Sharia law codes aren’t Islamic, just medieval
Posted by sanityinjection on August 19, 2009
Hardly a week goes by these days without a news story about someone in a Muslim country – usually a woman – being punished for an Islamic religious offense under what is called “sharia” law. Sharia is supposed to be the incarnation of the rules found in the Koran in a system of law. In some countries, sharia only applies to Muslim citizens, while in others no separate civil law code exists and sharia applies to everybody. Punishments under sharia can often be harsh including canings, amputations and death by stoning.
For example I recently wrote about a Sudanese woman who is facing 40 lashes for the offense of wearing trousers. In that case, there is a compelling argument that wearing trousers may not, in fact, be a violation of Koranic law.
But consider something a bit more concrete: the case of Malaysian model Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno, who has been sentenced to caning for drinking alcohol. It’s pretty hard to argue that consuming alcohol is not a violation of Islamic law. But the question is, is this a reasonable punishment? And further, why is it necessary to enforce such a violation at all?
Islam is certainly not the only faith to have dietary restrictions. Mormons are not supposed to consume alcohol or caffeine. Devout Jews, like Muslims, abstain from pork and observe other dietary restrictions. Other faiths abjure the eating of meat.
And yet, somehow none of these other creeds feel the need to have civil courts set up to punish people who disobey these religious laws. Why then, does Islam? And only in some countries – Muslims in the US are no less observant because they do not cane people for drinking.
If a Muslim drinks alcohol, is that an offense against the community or an offense against God? If the latter, then surely God is perfectly capable of imposing consequences on the offender. You could argue that public drinking has a negative impact on the morals of others who are exposed to it, but then why does Malaysia allow alcohol to be sold at all? Who ultimately was harmed by Ms. Shukarno drinking a beer, other than Ms. Shukarno herself?
The only rationale I can think of for making drinking a crime against the community is the old tribal notion that the Muslim community as a whole will be punished by God for the sins of the individual. In other words, the community has a vested interest in enforcing individual spiritual morality because the community will suffer the consequences if it doesn’t.
But even if we accept this notion, why then are there not canings for Muslims who fail to pray five times a day, or who fail to give to the poor? These requirements are far more fundamental in Islam than the prohibition against alcohol.
The inevitable answer is that sharia law codes are at least as representative of medieval cultural traditions as they are of Islamic law. That also explains why the details of sharia law – especially with regard to women – differ greatly from one country to the next. This is significant because freedom of religion is considered a basic civil right, and anything that can be brought under that umbrella is hard for Westerners to combat. But last time I checked, medieval cultural traditions are not a basic civil right that should trump other rights such as freedom of expression. We in the West are so concerned to avoid attacking the Islamic faith that we have allowed this masquerade to go on too long.