Shari'a - A Blessing OR a Burden
Syed B. Soharwardy
Muslims Against Terrorism (http://www.m-a-t.org )
Islamic Supreme Council of Canada (ISCC)
Recently an article was published in the Calgary Sun regarding the use of Islamic Shari'a in the dispute resolution process for Canadian Muslim families under the Arbitration Act of Ontario. Before I respond to that article let me briefly explain what Shari'a is and what it is not.
The Arabic word Shari'a means; laws, rules, regulations, way. In other words, Shari'a is the code of conduct for Muslims. The laws of Shari'a are mainly based upon the teachings of the Holy Qur'an, the sayings (Hadith) and practices (Sunnah) of Prophet of Islam, Muhammad (Peace be upon him). In order to address the issues and problems of future times Shari'a has several other sources as well, such as the interpretation of Qur'an and Hadith by the family and the companions of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him), the rulings of Islamic jurists (Faqih/ Mujtahid), etc. But no jurist has the right to overrule the Qur'an and the Prophet Muhammad
(Peace be upon him).
Islam is not just a religion, it is a normal and natural way of life, and views intolerance, racism and violence as an abnormal behaviour. The purpose of Islam is to
create a very strong ethical and spiritual society on earth. In order to create such a society, Islam provides a complete road map. This road map is called Shari'a.
From the early 7th century until the 18th century, the Islamic countries fully enforced the Islamic Shari'a. That might be the reason that the Muslim nations
were the superpowers of the world of that time. Currently, there is not a single Islamic state where Shari'a is enforced in its full and pure form, only bits and pieces of Shari'a have been enforced and this is what confuses many people.
The Calgary Sun article, "Weird notions, Intolerance isn't acceptable -- even in the name of 'tolerance' " was a very misleading article. It is obvious that the writer either did not know the principles of Islamic Shari'a, which he should have found out before writing the article in the newspaper, or he purposely tried to mislead Canadians.
Let me analyze his article. The writer wrote:
" Like most Canadians, I know little about the Muslim legal system called "sharia," but from what we hear about places such as Nigeria, Sudan, Afghanistan and East Timor where it is fully enforced, I don't like it. "
The above statement is false and very misleading. In East Timor Shari'a was never enforced. The past and present governments of Indonesia never enforced Shari'a. In order to please Christians, the dictator Suharto removed Islam as the official religion of Indonesia.
Shari'a has never been "fully" enforced in Nigeria either. In a few provinces of Nigeria, Shari'a was enforced in pieces.
The Shari'a imposed by the Taliban in Afghanistan was never accepted by the overwhelming majority of Islamic jurists. The Shari'a in Sudan is not fully enforced either. The government of Sudan has Islamized some of the laws and it is no way close to the full implementation of Shari'a.
The writer wrote;
" In some countries, sharia requires women to stay indoors, or walk around together wearing tents so no one can see them. A right to abortion? There are places where women would settle for the right to drive a car."
It is evident that the writer is completely ignorant about Shari'a. Islamic Shari'a cannot be customized for specific countries. Islamic Shari'a does not require women to stay indoors. Islamic Shari'a does not require women to wear tents. Islamic Sharia does not require that no one should see a woman. No aspect of Islamic Shari'a prevents or disallows women the right to drive a car. What Islamic Shari'a requires from both men and women is modest dress. In Catholicism nuns wear modest dress. Islam requires that all women should dress modestly, and attempt to be more pious not just the selected few. Islam wants everyone to be pious, as a means to better society. What is bad about this?
The writer wrote;
" The Law Times legal journal reported in its Nov. 25 edition that on Oct. 21, a legal conference of Muslims in Etobicoke, Ont., elected a 30-member council. The council will establish a judicial tribunal to be known as the Islamic Institute of Civil Justice (Canada). And the IICJ will dispense Muslim justice under the Ontario Arbitration Act."
" The obvious danger of a sharia arbitration system is it will not be voluntary. A Muslim who opts for a secular court instead of the local kangaroo arbitrator would be expelled from the Muslim community. If you are a newly arrived mother who can't speak English and can't make a living, how realistic is this? "
I am one of the founding members of IICJ. I was the MC of that gathering on Oct. 21, 2003. Without having the knowledge of the decisions made in that "open " meeting, the writer tried to fabricate rumors in order to create fear among Canadians and mislead them.
The writer is wrong to say, " The obvious danger of a shari'a arbitration system is it will not be voluntary". This statement is false. What proof does the writer have that it will not be voluntary? It is absolutely voluntary. Secondly, Muslims do not expel Muslims from the community. Thirdly, calling a Canadian licensed arbitrator, a Kangaroo is an insult to the profession of arbitrators in Canada.
In fact, English does may pose a problem for new immigrants to Canadian courts but English or French will not be a problem for IICJ because we will have the wealth of languages of most of the Muslim world. IICJ will be able to help Canadian courts in their need of languages.
The very clear objective of IICJ is to use the existing arbitration laws to help Muslim families to resolve their family disputes and help Muslim business people to resolve their business disputes. The criminal justice is not part of arbitration. I think the writer should read the Ontario arbitration act first before accusing Muslims. Arbitration can not be applied in all types of disputes. Arbitration laws deal with a very limited area of dispute resolution.
The writer wrote;
" Arbitrators should be required to apply Canadian legal principles and values, not imported ones. That way, a Muslim could still be an arbitrator, and Muslims could still go to him for justice. But his decision would have to rest on Canadian judicial principles, or the arbitrator would be delicensed and the loser given recourse to the courts. "
It is the mandate of IICJ to resolve disputes within the Canadian laws by using the principles of dispute resolution of Islamic Shari'a. There is no conflict between the Canadian arbitration laws and the dispute resolution principles of Islamic Shari'a. That is the beauty of Islamic Shari'a and the Canadian arbitration laws, which may not be known to the writer.
The writer wrote;
" This country is getting genuinely weird. In the cause of tolerance, we let Muslims establish their intolerant legal system within our own".
In my opinion, this statement is a very intolerant and hateful towards Islam and Muslims. Muslims in North America are concerned about the rise of racism in North American society. After the 9/11 tragedy, many so-called seasonal experts on Islam have accused Islam and Muslims as an intolerant religion and community. They are using the tragedy of 9/11 to create misunderstandings and hate among the citizens of this world. As civilized citizens, we must oppose this movement of hate and violence. After 9/11 the hate crimes against Muslims have significantly increased. When a reader reads such misleading articles, there is a possibility that the reader may be influenced by the opinion of the writer and may be inspired to commit hate crimes against Muslims in Canada. Who will be responsible for such crimes?
How can Canadians allow having an intolerant legal system to be a part of the Canadian legal system? Canadian Muslims will be the first to oppose such an action. A few centuries ago under a fully enforced Shari'a, Muslims, Jews and Christians lived side by side in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Bosnia, Albania, and other nations. Let me ask some questions. Should we blame the Christian faith for the genocide of Muslims committed by the crusaders during the 10th century? Should we blame Jesus Christ (Peace be upon him) for the crimes committed in his name by the Christian missionaries in South America four centuries ago? Should we blame Christianity for the nuclear bombs dropped by the US forces on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Should we blame Jesus Christ (Peace be upon him) for the Holocaust of 6 million Jews committed by Christians? Should we blame Christians for the kidnapping and murdering of innocent people in South America by the Christian drug Mafia? No, off course not. Similarly, neither Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him), nor the Islamic Shari'a should be blamed for the behaviour of any extremist that uses Islam for his/her own personal gains. The current chaos in Muslim countries is not because of Shari'a. It is because of the absence of Shari'a.
In Canada, church and state are separate. The Canadian parliament is the legislative authority. The Supreme Court of Canada is the final authority on interpreting
laws, a very simple and straightforward system. The government and the people respect the constitution and the system. However, the current situation of Muslim
countries is very complex and corrupt. Currently, no Muslim country has the implementation of Islamic laws (Shari'a) in its pure and complete form. There are
several sources of laws:
The lack of democracy and sense of accountability in Muslim countries gives a freehand to the rulers/ governments to reward or punish a person as they wish? When a poor person or a bitter opponent commits a crime the government uses or in fact misuses the Shari'a in order to keep people quiet. No one wants to raise a voice against religion so Shari'a ends up getting used as a scapegoat.
When a powerful and rich person or someone close to the ruler's family and friends commits a crime, then the rulers decides what to use, Shari'a or other laws.
Most of the time, Shari'a is completely ignored for the rich and powerful. The media hardly covers this dark side of Muslim rulers. The media covers stories with sensation. When a Nigerian court sentences a poor women to death, it becomes headlines in the media, meanwhile the corruption of Muslim rulers hardly makes the headlines. The abuse of Shari'a by the rulers and the courts in Muslim countries creates confusion among westerners.
On the other side a small minority of Islamic clergy, have developed their own interpretations of Islam regardless if it contradicts the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him), and the holy Qur'an. Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) implemented Shari'a after he purified the hearts and minds of the society (inner side of a person). He implemented Shari'a after he made sure that no one sleeps hungry in the Islamic state. When he (Peace be upon him) asked women to dress modestly, he also asked men to dress modestly and lower their gaze. Sincerity, honesty, purity and economic independence is the pre-requisite of Shari'a. Before implementing Shari'a, the Muslim governments and jurists must make sure that every citizen of their country has food, shelter and dress. Shari'a can not be implemented on empty
stomachs. A person who is going to die because of hunger can steal food and no one has the right to cut his hands. This is what Shari'a says. If a woman is raped by a man, the man should be punished not the woman. The so-called honour killings is a cruel custom of ignorant times and has no basis in Islamic Shari'a. The rights of women and non-Muslim minorities are completely protected by the Islamic Shari'a. There should be no doubt about it. Therefore, Islamic Shari'a is a blessing not a burden. The corrupt rulers of Muslim countries and their "own" justice system are the burdens and must be removed.
The difference of opinion is the beauty of a democratic society but false accusations towards a segment of the society should not be accepted by anyone.