Patriarchal interpretation of Quran is Sharia Law

Despite the claim of Islamists that sharia is the universally accepted law of Islam, the word is controversial, and its opponents are mostly Muslims

| Updated: 01 June, 2023 12:12 pm IST
Sharia is derived from at least ten sources. Except for the Quran, sources of Sharia are human

Akhtarul Wasey, Professor Emeritus (Islamic Studies), Jamia Millia Islamia) wrote in Awaz The Voice that ‘Muslim women inherit multiple times and at times more than that of men’. His claim is based on the strong belief that a woman’s share in inheritance is determined by Allah and remains intact until it is given to her.

In the 21st century trusting that humans will follow what is ordained by faith is not going to cut it. Shah Bano case’s judgement (1986) of alimony which was overturned by Rajiv Gandhi of the Indian National Congress, capitulating to a Muslim theological mob and political pressure is not that far off in time.

The article is also misleading, emphasising that a woman can inherit from various sources throughout her life, including her father, husband, mother, and brother, but not highlighting that the Islamic law of inheritance fluctuates based on the number of heirs and specifies certain cases where a woman’s share may be less than a man’s, such as when brothers and sisters are alive or when a mother and father are alive. Even the connection between inheritance and the Islamic law of alimony, where a woman’s responsibility for expenses affects her inheritance share is unfairly against women hasn’t been touched upon.

What is this personal law that Indian Muslims are under? Muslim Personal Laws refer to the legal principles and regulations that govern various aspects of personal and family matters for Muslims. These laws are derived from Islamic sources, including the Quran (the holy book of Islam) and the Hadith (the sayings and actions of Prophet Muhammad). Muslim Personal Laws govern marriage, including the requirements for a valid marriage, the rights and obligations of spouses, and the procedure for divorce or annulment. They also address issues like polygamy, dowry, and maintenance.

Despite the claim of Islamists that sharia is the universally accepted law of Islam, the word is controversial, and its opponents are mostly Muslims. The word “sharia” appears in the Quran only three times: once as a noun in chapter 45, and twice as a verb in chapters 5 and 48. The term sharia means “way” or “path to the water source,” and in Islamic religious vocabulary, it stands for the body of Islamic law.

Sharia is the legal framework within which the most private aspects of life are regulated for those living in a Muslim society. These laws are often in conflict with the laws of the country. Medieval in nature and its origin, Sharia tries to deal with all aspects of modern day-to-day life, including politics, economics, banking, business law, contract law, family, sexuality, hygiene, and social issues.

However, most of these laws are the work of ordinary mortals and have never been debated in any parliament, nor would they ever be put to such scrutiny, especially in India, considering an NGO formed 50 years ago (AIMPLB) is always rabble-rousing at any attempt of reform.

Sharia is derived from at least ten sources: the Quran, local customs, Sunna (the Prophet’s examples), independent opinion, consensus, public interest, reasoning, equity consensus, old laws of culture and scriptures and presumption of continuity. Except for the Quran, sources of Sharia are human.

How then can sharia – an overwhelming percentage of which is man-made – be called Allah’s Law and imposed on Muslims? Added to this is the fact that many celebrated Muslim scholars never agreed to the use of Quranic verses to frame historic Sharia laws. They showed alternate meanings and interpretations of those verses. Examples are polygamy, wife-beating, men’s right to have concubines and slavery.

Even a cursory study of the development of sharia from medieval times would demonstrate that far from being Quranic, these laws were man-made, at times backdated, with the objective to Islamise harsh tribal and misogynist laws and to keep the masses from questioning the rule of the monarchs, as Turkish author Prof Ahmet T Kuru has elaborated in his book, Islam, Authoritarianism, and Underdevelopment: A Global and Historical Comparison.

The Holy Quran lays down fundamental laws, and the working details are left out to be determined by the people according to their specific circumstances. Staying within the framework of these fundamental laws, these details could be changed if circumstances so warranted. If these details are called sharia, then the fundamentals would remain unchangeable whereas the sharia would continue changing.

Indian Muslims never want Muslim Personal Laws to be reformed or debated or even changed to the UCC because it was Abul Ala Maudoodi, the father of modern political Islam (Jamaat-e-Islami) responsible for the Two-Nation Theory and the Partition, who said: “Where an explicit command of God or His Prophet already exists, no Muslim leader or legislature, or any religious scholar can form an independent judgement, not even all the Muslims of the world put together to have any right to make least alteration to it.”

Such absolute declarations allowed sharia to become a very effective political tool against which few Muslims could argue without fearing for their lives which explains the political fiasco of 1986.

Some of the sharia laws are not only an embarrassment to Islam, but also a serious liability on Muslims. Calls to annul them or reject them outright have been met with fatwas of apostasy. Yet the outrageous nature of these laws makes it incumbent upon Muslims to stand up and say, “Not in our name.”

Islam’s five pillars – the declaration of faith in the oneness of God; prayers; fasting; paying the charitable tax of zakat; and the hajj pilgrimage – are non-political. Had the governing of people by Sharia-based laws in an Islamic State been so important to God and the Prophet, we would have expected the Prophet to have said so, at least once in his lifetime. He did not. Nowhere among the forty thousand reported hadith – the Prophet’s examples – does the Prophet suggest the structure for an Islamic State or the rules of governance and succession. Even in his last sermon, the Prophet gave no instructions about governance and sharia.

During 1971, still a university student, Hasan Mahmud, author of Islam and Sharia, was actively involved in the war of independence for Bangladesh (East Pakistan at the time) against West Pakistan. He was an eyewitness to one of the most heinous genocides and mass rapes in the history of mankind. It was shocking to observe how all other Muslim countries supported West Pakistan. This is when Mahmud’s journey began in the quest for the root cause of violence in Islam. Mahmud noticed that not all Sharia supporters are necessarily violent, but all violent Muslims are Sharia supporters. After decades of in-depth research, he found out that one of the major roots of violence in Muslim societies is the political interpretation of Islam; Sharia law is its backbone.

Mahmud believes that people know Islam through the behaviour of the Muslims and not from the Islamic scriptures. Muslim’s brutal behaviour over the years in the name of Islam on women, non-believers and Muslims themselves is the root of fear about Islam (what the Islamophobia-screaming industry capitulates on for their own agendas). Mahmud claims that it was clear to him that defeating radical Islam essentially means overcoming the institution of Sharia law.

With the support of Muslims Facing Tomorrow (MFT) and minimal funding for a core team of two dozen activists on the ground in Bangladesh, Mahmud managed to create dozens of radical free villages in Bangladesh. The thrust of this project called ‘Radical Free Villages’ is to enlighten the villagers and demystify the myths of Sharia Law. Mahmud truly believes, if it works in Bangladesh, it can work anywhere else in the globe.

The Quran did not suddenly appear from the heavens with dictums. Initially, it brought some balance in the basically anti-women stance of the past society and then redirected it towards the future path of gender equity. As Hasan Mahmud’s book shows How Sharia-ism Hijacked Islam. Sharia is not a benign legal system, he says. “It is the foundation for building a global theocratic Islamic State. Further, Sharia is not entirely compatible with the spirit of Islam because most of Sharia law comes from outside the Quran. No law that perpetuates injustice against our mothers and daughters can be considered Islamic. Sharia forces Muslims to turn away from Islam’s spirit of moral guidance, and instead makes ordinary Muslims pawns in a man-made political power struggle.”

No religion has a built-in mechanism against its abuse; Islam is no different. It depends on how its religious leaders would interpret the scriptures and how the believers would apply the interpretation in real life. The Quran and Prophet were interpreted in an anti-women and political way because it was possible to do so. But the hands of patriarchy and political power game (mullah-caliph alliance) are clearly visible in that interpretation. Its devastating impact on human life for centuries, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, negates its claim of being a divine religion.

Arshia Malik is a Delhi-based writer, blogger and social commentator
Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author’s own

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