“In the eyes of history, religious toleration is the highest evidence of culture in a people. It was not until the Western nations broke away from their religious law that they became more tolerant, and it was only when the Muslims fell away from their religious law that they declined in tolerance and other evidences of the highest culture. Therefore the difference evident in that anecdote is not of manners only, but of religion. Tolerance was regarded as un-religious, if not irreligious. Before the coming of Al-Islam it had never been preached as an essential part of religion.” (M. Marmaduke Pickthall, English Historian and translator of the Qur’an)
Today, most Western opinions of what life would be like for non-Muslims under Islamic rule are based on ignorance and fear. This fear is compounded further by media reports about behaviors in “Muslim” countries that most Americans -- ignorant of Al-Islam -- take to be Sharia Law. Repeatedly, mainstream media reports on “practices” in such countries as Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries -- whose “Laws” DO NOT REPRESENT true Sharia Law -- as sterling examples of Sharia rule. In many of these countries, Sharia is mixed with non-Islamic cultural practices, contrary to the objectives and intentions of the Sharia. Western media has associated Sharia Law with cruelty, backwardness, intolerance, anti modernism and opposed to democratic goals such as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Our aim is to dispel some of these myths surrounding Sharia Law, and show it in its true light.
It is interesting to note that in 1602, after 800 years of Sharia rule and right after the Christians recaptured Spain, one of the great charges the Christians brought against Muslims was that Muslims were too tolerant in religion. The Archbishop of Valencia, in recommending the expulsion of Muslims from Spain stated:
"…that they (the Muslims) highly praised nothing as much as liberty of conscience in all matters of religion, which the Turks, and all other Mohammedans, allow their subjects to enjoy," (GLIMPSES OF WORLD HISTORY BY JAWAHARLAL NEHRU)
Although brought up as a negative charge against Muslims, this was indeed a great compliment paid unwittingly to the Muslims in Spain. It showed the great tolerance in religion that Muslims practiced and at the same time it showed the intolerance of Christians, through the words of the Archbishop, for condemning this aspect of Sharia rule.
So what is Sharia? Sharia is based on the teachings of the Qur’an and authentic example of Prophet Muhammad (saaw). Sharia covers every aspect of individual and community life for Muslims. The legal aspect of Sharia is very small and within it, the huddud (punishments), are only a small fraction of the complete system of justice – yet this is what most non-Muslims associate with Sharia.
The Qur’an was revealed over a period of 23 years and not one word has been changed from the original revelation. I mentioned authentic above in referring to the recorded example of the Prophet (saaw) -- known as collection of Hadiths -- because there are many that are false reports. Around 250 years after the death of the Prophet (saaw) 17 books on Hadiths were recorded. After many years of scrutiny and verification of facts by Islamic scholars, 10 books were discarded and 7 accepted. The 10 discarded were found to be fabrications and mostly work done by Jews and selfish rulers in the Islamic world who wanted to corrupt Al-Islam for their own gain.
Today we have even friends of Muslims, who are critical of Hamas and the type of Islamic government Hamas wants to establish in Palestine, because these friends imagine things about Sharia rule based on media reports, misinformation gathered from ignorant Muslims, their own hatred for religious rule and poor examples of religious rule in history. At the same time they negate the fact that from the seventh century all the way up to 1948, with the Zionist takeover of Palestine, the Muslims, Christians and Jews lived in peace under Sharia law. But to be fair to Al-Islam we need to examine -- both from the teachings of Al-Islam and the example of Muslims in history -- what Sharia rule is really like. Hopefully in doing so we would have a better basis by which to judge Sharia law.
I will first address some common misconceptions about Sharia, but first, I will briefly explain Islamic Federalism. Westerners don’t know about Islamic Federalism. Unlike the one size fits all Federalism of the West, Islamic Federalism gives each state under Muslim rule, the right to rule themselves according to their own laws. As such, Christians, Jews and other communities living under Sharia Law are free to rule themselves according to their own laws and values. The first written constitution in the world was developed by Muhammad (saaw) in Medina. The restraints of Law on Muslims under Sharia Law, far surpass the restraints of law on any other population, bar none, and those Muslim Laws may not be applied to non-Muslims unless the latter opt for them. A Muslim can neither drink wine nor prohibit a Christian from drinking it in a Christian state ruled under Sharia Law.
To discuss Sharia rule I want to start by addressing some common misconceptions about it. They are as follows:
1. Sharia Law enforces amputating the hand for stealing.
This is what is commonly understood by most Westerners about Sharia law. Questions about whether or not Sharia law permits the amputating of someone’s hand as a result of stealing pieces of bread due to hunger, etc. are not even asked or considered. All the average person knows is that Sharia law amputates thieves’ hands. Chapter 5 verses 41 to 43 from the Qur'an upon which this punishment is based are as follows:
As to the thief, male or female, cut off his or her hands: a retribution for their deed and exemplary punishment from Allah and Allah is Exalted in Power, full of Wisdom.
But if the thief repent after his crime, and amend his conduct, Allah turneth to him in forgiveness; for Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.
Knowest thou not that to Allah (alone) belongeth the dominion of the heavens and the earth? He punisheth, whom He pleaseth and He forgiveth whom He pleaseth: and Allah hath power over all things.
It is important to understand what Sharia teaches in full regarding stealing. Many will be surprised to know that Sharia law states that if someone is caught stealing -- as a result of hunger, poverty or necessity -- their hand should not be amputated. Instead, a thorough investigation must be done as to the circumstances of the theft that caused the individual to steal. If it is found that the individual stole as a result of necessity, then instead of amputation, Sharia law dictates that well-to-do members of the community provide support for the individual. The provision of support could be in the form of financial support, employment, education and charity. The purpose is to prevent the person from becoming destitute and eliminate any reason for him to steal again.
At the same time Sharia Law is firm regarding punishment for those found guilty of stealing as a result of greed and other selfish motives. Sharia enforces justice, with punishment meted out according to the crime. The punishment must also serve as a deterrent to prevent others from committing crimes. It is done publicly for all to witness. Unlike most western countries where the rights of the criminal is often held higher than the rights of victims, Sharia is very serious about dealing with law breakers who feel that they have a right to commit crimes against innocent people. It does not glorify criminals; rather it protects the innocent and law abiding against criminals who would harm them. It takes a no nonsense attitude dealing with criminals justly and publicly. As a result of this serious approach towards dealing with crime, Islamic counties today have the lowest crime rates in the world.
2. Sharia forces non-Muslims to adopt Muslim behavior in all things
Long before Article 1 of the US Constitution, granting freedom and inalienable rights to life, liberty, possession of property and the pursuit of happiness, the revelation of the Qur’an to Muhammad (saaw) had already granted those rights. These inalienable rights were granted to all, under an Islamic Federalism, whether one was Muslim or not. Examples of a few verses from the Qur'an where these rights are granted are as follows: follows:
Guarantee of freedom of religion in Qur'an:
"Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error… [2:256]
"Say (Muhammad it is) truth from the Lord of all. Whosoever will, let him believe, and whosoever will, LET him disbelieve." [18:29]
If it had been thy Lord's will, they would all have believed,- all who are on earth! wilt thou then compel mankind, against their will, to believe![10:99]
Right to the pursuit of happiness and achievement of good in this life:
To each is a goal to which Allah turns him; then strive together (as in a race) towards all that is good…[1:148]
"But seek, with the (wealth) which Allah has bestowed on thee, the Home of the Hereafter, nor forget thy portion in this world...[28:77]
For them there is the glad tiding [of happiness] in the life of this world and in the life to come; [and since] nothing could ever alter [the outcome of] Allah's promises, this, this is the triumph supreme![10:64]
Right to both men AND women to possess property
From what is left by parents and those nearest related there is a share for men and a share for women, whether the property be small or large,-a determinate share. [4:7]
To (benefit) every one, We have appointed shares and heirs to property left by parents and relatives. To those, also, to whom your right hand was pledged, give their due portion. For truly Allah is witness to all things.[4:33]
O ye who believe! Eat not up your property among yourselves in vanities: But let there be amongst you Traffic and trade by mutual good-will…[4:29]
For the true freedom and liberation of the human being in Al-Islam, the words are stated in the first chapter and the most often repeated prayer of the Muslims:
"Thee Alone do we worship, and Thee Alone do we seek for aid."
By giving that type of devotion to the Creator of the heavens and the earth, the Supreme Being, the All Powerful and All Knowing Allah, Al-Islam negates the possibility of anything else in creation being gods or forces for the human being to submit to. More than anything this guarantees for the human being his Allah given right to self rule, freedom from domination by others and recognizes that not other men, but only Allah is who he should submit his whole self to.
With these rights clearly spelled out in the Qur’an, two major guarantees are given to non-Muslims living under Sharia Law. They are:
Under Sharia rule, people of other religions have complete freedom to practice their religion, establish their places of worship and their institutions to teach their religion to their children.
Sharia Law goes one step further by allowing non-Muslims to establish their own judicial courts to try their own civil cases, and to render and implement their judgments upon the people of their faith. Note that such permission is not given to the Muslims living in Europe or the Americas, now or earlier in history.
This is all part of Islamic Federalism. Besides presenting this as a concept in Al-Islam, I will list a few examples of how Muslims implemented Islamic Federalism in history. Serious students please take note and do Google searches on some of the terms mentioned in the examples to verify truth. For information about the Golden Age of Judaism under Islamic rule in Muslim Spain listed below, you can visit the following link The Jewish Virtual Library:
The Golden Age of Judaism was Arab Spain according to Jewish historians. In fact, the years between 900 and 1200 in Spain and North Africa are known as the Hebrew "golden age," a sort of Jewish Renaissance that arose from the fusion of the Arab and Jewish intellectual worlds. Jews watched their Arab counterparts closely and learned to be astronomers, philosophers, scientists, and poets. They were free to grow and thrive amongst Muslims and in their own communities under Sharia rule.
The Silver Age of Judaism was Muslim Persia (modern Iraq and Iran) according to Jewish historians. The Golden and Silver Ages of Judaism were not during the period of Jewish rule in Judea and Samaria nor under the Babylonian rulers nor under the Romans and Greeks nor in Europe under the Catholics. It was under Islamic rule.
There was absolute liberty of conscience for the Christians under Muslim rule in the Middle East; they kept their most important Churches and built new ones; the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem has always been a Christian place of worship, the only thing the Muslims did in the way of interference with the Christian's liberty of conscience in respect of it was to see that every sect of Christians had access to it, and that it was not monopolized by one sect to the exclusion of others. The same is true of the Church of the Nativity of Bethlehem, and of other buildings of special sanctity.
Christian churches, Jewish synagogues and places of worship of other religions are found by the millions throughout Muslim majority countries without interruption and disruption of their business. The Eastern Christians, as British Historian Edward Gibbon showed, preferred Muslim rule, which allowed them to practice their own form of religion and adhere to their peculiar dogmas, to the rule of fellow Christians who would have made them Roman Catholics or wiped them out.
When crusaders conquered Jerusalem they killed almost all Muslims, Jews and a majority of non-Catholic Christians. When Muslims re-conquered the same city after 88 years under the leadership of Sultan Salahuddin Al-Ayyubi all non-Muslims were protected and their places of worship and institutions were also protected. No revenge was taken for what had happened 88 years earlier. Instead, Muslims helped Christians and Jews to rebuild their Synagogues and churches that were destroyed.
Innumerable monasteries, with a wealth of treasure of which the worth has been calculated at not less than a hundred million sterling, enjoyed the benefit of the Holy Prophet's (Muhammad’s) Charter to the monks of Sinai and were religiously respected by the Muslims. The various sects of Christians were represented in the Council of the Empire by their patriarchs, on the provincial and district council by their bishops, in the village council by their priests, whose word was always taken without question on things which were the sole concern of their community.
To Be Continued...