Source / Courtesy: Muslim Sunrise, Fall 2011
By Dr. Lutf ur Rehman
The idea of implementation of Shariah Law through the legislative process of a country is not new. Muslim majority countries have faced this debate for many decades. The driving force behind such ideas is usually politico-religious parties who find it very hard to come into power through the normal process of elections. This is their attempt to grab power in Muslim majority countries. Over time they have succeeded to varying degrees in this goal. Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih the IV, Mirza Tahir Ahmad has described the line of argument by the religious elite as follows:
It is generally understood that if the majority in a country is Muslims, then the Muslims have a right rather, an obligation to enact Shariah Law. It is argued that if they believe in the Holy Quran and if they believe also that the Holy Quran is a comprehensive Book which relates to every area of human activity and directs man how he should conduct himself in every sphere of life, then it is hypocrisy not to act on those claims. They should follow the logical conclusion and enact Shariah Law and make it the only law valid for the country. (Shariah: Relationship Between Religion & Politics in Islam. A speech delivered by Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad Khalifatul Masih IV, at the Inter religious Consults, Suriname, on 3rd June 1991)
Then he points out various problems that will be encountered if an attempt is made to enact Shariah law as the only law of the land.
1) If Muslims are permitted to have Shariah Law based upon their Holy Book, then other religions will have the same right in their countries. For example, India will be free to have a law based upon their religious scriptures. Jews can enact law of Talmud for their countrymen. Christians also will be free to force the population to follow their religious law in their countries. These days when populations of most countries have multiple faiths in them, this can produce chaos and substantial populations can become second rate citizens with only limited rights.
2) Since legislation will be based in the scriptures of a certain religion, people belonging to other faiths will have no say in the formulation of that legislation and will be excluded from the process, even as they will be affected by it. In a secular state the citizens acquire these rights by being a citizen regardless of their beliefs or any other discrimination such as race, color or creed.
3) Even if legislative bodies were to be elected without any religious consideration, the interpretation of the law based in religion will be challenged by the religious scholars and they will have the final say as they are the scholars of the religion. Therefore even when the religious scholars will not be elected it will become necessary to concede power of legislation to them. This would by definition result in a theocratic state.
4) Over time all religions split and many sub groups appear. Within Islam there are at least 73 different sects whose interpretation of Shariah Law differs from others. The most stark example of this was seen during the 1953 judicial enquiry report after Anti-Ahmadiyya riots in Pakistan. Ulema (religious scholars) from different sects of Islam could not agree on the definition of a Muslim. It is common knowledge that religious scholars of various denominations do not agree on even basic regulations such as how to perform Salat, etc. This presents another serious hurdle in implementing a law which is based in religion. The majority sect in a religion will enact law according to their interpretation. But the majority sect may make up only a small fraction of the total population of the country. Hence a small minority will dictate the legislation for the majority of the people of that country.
5) All religious people believe that they have the perfect truth as revealed by God to their Prophet through their Holy Book. They believe that there is no error in that which has been revealed to them. Therefore the question is not finding an acceptable answer to a problem, rather is only a question of implementation. There is no room for debate as we already know the truth. And of course the truth will be as interpreted by the majority faction which may be only a small fraction of the total.
Therefore Hadhrat Khalifatul Massih the IVth said, “These and many such issues make the question of imposition of Shariah almost impossible.”
There was a great debate in Pakistan (teeming with fundamentalist Muslims) in the late 80’s and early 90’s about imposition of Shariah Law in the country. The differences in the interpretation of Shariah Law made it impossible to do so. (90% population of Pakistan is Muslims)
The law passed in Pakistan is that they will accept the supremacy of the Quran, and they will agree that no legislation will be made contrary to the fundamental Quranic teaching. But beyond that they will not adopt any rules and regulations which spring from laws as if they were legislative instructions from God.
Hadhrat Khalifatul Massih the IVth completed his thought by saying the following:
“So as such, we must think many, many times, before we can even begin to ponder over the question whether anywhere in the world, the law of religion can be imposed as a legal tender. Personally, I doubt it.”
(Shariah: Relationship Between Religion & Politics in Islam. A speech delivered by Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad Khalifatul Masih IV, at the Inter religious Consults, Suriname, on 3rd June 1991)
Once this historic address was finished, huzoor was asked some questions.
Question: There is a particular confusion in the western world about Shariah?
Answer: Thank you for this pointed question. But I thought that such questions are outside the realm of this discussion.
What we are discussing is whether it is possible to adopt religious law as the law of the country: By any state or any other religion, for that matter.
I believe it’s not possible. It’s not possible even if you genuinely and fervently so desire, in the name of God, even then it’s not possible. We have gone so far away from religion. We have become hypocrites. The whole human society has become hypocrites. There is hypocrisy in politics and society everywhere. And hypocrisy does not permit honesty to flourish. It does not permit the word of God to take root. That is the main problem.
Question: I feel that we cannot really apply a law that came for older times to the modern times. Please explain?
Answer: I have studied this question in depth. I believe that religion can be permanent and universal; provided its principles are deep-rooted in the human psyche. The human psyche is unchangeable. And that is exactly what the Holy Quran claims. It says it’s Deenul Fitra: meaning a faith or a law based on human nature. And also ‘La tabdeela lekhalkillah’ meaning that the creation of God and whatever he has created in you, the dispensation, the dispositions, etc. and the basic propensity to do something or not to do so, all these remain the same.
Consequently, any law which is rooted in human psyche must also be universal and permanent. But, the Holy Quran does not stop there. It does not monopolize this truth. It goes on to say that all religions, at their nascent stages and at the stages of their development, were fundamentally the same and they all carried such basic truths related to human nature. This is referred to by the Quran as Deenul Qayyema. It says there were three fundamental features in every religious teaching:
First: To mend your relations with God, to be honest and devoted to Him.
Second: To worship God only. In the Quranic sense, worship does not mean just to pay lip service, but to try to acquire God’s attributes.
Third: To serve mankind and spend in the cause of the needy.
These are the three fundamental branches, according to the Holy Quran, which are common to all religions. However, with the passage of the time and through interpolations they were changed later on. So, what is needed is rectification of the change. Not a new faith. And that is what has been happening with the advent of every Prophet.
So, it is a highly complex question and also not directly related to the issue we are discussing. I hope this much should suffice.
As far as the question of whether Islamic law, or any other religious law, can be imposed perforce. I say no: Because it is against the spirit of religions themselves. The Holy Qur’an says: La Ikraha fiddine لاَ إِكْرَاهَ فِي الدِّينِ
This is a statement of the Holy Qur’an of course; but it is a universal statement which can never be changed. It is an example of how laws can become permanent and universal. It says there is no coercion in faith or in matters of faith. No coercion is possible and no coercion is permitted. So, here is the question: If one religion imposes its law on a society where people of other religions and denominations also live, how will this verse stand against your attempt to coerce? Not only vis-à-vis the people from other religions, but vis-à-vis people from the same religion who are not willing.
So, this is the fundamental question. Therefore the conclusion is that coercion is not a valid instrument in religion. The only authority in Islam, which was genuinely capable of being given the right to coerce, was the Founder of Islam, Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). Why? Because he was a living model of Islam and because when enquired about his character, his holy wife, Hadhrat Ayesha, said, he was the living Qur’an.
So, the only person who could be genuinely entrusted with the faith of others, and be permitted to use coercion where he felt that rectification was to be made by force, was the Holy Prophet.
Yet, addressing him, Allah says in the Qur’an:
إِنَّمَا أَنْتَ مُذَكِّرٌ
لَسْتَ عَلَيْهِمْ بِمُسَيْطِرٍ
Innama anta mozakkir lasta alaihim be mosaitir. (88:22-23)
You are just an admonisher. No more. You are given no authority to coerce. You are not a superintendent of police. ‘Musaiter’ is exactly the superintendent of police.
So, that is why I say coercion is not possible, nor permitted by God. Moreover, what prevents a Muslim from following the Muslim law? Why should he wait for the whole legislation to be changed?
Most of Islam and most of Christianity and most of Hinduism can be practiced without there being the law of the country. The more so since the general principle accepted by the modern political thinkers is that religion should not be permitted to interfere with politics and politics should not be permitted to interfere with religion.
Interference is what I am talking about, not co operation. Co operation is the second part of the same subject. So, if a society is permitted to live according to their religious aspirations, why should the religious law (Shariah Law) concerned be made law of the land?
It is clear from the above explanation of Hadhrat Khalifatul Massih the IVth that Shariah cannot be implemented through the use of legislative process.
Shariah is a code of conduct, a guideline which is applicable to one’s own self. No law or legal binding is required to follow this code of conduct. Every Muslim is free to adopt this code in his personal life. As for others we can only deliver the message but not enforce it.