Published: 09:49 GMT Standard Time - Tuesday 09 February 2010
What is Shari'a? - Five main areas in which Shari‘a is incompatible with human rights
Five main areas in which Shari‘a is incompatible with human rights
1. hudud punishments
These are the severe punishments prescribed by Shari‘a for some offences defined as being against God himself. The punishments for these crimes are seen as divinely ordained and cannot be changed by humans. These include 100 lashes or stoning to death for adultery; 80 lashes for false accusation of adultery; amputation of limbs for theft; 40 or 80 lashes for drinking alcohol; imprisonment, amputation or death (by crucifixion in serious cases) for highway robbery; and the death penalty for apostasy from Islam.
Many Islamic scholars, academics and popular preachers support the present day application of hudud punishments, seeing them as identity markers of true Islamic revival. Well known Islamic scholars responded negatively to a call in March 2005 by the popular Islamist professor, Tariq Ramadan, for a temporary halt to hudud punishments. One claimed any attempt at softening Shari‘a was giving in to Western Christian concepts.
2. Jews, Christians and other non-Muslims
Discrimination on the basis of religion is fundamental to Shari‘a. Islam must be dominant and only Muslims are full citizens, so Muslims are treated as far superior to all others.
Jews and Christians are defined as dhimmis (literally “protected” i.e. permitted to live). However this protection is on condition that they do not bear arms, know their lowly place in society, treat Muslims with respect, pay a special poll tax (jizya), and do not behave arrogantly. Numerous petty Shari‘a laws used to restrict and humiliate dhimmis in their daily lives. They could practise their faith inside their synagogues and churches but not in public places (bells were not allowed to be rung). No new church buildings were allowed, nor were existing churches to be repaired. dhimmis could not testify in a Shari‘a court against a Muslim. They could not share their faith with Muslims. They could not hold any public office that placed them in a position of authority over Muslims. At best, they could serve their Muslim rulers in administrative capacities.
The general attitude of contempt for non-Muslims created by centuries of applying such laws means that even in modern secular Muslim states that have constitutionally guaranteed equal rights to all citizens, non-Muslims are discriminated against in numerous ways.
Pagan non-Muslims were, in classical Shari‘a, to be offered the choice of death or conversion to Islam.
3. Muslim heretics and apostates
Muslims who accept teachings considered heretical by orthodox Islam are held by Shari‘a to have reverted to paganism and therefore to deserve the death penalty. The same is true for Muslims converting to another religion (apostates), who are considered as traitors. All schools of Shari‘a agree that adult male apostates from Islam should be killed. Even where the death sentence is not carried out, their marriages may be automatically dissolved and they face severe penalties such as exile, disinheritance, loss of possessions, threats, beatings, torture, and prison.
Many liberal or secularist Muslims find themselves in danger of being classified as apostates for views which the religious establishment or militant Islamist groups hold to be heretical. Muslim “heretical” sects are severely persecuted. This is especially true of the Ahmadiyya sect in Pakistan and of the Bahai religion in Iran.
4. Holy War – jihad
Shari‘a lays down jihad as one of the most basic religious duties, clearly indicating by the regulations listed that jihad is understood as physical warfare. Linked to the concept of jihad is the division of the world into two opposing domains: the House of Islam (Dar al-Islam) and the House of War (Dar al-Harb). Muslims are supposed to wage jihad to change the House of War (where non-Muslims are politically dominant) into the House of Islam, politically dominated by Muslims. While some modern Muslims reject this aggressive understanding of jihad, most Muslims agree that jihad includes defending Muslim territory and Muslims from any form of aggression; this leaves the door open to interpreting any conflict involving Muslims as a case of defensive jihad. Islamic terror groups justify their atrocities by references to the Shari‘a rules on jihad.
5. Status of women
Shari‘a also discriminates on the basis of gender. Men are regarded as superior. Women are treated as deficient in intelligence, morals and religion, and must therefore be protected from their own weaknesses. Shari‘a rules enforce modesty in dress and behaviour and the segregation of genders. They place women under the legal guardianship of their male relatives. Women are inherently of less value than men in many legal rulings. A man is allowed up to four wives, but women can have only one husband. A man can divorce his wife easily; a woman faces great obstacles should she want a divorce from her husband. A daughter inherits half as much as a son, and the testimony of a female witness in court is worth only half that of a male witness. In cases of murder, the compensation for a woman is less than that given for a man.
In many Muslim societies gender segregation in public is imposed or encouraged. Shari‘a courts often display a clear gender bias. This is seen in the widespread practice of accusing rape victims of illicit sexual relations (zina), an offence which carries punishments ranging from imprisonment and flogging to death by stoning. The victim is thus transformed into a culprit. Large numbers of Pakistani rape victims are in prison because of this.
In a few countries, for example, Turkey and Tunisia, secular codes have improved the situation for women. Recently Morocco passed a much more liberal version of the Shari‘a family code which gives much more equality to women.