In the Name of Allah's Law

How should Muslims implement Sharia (Islamic) law? Let's heed the lessons from Pakistan's Lal Masjid tragedy.

Continued from page 1

The questions don’t stop there: If societal norms and other circumstances change with time, should the law change with them? The answer to this question is easy when it comes to secular law, but with Sharia law as understood by Muslims today, this would be interpreted as "changing God's law." How is this tension resolved? It is well known in the annals of Islamic jurisprudence that laws must be re-examined with changing times. But there are too few Muslim scholars who espouse this view, and many hearken back to medieval legal constructs and apply them today. I feel this is simply untenable.

As far as criminal law is concerned, it seems that Muslims are quick to implement the hudud (or limits ordained by Allah) punishments, like the stoning of adulterers and cutting off the hands of thieves. But there are so many mitigating circumstances when it comes to these punishments, and they are frequently neglected. A perfect example of this is the case of Amina Lawal in Nigeria (a case that many Muslim scholars also found appalling). Lawal was condemned to death by stoning for alleged adultery (even though the man was let go for "lack of evidence"). 

Moreover, a well known principle of Islamic law is that if the conditions in a society do not permit the application of a particular law, it should not be implemented. For instance, if poverty and hardship is rampant in society, the law of amputation for theft should not be applied. Furthermore, the Prophet Muhammad was reported to have said, "If there is any way (to avoid punishing someone for a legal offence), let that person go. For it is better for a leader to make a mistake in forgiving than to make a mistake in punishing."


These basic principles, it seems, have been completely neglected and abandoned by many Muslims jurists today. Doesn't this lead to injustice? Isn't that the exact opposite of what Islamic law is all about? So does this justify calls for a moratorium on the implementation of Islam’s criminal penal code, as made by academics such as Tariq Ramadan?

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