By Michael Kay|USA
One of the most common phrases uttered during Muslim migration debates is “We cannot let them in, because they want to bring Sharia law to America!” Interestingly, neither side actually analyzes what Sharia law is. The left says that Sharia law is just a set of peaceful moral codes, while the right insists that Sharia law is basically a Bible for murderers and terrorists. It is in fact neither, and in this article, I will explain Sharia law, and how we can better use it to understand the problems in the Middle East (and now, domestically).
So first, what does “Sharia Law” mean? Sharia literally translates in Arabic to “Law”, which means that when we anglicize it, we are saying “Law Law”. Nonetheless, Sharia Law functions very differently from our version of laws, and even from the British version of common law. Sharia is effectively a hierarchy of interpreting the Islamic laws, which dictate the rules for much of the Islamic world. As I explain how complex and confusing it can be, it will begin to make sense as to why the Qur’an is often misconstrued and misinterpreted.
Sharia separates law into a five-part hierarchy, including the Quranic verses, the lessons of the prophet, higher scholars, lower scholars, and individual morality. I’m going to explain each of these partitions, and how they actually play out in the real world.
At the top of the list is the Quranic verses. The Qur’an is written almost like a series of poems that rarely explicitly state laws, but rather discuss moral stories and ideas, making the text quite unique along the lines of religious texts. However, there are certain cases in which it is direct, such as the act of homosexuality, which is vehemently opposed. When the Qur’an is explicit, it becomes a commandment for all Muslims to follow (perhaps in my next article, I’ll discuss the different sects of Islam), and this makes it the final word on that issue.
Though such strong condemnation of a practice does occur in a Quranic verse, it is quite rare. The rest of the cases are decided based on the teachings and life of the prophet, Muhammad. This is where Islam becomes complicated because the next three hierarchies are often drawn from simultaneously. As the teachings of the prophet (and the Qur’an) are often unclear, educated religious figures interpret the Qur’an and the life of Muhammed in terms that a commoner can better understand. These individuals, known as higher scholars, spend years studying the religion and are often very politically connected. The higher scholars are essentially used as consultants for high ranking citizens. For example, if a politician wants to know if non-Muslim marriage is permissible, he will go to the upper scholars of the country (in Muslim majority countries), and he will ask the scholar to interpret Muhammad’s life to find out. The scholar’s decision will ultimately become law, which can cause some inter-regional conflict due to a variance in this interpretation. An example of such a discrepancy is the hijab, burqa, and niqab, which are three different acceptable veils for women to wear in public, found in three different regions.
However, the average Muslim cannot usually go see an upper scholar, as few of the men exist. They must then resort to seeing a lower scholar. These lower scholars are often much less informed on the issues, and come to decisions for personal reasons. For example, if a man comes to a lower scholar, and asks “Is smoking legal?”, it gives all the power over the law in the town to this scholar. If the scholar enjoys cigarettes, he may say it is legal, and if not, he may decide not. This means that laws become loosely dictated, as they change based on the interpretations of singular individuals. Lower scholars have another important job, which is the Muslim education of young boys (in Muslim schools known as madrasas). This is where major problems start, because often scholars are highly tied to politics. The more radical young boys become, the less rational they become, this making them easier to control. It is for this reason that these madrasas often teach more violent, radical forms of Islam. So while I still think that the religion of Islam itself still has inherent violence prescribed in it, I think the effects of this are exacerbated by radical madrasas (and could be curbed by peaceful madrasas).
Finally, lowest on the Sharia hierarchy, is personal morals. This one is pretty self-explanatory. If no scholar had ruled on something, you may exercise your own judgement, and decide on the issue. But this happens incredibly infrequently, as most issues are decided long before this stage. This can have numerous problems, such as the inability to comply with the west. It means that if a radical government comes to power, they can put in place upper scholars for the country that act very much like the Supreme Court, in that they serve for life, determine the laws of the state, and are often selected on the basis of their political leanings. If a man in power desires a radical set of laws, he may choose radical high scholars, who choose and teach radical lower scholars, who teach and radicalize the next generation.
So how do we best solve this issue? If religion is so entrenched in these countries’ democracies that we can’t have a separation between Church and state, and the religion is so opposed to our way of life, how do we find peace? This is a hotly contested issue, but I believe that the answer lies in the madrasas. If we fund madrasas that teach peaceful versions of Islam, we can mitigate the problem. Islam will still be inherently violent, but this violence may be adequately curbed.