04.10.2004Emran Qureshi - Heba Raouf EzzatAre Sharia Laws and Human Rights Compatible?
In their correspondence, Emran Qureshi (journalist and expert for Islam and human rights) and Heba Raouf Ezzat (lecturer for political science and womens' rights activist) discuss the role of the sharia in Islamic countries and in how far sharia laws are compatible with human rights.
Emran Qureshi The Sharia law, as is practiced in many Muslim countries today, is clearly incompatible with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Today Sharia is a source of injustice that profanes Islam and shames Muslims who adhere to a compassionate and merciful interpretation of their faith.
At the same time I cannot see why a more humane and gentler Sharia law that is confined to the personal realm could not emerge in the future. Traditional Muslims - apart from Salafi and Wahhabi Muslims who are dominant in Saudi-Arabia - have long recognized the legitimacy of multiple schools of Islamic jurisprudence.
This is in addition to latitudinarian Islamic juridical practices, e.g. the borrowing of more liberal practices from other schools of thought. It shows that there is a remarkable capacity in Islam for reinterpretation. Nevertheless, I sadly think that a gentler Sharia is unlikely to emerge since today we are presented with the anti-intellectualism, authoritarianism, and moral depravity of these self-appointed Salafi guardians of Sharia.
Instead one should ask the question: Why has Sharia become the marker of the Muslim state? Thus Islam as envisioned by Islamist intellectuals is simply a penal code, and an Islamic State, a penal colony, which enforces the "pure" Islam. This is an extraordinary failure on the part of modern Muslim thinkers.
Khaled Abou El Fadl, a prominent Islamic intellectual reformer in the United States, has observed of contemporary Islamist intellectuals "Instead of Islam being a moral vision given to humanity, it becomes constructed into the antithesis of the West. In the world constructed by these groups, there is no Islam; there is only opposition to the West." This is sadly true.
These corrosive ideas do not spring from a vacuum. They arise instead from impoverished Salafi and Wahhabi discourses, which are corroding Islam from within. There is a straight line between the Salafi/Wahhabi interpretations - a puritanical, anti-rationalist, misogynistic Islam with a punitive, intolerant Sharia - and the violence, which now bloodstains our faith.
Those who challenge this moral and ethical perversion of our faith are instead attacked as heretics as we can witness in Saudi-Arabia.
Emran Qureshi is a journalist and expert for Islam and human rights. He is currently a fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University. "The New Crusaded, Constructing the Muslim Enemy" is his most recent publication (Columbia University Press, 2003). He resides in Ottawa, where he is working on his next book, "A Study of Islam and Human Rights".