariah Law the jurisprudence version of He-who-must-not-be-named? What is it about this set of ideas that have gotten such a bum rap?

Here are some of the definitions of Shariah out there:

  • Noun 1. sharia law – the code of law derived from the Koran and from the teachings and example of Mohammed; “sharia is only applicable to Muslims”; “under Islamic law there is no separation of church and state”
  • Noun, often capitalized \shə-ˈrē-ə\ 1. Sharia : Islamic law based on the Koran.
  • Sharia law– the moral code and religious law of Islam. Sharia is derived from two primary sources of Islamic law: the precepts set forth in the Quran, and the example set by the Islamic prophet Muhammad in the Sunnah.

As with any set of laws, be it the constitution of the United States, international trading law, or the rules to Monopoly, different people are going to have different interpretations of what the law means.

Shariah law is no exception. The interpretation of what Shariah means and the means through which it should be implemented differ widely depending on culture, ethnicity, economic conditions, or nationality to name a few. Think of it like this: everyone on this planet needs to eat food to survive. But, because we have free will, we have different preferences when it comes to proportion, taste, style, anything. Muslims may want food (Shariah) but have different ideas on how to get it (revolution, elections, terrorism), how to keep getting it (education about Islam, religious police), and how it should taste and be presented (enforced Hijab/Burqa, separation of the sexes, etc.).

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Similar to how Americans have such different views on what democracy means and how it should be implemented.

This isn’t to say Shariah is left to everyone’s different opinions. Instead of letting everyone make up their own rules, Islamic Jurists called Ulama or Sheikhs research specific issues for the inquisitive and make rulings called Fatwas on how the party should proceed.This process is known as Fiqh, or Islamic jurisprudence.

While variations exist in the fine print, it is worth mentioning that by far and large, Shariah carries many of the same tenets because Shariah is derived first and foremost from the Qur’an. Many Westerners unfamiliar with Islam and Shariah would be surprised to know the Qur’an forbids breaking the laws of a nation, even a non-Muslim nation.

These rulings are promulgated in person, through snail mail, or, the most popular at the moment, the internet. Check this or this out to see on-line Fatwas at work. Keep in mind one Fatwa does not always exist for a problem and sometimes one fatwa even contradicts another.

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Women dancing at weddings– In this Fatwa, Shaykh Saalih al-Fawzaan writes that it is okay for women to dance at weddings, so long as they dance only with women, remain covered, and do not disturb the neighbors.

Women attending Islamic conferences- This Fatwa tells the reader women are allowed to go to an Islamic Conference, however they must remain segregated from the men and they must travel with a mahram, or male traveling companion.

Marrying more than one wife- Considered by the west to be one of the more controversial issues about women and Islam, this Fatwa deals with the issue of a man wanting to have multiple wives. Shaykh Muhammad bin Saalih al-`Uthaymeen says that it is not only permissible for a man to marry multiple wives, but it is beneficial. He says it is beneficial because he is helping tie the broader human family together and “protecting the private parts of the women who he marries (from illegal sexual intercourse).”

Just like a baby is cute until you open its diaper, this idea seems fantastic (for men…maybe) until Shaykh Muhammad bin Saalih al-`Uthaymeen says a man must have “the financial means and the physical ability to act with justice between his wives.” This means he must treat his wives the exact same way, both mentally, physically and financially. Also, Shaykh Muhammad bin Saalih al-`Uthaymeen says: “As for a man marrying more than one wife out of pride and competitiveness, it is something which falls into the category of waste, which is not permitted.”

That last line obviously precludes about 90% of the males out there.

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Known throughout the land (“land” meaning Islamophobes and Fox News) as the Islamic battle axe poised above Western civilization’s collective neck, Jihad has been everything from apologized for to vehemently defended.

So what do the Ulama (Islamic clergy) say about Jihad? This:

The Importance of Jihad– In this Fatwa the inquisitor is asking what is the most important form of Jihad. The Sheikh responds by saying that the most important form of Jihad is with one’s life. The editor of the entries has made a note saying the Sheikh did not mean to suggest suicide since that is against Islam.

On becoming a Shaheed (martyr)- This Fatwa is very interesting. In it the writer is asking how he should go about becoming a Shaheed, or martyr because he cannot stand life any longer. He is also asking about a rash on his body. I believe these two sentences are linked somehow. Anyway, the Sheikh tells him instead of focusing on the bad in his life he should focus on the good, and be thankful for it. As for the rash the Sheikh says yes, you should probably tell your future wife about that one.


Many in the west (and elsewhere) believe Islam and Democracy are incompatible. Let’s see if this idea about Sharia holds up.

Is Democracy Harram (forbidden)?- The writer in this question is asking the Sheikh if democracy is forbidden. The Sheikh in turn tells him to use the “mechanisms of democracy” to elect someone who reflects his (islamic) values. If no such candidate exists, writes the Sheikh, Muslims should vote for the candidate that will not do the Muslim community harm. The Sheikh goes on to say he is confused about why Muslims that have sworn an oath of allegiance to the state yet say voting is forbidden. In the Sheikh’s words, “Such people do not have the right to raise such an objection.”

Leadership in an Islamic State?

This Fatwa has to do with the ways in which a ruler in an Islamic country could be decided upon. Sheikh Desai says the 3 ways in which a ruler may be chosen are: 1) Bayat: Taking allegiance to a particular person 2) Deputism: A current ruler consults his council to chose a new ruler 3) Consultation: Ruler appoints certain responsible citizens and hands over the autonomy of appointing a ruler.

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…What about the honor killings?

Excellent question. For those of you that aren’t familiar with the term, Honor killings are a ongoing phenomenon in predominantly Muslim lands. Basically, an honor killing is usually performed by one’s family/community when they feel the woman (sometimes man) has brought shame to the family. So, in order to preserve and restore honor, the offender must be killed (it is worth mentioning often the women participate in this as well). Estimates put the number of women killed by honor killings between 5,000-20,000 a year. A case of this gained national attention when a Toronto family participated in an honor killing.

Honor killings are often justified with religion, and in predominantly Muslim lands, justified predominantly with Islam. However, according to those creating Fatwas and Fiqh, honor killings have no place in Islam. In fact, a Fatwa was created specifically for the Toronto killings.

The wrap-up

So, we are back to where we started in the beginning. Although the officials of a religion can say what is acceptable and what is not, individual people may not always listen to what they say. As with any system, Shariah and Fatwas can be abused to the advantage of the abuser. Prime example one: Osama bin Laden, who was never an Islamic religious figure of any kind, ignored protocol and created illegitimate Fatwas which gained traction among some. The result, as we know, was earth-shattering.



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