04.10.2004Emran Qureshi - Heba Raouf EzzatAre Sharia Laws and Human Rights Compatible?
Heba Raouf Ezzat The Sharia law is not only compatible with human rights but also the most effective way to achieve human rights. Human rights violations in Muslim countries - whose regimes are usually supported by Western allies - are not due to Sharia law.
The violence in Islamic countries is mainly exercised by the state and dates back to the post-colonial era. There was an attempt to secularize the different laws of the Islamic societies and to remove Sharia. The legal systems of the late French and British colonial powers were seen as a model for the judicial reformation and as a basis for modernising the state.
However, these new secular and socialist regimes were totalitarian. They manipulated the up to then independent traditional religious institutions and appointed the heads of religious bodies and universities. Islam, when reduced to a penal code, was used to violate human rights.
Modern Islamic intellectuals were influenced by this. In their eyes the state was the means by which society and religion were being reshaped. In order to achieve an Islamic renaissance - and that is why Sharia has become the marker of the Muslim state – they tried to get their hands on the state.
In the struggle against the totalitarian regimes they wanted and want to bring back the law of Sharia. For them it is only through the Sharia that the strength of Islam can be recaptured. This struggle is a matter of power, with religion used and abused by both sides. The Muslim Brotherhood that is banned in Egypt advocates Sharia and has been running for elections for more than a decade accepting the rule of law.
The word "Sharia" means path. The road of Islam encompasses belief and morality for an individual, as much as a legal, economic and social framework, to govern a society. Moreover, Sharia is a progressive platform which empowers the people and protects their rights against totalitarianism and utilitarian ultra-capitalism. It can be an egalitarian force for democratic social justice, in the Muslim countries and globally.
Islam's central values are justice and personal freedom. However, they can also threaten Western economic interests when Muslim societies defend not only their cultural values but also aspire for economic independence. Reducing Islam to the individual moral dimension, as you would suggest, means that Islam loses its core as a progressive socialist liberation theology with a vision of a just society.
Ironically, the Islamic groups themselves are far from recognizing that and instead focus on penal codes and some outdated interpretations of Islamic jurisprudence. It is true though that some Islamic groups regard Islam as an anti-thesis of the West. However, this mainly results from Western support for some of the most despotic regimes in the Middle East.
Heba Raouf Ezzat
Heba Raouf Ezzat teaches political theory at the Department of Political Science, Cairo University. She is co-ordinator of the Civil Society Program at the Center for Political Research and Studies at Cairo University and editor of the Global Civil Society Yearbook. She also works as womens' rights activist.