Sunday, 6 September 2009

Sharia Laws and Democracy

In comparing two systems, two major components need to be assessed. Firstly, the laws, and secondly is the consistent application of the laws upon the subjects.

How does one conclude that a certain law is just? Is there a trade-off between having severe punishments or serious crimes? Is it better to punish a criminal using the principle of ‘an eye for an eye’ or should one ‘turn the other cheek’ and show forgiveness? Is it a choice between applying the harsh penal codes of the Old Testament or the lenient approach taken from the New Testament? The truth lies somewhere in between the two extreme approaches.

Going further back to a more fundamental point, the definition of a crime is largely subjective as it varies between nations. For example, the perverse act of homosexuality is sign of progress in western democracies, whereas it is considered a crime under Sharia laws. Another example is the business of slandering, this is often projected as entertainment and a manifestation of free speech, but under Sharia law, this sort of conduct is regarded as undignified, and clearly forbidden.

Even in areas where there is concurrence, like theft, robbery, murder, rape etc the same question arises, what is the correct level of punishment that fits the crime? There is no scientific answer for this. It is ultimately dependent on ones underlying beliefs. For example, some would argue that a thief should be whipped in public, and some would say he should be forgiven and others would say he should be imprisoned. Therefore, to scream Sharia laws are barbaric as the media often does is irrational, superstitious and fanatical like the medieval mindset that once flourished in Europe.

A legal system does not become outdated with the passage of time as laws govern human nature, which does not alter. Sharia Laws are after often ridiculed as medieval, but democracy is ancient! Indeed, bulk of the criticism of Sharia laws is based on the ‘twin-towers’ of ignorance and medieval prejudice, as the following two examples will illustrate.

• One of the issues often raised is the myth that Sharia laws oppress the non-Muslim minorities. The rights of non-Muslim minorities are fixed and permanent. The majority Muslims could not alter these rights without contradicting Islamic law. Rather, the rights of minorities are insecure and subjected to be altered anytime in any system where man is the legislator. This is what has surfaced post 9/11, and the various pieces of information continue to unfold regarding the liberal-fascists that arbitrarily imprison people, and subject them to inhumane torture.

• Democracy is projected as the rule of the masses but in reality, the masses are rather subjected to rule of the powerful elites. In theory, anyone can stand for power but in reality, only those with financial backing can qualify to compete. Power in democracy is heavily skewed, which is really represented through democracy. Under Sharia laws, the masses are far better represented and heard, where the power is more distributed evenly. The ruling elites are not the product of large businesses or some aristocratic class. It is Sharia laws that can really represent the interests of the masses that the people are always demanding in a capitalist-democracy.

As for the consistent application of the laws, abuse or misapplication can take place in any system. However, in a divine system, that scope is severely limited as the major principles and laws have already been legislated and cannot be altered. Whereas contradicting basic principles of democracy is often visible, and increasingly seen through the conduct of the US and other Western powers post 9/11.

At times, the contradiction is at a fundamental level. Israel is projected as the only democracy in the Middle East, yet it endorses a religious identity that contradicts the secular notion of democracy, which treats all the citizens as equals regardless of their religious identity. Arabs, be they Muslim, Christian, Agnostics, Atheists are expelled daily, whereas any Jew from any part of the world has the key to the houses of disposed people, is this still a democracy?

In a democracy, your rights can be given and taken away instantly. An innocent citizen can be incarcerated for years, and subjected to torture. Under Sharia laws, Muslims and non-Muslims alike can argue for their rights under the divine laws, which cannot be modified or abolished.

Yamin Zakaria (
London, UK

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