SEPT 12 — Without doubt any serious and committed Muslim will acknowledge that he should obey the injunctions and teachings of Allah even though he may, due to various reasons, omit to follow them all the time.
A Muslim who reads the Quran knows that there are many techniques, values and lifestyles taught in the Quran that may guide him to be a compassionate, efficient, useful and thinking human being.
The grey area and debate arises in how the Quran is interpreted, especially when sources extraneous to the Quran are used, for example, the Sunnah, the views of the so-called companions of the Prophet, and the views of religious scholars to interpret the Quran.
We must also acknowledge that the interpretation of the Quranic text may also be determined by command of the Arabic language, the intellectual and intelligence level of the interpreter himself, intellectual honesty and sincerity, social and technological environment of the time and so on.
It is clear that no one factor by itself influences the credibility and accuracy of the interpretation. For example, a command of the Arabic language by itself is no guarantee that the Quran will be interpreted accurately if the interpreter lacks intellectual ability or analytical skills, among others.
No honest academician will deny that the so-called shariah law is a juristic creation. I am referring to it as “so-called” because I am specifically referring to the legal theory that has evolved over the years in Arabic and Persian history that is often considered as “Islamic law”. It is through the efforts of dedicated religious scholars that the discipline of fiqh has evolved over the centuries and in the process the “shariah laws” take form.
It is important to be absolutely clear that the Quran is not a book of laws. It is a direct revelation from the Merciful Creator as a guide, to those who are willing to listen, encompassing a wholesome life and is much more than laws.
When you study traditional expositions of shariah law, they often broadly divide the laws into hudud laws and takzeer. The term “hudud laws” is used to refer to certain offences which have been inferred from the Quran for which punishments are provided. Even in this area, views among the scholars are still unsettled after so many centuries.
Firstly, while hudud is defined as offences for which punishments are clearly provided for in the Quran, some scholars insist on broadening what is included as hudud offences. For example, some scholars insist on drinking alcohol and apostasy as a hudud offence. Secondly, is the issue of the nature of punishment meted out for hudud offences.
In the case of adultery, it can be argued that while there is no mention of stoning to death as a punishment for adultery committed by married Muslims in the Quran, it is still considered as part of the punishments provided for by shariah laws by some scholars. In fact, a detailed study of the Quran will show that all instances of stoning are done by the jahiluun or the ignorant. However, countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Somalia, to state a few, include them as part of the shariah law.
Furthermore, there is also the debate about stoning as a shariah punishment considering the Quranic verse that provides punishment for slave girls — half of that of free women. Any honest and courageous scholar will tell you that the “stoning verse” is a result of juristic exegesis based on the doctrine of abrogation, which in itself is highly controversial in the Muslim academic circles.
Thirdly, is the issue of conflicting views on why the provision of forgiveness, provided for in almost every instance where a penal punishment is mentioned, not included as part of shariah law. While I have the greatest of respect for the scholars of past, I must be equally mindful of my personal duty to Allah in giving effect to what I understand His guidance to mean. I cannot merely hitch a ride on the bandwagon of consensus and support a law which is oppressive merely because it is labelled as shariah law.
Likewise, there is no temporal punishment for the so-called offence of apostasy. It is my understanding that there are many verses in the Quran that support freedom of faith. The Quran teaches that truth and falsehood is clear and each should make their own choice mindful of the consequences that flow therefrom.
So, there are differences of opinions among learned Muslims in this area too. However, we have Muslim politicians and mullahs who insist on imposing such laws as part of shariah in the name of Islam. Does this not disturb the conscience of Muslims?
The Quran mentions that it is wrong to be corrupted, to lie, to give false evidence, to not keep your promises or contracts that you have made and so on. There are many injunctions in the Quran that can easily be interpreted as “precepts of Islam”, a term which our Constitution uses. It allows states to create offences that are against the “precepts of Islam”. Does this, therefore, mean that we are going to witness the expansion of the shariah legal system to the extent that they overlap with the civil system and create different offences and punishments for different classes of citizens — Muslims and non-Muslims?
The Muslims of today are unlike those of yesteryears. Today, there is greater access to information and facts, and the technology available allows for more precise analysis, with respect to the scholars of the past. The Muslims of today want to take responsibility for their faith and find them in a bind when modern day mullahs impose their understanding on the majority.
In this context, there should be discussions of what constitutes “shariah laws” instead of assuming that past views of the subject matter are beyond re-examination.
This is the legal dilemma of the Muslim who takes his ubudiyyah (service) to Allah seriously.