Good Lord. Now the New Statesman comes out with a position piece advocating shariah law.
As is sadly so often the case, the nuances in the lecture Rowan Williams delivered at the Royal Courts of Justice in February 2008 failed to have any impact on those whose closed minds alit on the word “sharia” and decided he was talking nonsense yet again. In fact, Dr Williams addressed this point very early on when he quoted Tariq Ramadan’s chapter on sharia in his book Western Muslims and the Future of Islam. “In the West,” writes Ramadan, currently Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at Oxford, “the idea of Sharia calls up all the darkest images of Islam…It has reached the extent that many Muslim intellectuals do not dare even to refer to the concept for fear of frightening people or arousing suspicion of all their work by the mere mention of the word”.
The example of Saudi Arabia undoubtedly has much to do with this. But it is important to stress that to look at that country and then to assume that its version of sharia is the only one, or the one to which Muslims all secretly aspire, would be akin to holding up a vision of Torquemada’s Inquisition and concluding that this was what real Christianity was. It is unrepresentative and, many would argue, a perversion. Equally important is the fact that the punishments that cause the greatest outcry – flogging, stoning etc – come under the hudud laws, which are implemented in Saudi Arabia and were introduced by General Zia ul-Haq in Pakistan in 1979, but are the exception, not the rule, in most Muslim countries.
Okay, so I understand that Sholto Byrnes, the author, is not advocating hudud laws. Fine, but he begins this piece by begging the question regarding hudud laws, and produces an advocacy piece in support of shariah because, as he says, most Muslim countries, with the exception of the KSA and Pakistan, do not implement hudud. Seems like an odd reason for supporting shariah, when most Muslim countries which formally implement constitutional shariah (and Malaysis is not one of them, sorry) only do so solely to implement the specific punishment laws of hudud.
The author spends a lot of space and time in this article on what sharia isn’t but almost nothing on what sharia should entail. The only real-world example he cites to support his thesis is one story from the Times about an incident involving a British journalist’s experience with a sharia court in Malaysia. But this minor anecdotal evidence is too meager to be representative of the life experiences of people who have to live under shariah. How many muslim countries implement shariah because they think its inheritance laws are good laws fit for today’s world? Absolutely none of them.
But as the author develops his argument and follows up his promise of more detailed explanations for championing shariah law in subsequent articles, I hope he can provide justification for two particular non-hudud shariah principles:
1) Muslim daughters must inherit only half of that due to a son, as prescribed by this Quranic verse:
“Allah commands you regarding your children. For the male a share equivalent to that of two females. ” [Quran 4:11]
2) The witness of a woman is equal half that of a man.
Since neither of these legal principles fall under hudud, I presume Sholto Byrnes regards them beneficial and even worthy of support. Oh but how I want to hear him justify laws which have been the basis of cultural patriarchy in muslim societies.
Starting a series of articles in defence of shariah based on one logically absurd position seems to be a very silly thing to do indeed.
I look forward to reading the New Statesman’s reasons why inheritance laws, and laws undermining the rights of muslim women need the support of unprincipled western, middle-class, left-liberal blokes, who champion religious laws that they will never need to live with or be affected by.