What Will Happen to Egypt as a Result of the Ratification of the Constitution Adopting Archaic Islamic law? :
Reform of Islamic law is sought, where outdated practices and cruel punishment still exists.
A referendum for the amended constitution by the interim government has taken place and been approved in Egypt, where political turmoil continues. The previous draft constitution proposed by former President Morsi, who was deposed in July of last year, contained many articles that strengthened the authority of Islamic thinkers. However, in the current version proposed by the military-led interim government, those articles have been removed.
“Islamic Law” (Sharia) is a big point of focus in the ongoing debate concerning the constitutional amendment. The authority of the military, having been strengthened in the draft constitution, has been met with criticism in Western media, but it seems that the people of Egypt have decided that military governance is better than being ruled by Islamic Law. What exactly is this Islamic Law?
What is Islamic Law?
Islamic Law is a system of law based on the research of the Islamic scripture, the Koran, or the “Hadith,” a report of the deeds and sayings of the prophet Muhammad, and other materials by Islamic thinkers (Ulama). As a system of law that defines religious practice, it also deals with a wide range of matters such as what may today be known as civil law, criminal law, procedural law, and the laws of war.
Shortly after the death of Muhammad (circa the 7th – 8th century), the framework of Islamic law was established. By the 10th century it was more or less organized into its modern form. The Sunnis have four schools of law, while the Shia have a separate body of law. Additionally in Shia Islam, the sayings and deeds of religious leaders known as Imams are included along with those of Muhammad in the Hadith. However, as the schools of law interacted, there appear to be no extreme differences in their beliefs concerning laws and precepts.
There is practically no difference when you compare a text of Islamic Law from the middle ages with a modern text. That is because the Islamic thinkers thought that Islamic Law was already complete and therefore proclaimed the “closure of the gates of Ijtihad,” and would not permit further change.
That may have been necessary within the context of the times and regions, but from a 21st century perspective, much of the content is anachronistic. Below are some examples:.
- It is generally understood in Islamic Law that “converting to another religion from Islam means death,” and it allows no room for freedom of belief or question. Furthermore, although the rights of the adherents of other faiths are recognized, prejudice against them is affirmed.
- Women are viewed as second class citizens, and are strict prejudice exists in matters such as inheritance and criminal prosecution.
- Sexual intercourse outside of marriage is strictly forbidden and often results in executions. Homosexuality is also a crime.
- There are unusually cruel and archaic punishments for crimes, such as “stoning to death in case of adultery,” or “cutting off hands and feet for thievery.”
- There are many rules that restrict people’s free movement such as theological obligations, dietary taboos (adherents are forbidden to drink alcohol or eat pork), fasting, and cloaks and veils for women.
Master Ryuho Okawa of the Happy Science Group has voiced criticism concerning Islam’s extremely strict practice of criminal punishment saying,
“the weight of their crimes and the methods of punishment do not match…to bury people up to their necks, and stoning them to death is quite uncivilized.”
Master Okawa has pointed out how Islamic Law is behind modernity saying,
“when we look at Islamic fundamentalism, it is quite oppressive regarding human rights.”
The Current of Modernity
As the Islamic world was invaded and increasingly absorbed by European countries, the move from Islamic Law to modern laws accelerated. However, when it came to laws dealing with family matters, such as marriage and inheritance, seen as the core aspect of Islamic Law, there was little to no change. For this reason, even on occasions when modern civil law was introduced, these proposed amendments were left untouched, or simply excluded from new legislation, allowing for no progress or reformation. And dietary rules and outdated customs regarding clothing were mostly left as they existed for centuries.
Aside from laws dealing with family matters, the modern legal system has been adopted by many countries in the Islamic world. With some exceptions, such as Saudi Arabia, many countries abolished cruel punishment although many conservatives were not happy about that. Consequently, in several countries, such as Pakistan, Iran, and Sudan, despite conservative outcry, Islamic restoration movements were reintroduced in the latter half of the 20th century.
Today there are countries where Islamic Law is the law of the land; other Islamic populations live under secular law with a strong influence of Sharia Law, while others basically live under modern law with Islamic Law applying to the people’s daily lives. As such, one can see that the degree of influence of Islamic Law varies greatly.
Islamic Law has existed for a long time. However, some may argue that its application today is crueler than it had been in middle and earlier modern periods. For instance, in Pakistan, according to court records, before this modern era, judges tried to avoid passing cruel punishments, and according to some research, in instances where the law required heinous sentences, there are no records that they were actually being carried out.
If this is true then it would mean that the state of human rights in the Islamic world has degenerated in current times. In places like the Middle East and Africa where there had been colonization by Western European countries, many turned to Islamic restoration movements in order to reclaim their sense of pride. As part of that movement, the “reintroduction of Islamic Law” appeared.
Innovation Is Needed in the Islamic World
It is said that Islamic Law was created based on the word of God and the words of the Prophet Muhammad, but there are areas in which it is doubtful it really reflects such intention. This is especially true when it comes to the interpretation of the sayings and deeds of Muhammad. It is known that in the “Hadith,” as it was passed down from version to version, that massive amounts of false prophecy and interpretation of the teachings have been circulated, and it is believed that that these have crept into the theories of Law.
Furthermore, Islamic Law was originally an oral law based on customs, and was not organized as written law. Court precedence and Fatwa (learned interpretations by a jurist) being central to it, the actual extent of Islamic Law is ambiguous. And since it has been used in combination with secular and tribal laws in various regions and various eras, the perimeter of the Law cannot be clearly delineated.
Moreover, due to the effects of modernization, there has been a sharp drop in the number of traditional legal scholars (Ulama). There are few experts who are able to effectively interpret Islamic Law and put it into effect today. Consequently there are cases where people who are not cognizant of Islamic Law — some who have only read the “Koran” – are recklessly firing off crude and extreme Fatwas to meet political and ideological contingencies rather than the intention of the Koran or Islamic Law.
In any case, it is clear that a pre-modern interpretation of Islamic Law is trampling on human rights and civil liberties, subjugating rather than uplifting the people of the region, causing much misery. Conservatives insist that, “it is blasphemy to break the divinely ordained Islamic Law.” Reformers counter by saying, “God is about mercy and forgiveness. It is blasphemy to cause suffering to people by clinging to old precepts.” One must also remember that the laws of Islam have become so enmeshed in political consideration that it is hard for some to separate the law of expediency from the true will of God.
Master Okawa explains that,
“the Genesis of law in fact resides in religion, and the basis of religion is the teaching of God and the teachings of the Buddha. However, the ‘spirit of the times’ is also important. God and Buddha think that ‘spiritual guidance shall match social changes happening on earth’”
(“The Spirit of a Religious Nation”). God changes his teachings according to the times. Those who stubbornly defend Islamic Law of old may think they are being pious, but perhaps they are in truth going against the will of God.
Master Okawa states that,
“the time has come when reformers are needed in Islam. There will be tumultuous times ahead.” Master Okawa suggests that following the political revolution there will be a “religious reformation” in the Islamic world. “The wind of freedom must sweep through Islam. That ‘black cloak’ must be blown away, or there will be no future,” states Master Okawa, as he continues to plead to the people of Islam of the value of ‘freedom’
(“Introduction to the Philosophy of Law”).
As reformers say, it is difficult to believe that the contents of the old Islamic Law belong to God. If humanity were eventually to live on other planets, would they still pray five times a day facing in the direction of Mecca? It is essential to make an effort to ponder on “what would God command in this age?” That would indeed be an attitude in accord with the intention of God.