Muslim spokespeople sometimes pooh-pooh the association of draconian punishments with Sharia, as though such an association could only come from ignorance. Here’s a recent example from The Sydney Morning Herald:
“The use of the term sharia conjures up images of a brutal, harsh and inhumane legal system, characterized by amputations, beheadings, and stoning to death. In fact these were the very images used as the background to a news report about the lecture [stating Sharia would inevitably be incorporated into the British legal system] delivered by the archbishop.
”With such a grim picture of sharia in our minds, it is little wonder that the call made by the archbishop to consider ways of accommodating sharia law in certain areas of dispute resolution, in particular family law, was received with such animosity.”
The authors could have acknowledged that those “brutal, harsh and inhumane” punishments are written into actual Sharia criminal law, but they did not, choosing instead to call them “[conjured] images”, “a grim picture”. The implication is that they have no relevance to a discussion of Sharia.
So, let’s settle the matter of whether Sharia calls for these “brutal, harsh, and inhumane” punishments. There are four major schools of Sunni Sharia law. They agree about 75% of the time. Sharia has been basically unchanged for about the past 1000 years. There is a difference between Sharia and the laws of various Muslim states. Muslim states can vary in their implementation of Sharia, but this implementation does not change the basic nature of Sharia. There are authoritative legal texts of Islamic law which spell out what Sharia law entails. Here are some quotes from Reliance of the Traveller: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law (Shafi’i School):
pg. 613 “THE PENALTY FOR THEFT…. A person’s right hand is amputated, whether he is a Muslim, non-Muslim subject of the Islamic state, or someone who has left Islam….”
pg. 616 “THE PENALTY FOR HIGHWAY ROBBERY…. If he steals the equivalent of 1.058 grams of gold…, both his right hand and left foot are amputated…. If the highwayman robs and kills, he is killed and then left crucified for three days.”
pg. 610 “THE PENALTY FOR FORNICATION OR SODOMY…. If the offender is someone with the capacity to remain chaste, then he or she is stoned to death….”
pg. 595 “APOSTASY FROM ISLAM (RIDDA)…. When a person who has reached puberty and is sane voluntarily apostatizes from Islam, he deserves to be killed.”
pg. 617 “THE PENALTY FOR DRINKING…. The penalty for drinking is to be scourged forty stripes, with hands, sandals, and ends of clothes. It may be administered with a whip, but if the offender dies, an indemnity… is due… for his death.” [This penalty applies only to Muslims.]
In each case, there is also a list of qualifiers for who should be punished. Of course, these punishments are not carried out much of the time today, but they certainly are a part of Sharia. They have never been removed from the books, and they can be enforced at any time and place that Sharia is considered to be a valid source of law.
In addition, there is evidence these barbaric practices are still very much alive. Aid organizations, such as the Red Cross, have found it necessary to have a policy for whether to assist with amputations meted out as punishment in Muslim countries. Stonings are being carried out by the legal system in Nigeria, Iran, and elsewhere.
So tell me, why exactly would we believe those who say they could implement Sharia family law only, without opening the door to the criminal law with its cruel medieval punishments? If we legitimize Sharia as a source of law, what exactly would stop orthodox Muslims from wanting–and indeed, expecting–the whole thing?