What Sharia Is Not

Because of this, I have argued that this debate is actually about representation, citizenship, political compromise, participation, deliberation, and organization. The call for Sharia is actually an expression of political disappointment by Muslims, that the general will does not include them. This might be a difficult suggestion to realize in practice, but I do believe it is the only way in which we can hold on to the nation-state as a form of organizing power. They are probably right, and the nation-state will not be around eternally. In the meantime, however, we have to address the social problems that exist, and increasingly diverse societies are one such problem.

The University Library System databases include titles such as Arab Law Quarterly, Islamic Law and Society, and Muslim World Journal of Human Rights. Sharia is a set of moral values; it is a normative way of thinking about right and wrong, and what the good in life is. This can definitely serve as a political principle for finding good laws, but those laws may not be taken for granted as divine and absolute. Such laws are the product of human understanding and reasoning, and they represent the political will of people – not the religious will of God.

In the case of Sharia – apart from the necessary reinterpretation – the best alternative solution is not legal pluralism; it is to encourage political participation and make representation more effective under an equal citizenship. This article will address this question in order to shed light on the present status of Sharia in an international system of nation-states and increasingly diverse societies, ethnically, culturally, and religiously. I will argue that although Sharia has the potential to overcome certain challenges to govern a multicultural society, insofar as it is considered by some to be the only legitimate source of legislation for Muslims, gradual introduction of legal pluralism in a nation-state will incrementally delegitimise the state. Instead, I propose a reinterpretation of Sharia, which will constitute the basis for political organisation.

This attitude has filtered down to the population; a lawyer in Kano told Human Rights Watch that most Muslims believed they could not appeal a Shari’a judgment.However, none of the Shari’a laws introduced in Nigeria prohibits legal representation for defendants and some of them, as indicated above, explicitly provide for it. We are simply concerned about human rights violations resulting from the implementation of any legal system, in any country. “Some of the biggest misconceptions about Islamic law are that it proposes a scheme of global domination,” Imam Zaid Shakir, a cofounder of Zaytuna College in Berkeley, California—the first Muslim liberal arts college in America—explained during an interview for my latest book.

He also pointed out that many Westerners mistakenly believe that Islamic law is not amenable to change in the face of changing circumstances, that it is a system that oppresses women and that by definition it is an enemy of western civilization. In fact, he stated that Islamic law actually categorically forbids many of the practices that the average person fearfully associates with some Muslims today, like killing innocent people (non-Muslims and Muslims alike) and stoning women. Anyone who has searched for Islam, sharia, Islamic law, Muslim women, or Quran on the internet knows the first results are driven not by utility or accuracy, but by a complicated tangle of these circuits playing out at both the local and global scale. Anyone who has read a student paper, or worse yet, a court case or news article based on these results, can immediately tell. Perhaps it is finally time to build a syllabus for a new generation of hackers to face these challenges, users with fluency not just in codes of Islamic law, but in the pathways and nodal points through which we increasingly make sense of them.

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