Speaker Imam Mohamed Abdul-Azeez will discuss Shar’iah, a code of law based on scholarly interpretation of the Islamic scriptures today at 8 p.m. in 126 Wellman.
The event, titled “Shar’iah versus Democracy?” is sponsored by the Muslim Student Association in conjunction with the Muslim Law Student Association, and will address the code’s relationship with democracy.
“There is an underlying assumption that the two are incompatible with each other,” Abdul-Azeez said, adding that his talk will focus on “dispelling that myth.”
Shari’ah is an institution of law, whereas democracy is a form of government; thus it is erroneous to compare the two, said Abdul-Azeez, who is a religious leader at the SALAM Islamic Center in Sacramento, and who was educated at Ohio State University and the University of Chicago.
“You cannot compare apples and oranges,” he said. “The question is not democracy or Shari’ah, the question is can Shar’iah be applied in a democratic form of government.”
“Traditionally, shari`a [sic] has left matters of governance to state law, and Muslim states since the 9th century have sought to keep Islamic law and state administration institutionally distinct,” said Flagg Miller, professor of religious studies at UC Davis in an e-mail interview.
“Shar`iah is perfectly compatible with democracy, since the latter is an issue of governance and electoral process that Muslim legal specialists have usually left to political leaders,” he said.
“I don’t think there is any country in the world that exclusively implements Shar’iah law,” Abdul-Azeez said. “The only country that does partially is Saudi Arabia.”
“Shar’iah is an attempt to create a legal code out of the scripture,” Abdul-Azeez said. “It’s not divine law, it’s a human institution of law based on what the consensus of the scriptures are.”
“Most Muslims agree in varying capacities that Shar’iah is the optimal way of life,” Abdul-Azeez said.
Because Shar’iah is based on interpretation of the Quran and Hadith – a collection of the Prophet Mohammad’s sayings and doings – there are different versions that vary slightly, Abdul-Azeez said.
“[Scholars] will agree on 80 percent of the issues,” he said.
Shar’iah law, however, is a controversial topic.
Amnesty International is a worldwide organization concerned with preventing and ending human rights violations, such as torture and violence against women.
“Amnesty International doesn’t have a position on Shar’iah law per se, as long as it isn’t violating human rights standards and in accordance with conventions of international law that have been signed and ratified by the particular country [implementing Shar’iah],” said Mona Cadena, director of Amnesty International’s Western Region.
Amnesty International does, however, have concerns with what they consider to be cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments, she said, such as flogging, stoning or amputation – penalties that Shar’iah courts have the option of using.
Cadena used an example of a trial in Nigeria in which a Shar’iah court sentenced Safiya Yakubu Hussaini to be stoned to death Oct. 9, 2001 for committing adultery. With help of Amnesty International and other organizations, Hussaini’s sentence was commuted in March 2002.
Shar’iah, however, is more concerned with addressing what’s right and wrong rather than defining punishments, said Islamic religious leader Abdul-Azeez.
“If you are doing things you shouldn’t do, that’s between you and God,” he said. “Most things are punishable on the day of judgment, not here.”
Abdul-Azeez said there is a dispute among Shar’iah scholars about punishing adultery by stoning – something many scholars don’t accept.
“I personally don’t,” he said.
There is a noted distinction in the guidelines for public and private life in Shar’iah law, said Mohamad Ahmad, a first-year law student and member of the Muslim Law Student Association.
Public guidelines include “[one] cannot cheat in business, or commit murder,” he said. Private life guidelines call for each individual to strive higher than what is stated in the public guidelines, Ahmad said.
“[Private guidelines] are not necessarily enforceable in the public domain – they [address] each individual on a personal level,” he said, noting respecting ones’ parents as an example.
The Muslim Student Association decided to address Shar’iah because it is a widely discussed topic in the media, said Khalida Fazel, senior civil engineering major and the association’s president.
She said the Muslim Student Association will discuss the subject to “clear up misconceptions and break up stereotypes.”
“I think [the talk] will be enlightening for both Muslims and non-Muslims alike, because there is a lot of confusion about the subject,” Ahmad said.
Admission to the event, part of Islam Awareness Week, is free and open to the public.
ANNA OPALKA can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. XXX