Can and Should Islam Be Reformed? Part IV: Sharia

January 23, 2008

This is the fourth installment of a seven part series, examining the challenges, as I see them, and potential solutions, for reforming Islam. I would consider a reform to be meaningful and successful if it resulted in Islam as a personal religion (just a way of relating with God, with no fascist doctrines); if it offered persuasive, comprehensive, and truthful challenges to the version of Islam put forward by the Islamists; and if it became the prevailing view among Muslims.

Challenge: Sharia. Islamic Law, or Sharia, is recorded in various legal manuals. Sharia is based on the Quran, Hadith, and ijma (consensus of previous Islamic legal scholars, considered to be infallible). The problems with Sharia are obvious from the examples here.

How to overcome this challenge:

Sharia depends on the Quran, Hadith, and ijma. Parts of Sharia, such as the Jizya tax and Jihad fighting, are explicitly called for in the Quran. Just as the Quran is more challenging to reform than the Hadith and Sira, aspects of Sharia based on the Quran are more difficult to deal with than the others.

However, the concept of the infallibility of ijma appears to have scant support from the Quran. Cited in Reliance of the Traveller (pgs. 24-25), there’s a verse which tells believers to obey “those in authority” among them (4:59), and another which threatens believers who do not follow “the believer’s way” (4:115). Then there are some supportive Hadith, which say things like “when the believers are in agreement, they cannot be wrong” and so forth.

Unless there is more support for ijma than what’s listed in this legal manual, it would not have to be difficult to reinterpret this in a credible fashion (at least, in comparison to the difficulties faced with the other challenges). There is a long tradition of ijma, it is highly influential to this day, but its foundation appears to be pretty weak. “Those in authority” could be secular leaders, “the believer’s way” could be reinterpreted any number of ways, and “when the believers are in agreement” could be reinterpreted more literally as a consensus of every single believer, rather than a consensus of a few scholars in the distant past. With “ijma” redefined, all the rulings of the four schools of Sharia could be reevaluated. (Ultimately, it seems the best thing would be to abolish Sharia altogether, but this could be one step in that direction.)

It would also not be difficult to make the case that none of the Hadith are sufficiently reliable to be used as a basis for law. Joseph Schacht, a great Islamicist, found evidence that “[d]etails from the life of the Prophet were invented to support legal doctrines.” [Quote from The Origins of the Koran, edited by Ibn Warraq, page 23.] Schacht also found that for the most part, Sharia was not derived from the Quran.

Another piece of “good news” is that the death penalty for apostasy is never explicitly given in the Quran, but is hinted at there, with more substantiation from the Hadith, and “locked in” by ijma. This does not mean this death penalty would be easy to get rid of in practice, because the tradition is deeply in-grained. Still, any good news, however small, is worth noting. Reforming this one aspect of Islam, if achievable on a large scale, could make a huge difference. Some Muslims make a good case that the death penalty for apostates is “un-Islamic” in theory, although so far as I know, significant numbers of clerics have not gotten on that bandwagon. While cheering on the reformers, it is important for us non-Muslims in the west to be realistic about the current state of things, as well.

Part V of this series will examine historical evidence of Arab conquest.

Part I: The Quran
Part II: The Hadith
Part III: The Sira
Part IV: Sharia
Part V: Historical Evidence
Part VI: Muslim Culture
Part VII: Conclusions
Overview


What is a “real Muslim”?

January 4, 2008

Who is excluded from any group helps define who is included. We can gain an insight into the orthodox meaning of a “Muslim” by taking a look at what defines a person who has left Islam, according to Islamic Law (Sharia). This is also essential for understanding the basics of Islamo-Fascism. There are Muslims who do not subscribe to the orthodox view; but substantial numbers, probably more than half of Muslims worldwide, do. I’m defining orthodox as believing the Quran was written word-for-word and letter-by-letter by Allah; believing Mohammed was a superior human worthy of emulating; believing in the authenticated Hadith (traditions) and the Sira (early biographies); and believing in the ijma (consensus) of mujtahedin (great scholars) of Sharia. Many Muslims who are orthodox by that definition are unaware of the full implications of accepting that list of doctrines.

My source text for this article is from Reliance of the Traveller: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law, 1994 Revised Edition. This manual represents the Shafi’i school (and it’s worth noting that all four schools agree on 75% of their rulings, according to the introduction to Reliance of the Traveller). Dr. Taha Jabir al-‘Alwani, President of the International Institute of Islamic Thought and President of the Fiqh Council of North America, writes “There is no doubt that this translation is a valuable and important work, whether as a textbook for teaching Islamic jurisprudence to English-speakers, or as a legal reference for use by scholars, educated laymen, and students in this language….In view of the utility of this eminent work of Islamic jurisprudence and its rank among well known standard Shafi’i legal texts, its translation into English is regarded as a useful, auspicious step….” The book is certified by the prestigious al-Azhar University, whose certification states: “…we certify that the above-mentioned translation corresponds to the Arabic original and conforms to the practice and faith of the orthodox Sunni Community.”

In addition, the editors had the option to omit anything they felt was not pertinent information for our times. The introduction states that “rulings about matters now rare or nonexistent have been left untranslated unless interesting for some other reason.” For example, rulings on slavery have been left untranslated (even though slavery and near-slavery are still practiced in parts of the Muslim world.) Additionally, Muslim reviewers of the book on Amazon.com generally find the book to be of practical use.

Reliance of the Traveller lists 20 “Acts that entail leaving Islam” (pgs. 596-598), while mentioning that “There are others, for the subject is nearly limitless.” I’ll be discussing five of these 20 acts:

  • Act that entails leaving Islam: “(7) to deny any verse of the Koran or anything which by scholarly consensus…belongs to it, or to add a verse that does not belong to it….”

So, Islamic Law mandates acceptance of every verse of the Quran. Anyone who denies “any verse” is an apostate. Picking and choosing the desirable verses is not good enough. Here is a small sampling of the verses which a Muslim is not allowed to deny, according to Sharia [bracketed words added by me for clarity]:

“Fighting is enjoined on you, and is an object of dislike to you; and it may be that you dislike a thing while it is good for you, and it may be that you love a thing while it is evil for you, and Allah knows, while you do not know.” (2:216)

“Men are the maintainers of women because Allah has made some of them to excel others and because they spend out of their property; the good women are therefore obedient, guarding the unseen as Allah has guarded; and (as to) those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them, and leave them alone in the sleeping-places and beat them; then if they obey you, do not seek a way against them; surely Allah is High, Great.” (4:34)

“Say: O followers of the Book! do you find fault with us (for aught) except that we believe in Allah and in what has been revealed to us and what was revealed before, and that most of you are transgressors? Say: Shall I inform you of (him who is) worse than this in retribution from Allah? (Worse is he) whom Allah has cursed and brought His wrath upon, and of whom He made apes and swine, and he who served the Shaitan; these are worse in place and more erring from the straight path.” (5:59-60)

“So when the sacred months have passed away, then slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them captives and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every ambush, then if they repent and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, leave their way free to them; surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.” (9:5)

“Fight those who do not believe in Allah, nor in the latter day, nor do they prohibit what Allah and His Messenger have prohibited, nor follow the religion of truth, out of those who have been given the Book, until they pay the tax in acknowledgment of superiority and they are in a state of subjection.” (9:29)

“Surely Allah has bought of the believers their persons and their property for this, that they shall have the garden; they fight in Allah’s way, so they slay and are slain; a promise which is binding on Him in the Taurat and the Injeel and the Quran; and who is more faithful to his covenant than Allah? Rejoice therefore in the pledge which you have made; and that is the mighty achievement.” (9:111)

“Indeed, there is for you a good example in Ibrahim and those with him when they said to their people: Surely we are clear of you and of what you serve besides Allah; we declare ourselves to be clear of you, and enmity and hatred have appeared between us and you forever until you believe in Allah alone– but not [a good example] in what Ibrahim said to his father: I would certainly ask forgiveness for you, and I do not control for you aught from Allah– Our Lord! on Thee do we rely, and to Thee do we turn, and to Thee is the eventual coming.” (60:4)

If you believe these verses could mean something drastically different from what they appear to mean, read here to find out how mainstream Muslim commentators have interpreted them.

  • Act that entails leaving Islam: “(14) to deny the obligatory character of something which by the consensus of Muslims (ijma…) is part of Islam, when it is well known as such, like the prayer (salat) or even one rak’a from one of the five obligatory prayers, if there is no excuse….”

This manual defines ijma: “Scholarly consensus (ijma’) is the agreement of all the mujtahids…of the Muslims existing at one particular period after the Prophet’s death…about a particular ruling regarding a matter or event….[T]he ruling agreed upon is an authoritative part of Sacred Law that is obligatory to obey and not lawful to disobey. Nor can mujtahids of a succeeding era make the thing an object of new ijtihad [expert legal opinion], because the ruling on it, verified by scholarly consensus, is an absolute legal ruling which does not admit of being contravened or annulled.” (pgs. 23-24) There are also specific conditions for ijma to be reached: that a number of mujtahids live concurrently, and that they all without exception agree on a conclusion which each expresses individually and explicitly.

So, it would seem that according to this manual, in order to be a Muslim, a person must support the ijma of mujtahedin. Excerpts from Islamic manuals indicate that this ijma includes: jihad, death penalty for apostates, lower-class (dhimmi) status for non-Muslims in a Muslim state, and more. To deny any one of these, according to this manual, would constitute apostasy. It is understandable that reform efforts within Islam have not succeeded in the past 1000 years.

  • Act that entails leaving Islam: “(17) to believe that things in themselves or by their own nature have any causal influence independent of the will of Allah….”

I have included this one to illustrate why the Islamic world has been in stagnation for about a millennium. While the Christian world embraced scientific principles and strove to discover natural laws, the Islamic world took the position that the concept of natural laws was blasphemous, because it meant that those natural laws ruled the universe rather than Allah. Recently, in a quick backpedal, Muslim apologists have been “discovering” that all of modern science is miraculously in the Quran, without providing any explanation for why Muslims are now learning science from non-Muslims. Despite the backpedalling on matters of science, Islam has somehow also retained the belief that Allah is micro-managing the universe, as shown by the frequent use of “Insha’Allah” (if Allah wills it). Nothing happens without Allah’s will.

  • Act that entails leaving Islam:“(20) … to deny that Allah intended the Prophet’s message…to be the religion followed by the entire world….”

Thus, to accept other religions or non-religion as equal to Islam is to be an apostate.

And what happens to apostates? According to this same manual, “There is no indemnity for killing an apostate (…or any expiation, since it is killing someone who deserves to die).” (pg. 596) In fact, there is an Islamic practice of “takfir” which means declaring a Muslim to be an apostate. This is often used by Jihadists as an excuse to kill Muslims. It’s against Islamic Law for a Muslim to kill another Muslim, but if the intended victim is declared an apostate, suddenly it’s legal. This is what happened to Rashad Khalifa in Tucson, Arizona, who was declared to be an apostate and assassinated.

However, before rushing off to pronounce takfir on someone, it would be good to also be aware of another way to become an apostate:

  • Act that entails leaving Islam: “(13) to describe a Muslim or someone who wants to become a Muslim in terms of unbelief (kufr)….”

So, if Muslim A declares Muslim B to be a disbeliever, but Muslim B is in fact a believer, then Muslim A has, presto chango, made himself an unbeliever.

Given the importance of being correct when pronouncing takfir, a Muslim’s willingness to do so is a good indication of his confidence in his position. Pronouncing takfir is also a way of marking the “line in the sand” between who is a Muslim and who is not. For this reason, it is not a good sign that currently, the most noticeable group who uses takfir to define Islam is the Islamists.

What would let us know the Muslim world no longer advocated fascist doctrines?

One indication that Islam has been successfully reformed and lost its fascist edge would be if and when the following acts would cause a person to be declared an apostate by all Muslim religious authorities, and all Muslim organizations would declare the following acts to be “un-Islamic”:

  • to express the belief that violent Jihad can ever, under any circumstances, be justified;
  • to express the belief that there should be any penalty whatsoever for apostates, heretics, or critics of Islam;
  • to express the belief that non-Muslims or women should be treated differently from Muslim men under the law;
  • to express the belief that every verse of the Quran (in its traditionally accepted interpretations) must be believed and taken literally as the word of Allah;
  • to express the belief that Mohammed’s actions, as recorded in the Sira and Sunnah, are to be emulated;
  • to express the belief that Islamic law should rule any land.

As I’ve never heard of any one of these acts causing a fatwa of takfir by any prominent group of clerics, I’m not expecting this transformation to happen this week, and perhaps not ever.


What Is the Relationship between Jihad and Sharia?

December 28, 2007

It’s simple: Jihad is required by Sharia, and worldwide Sharia is the goal of Jihad. They are joined at the hip. Now I’ll back this up with solid evidence.

Jihad is required by Sharia

There are four major schools of Sunni Sharia law. About 85% of Muslims are Sunni, and it is generally suggested that they pick one of the four major schools to follow. Although it may seem that the fact there are four schools means Islamic law is not a monolith, in reality, they are unanimous on 75% of the issues. When there is disagreement, three of the four schools are often in agreement (according to the introduction to Reliance of the Traveller: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law, 1994 Revised Edition, certified by the prestigious al-Azhar University of Cairo).

This is important because of the Islamic doctrine of “ijma”, or consensus. According to this doctrine, any time the Muslim world reaches a consensus, it cannot be wrong. You might think that since there are over a billion Muslims worldwide, a consensus would be impossible; however, Muslim authorities have found a way around this in how they define “consensus”. First, only the opinions of the highest religious authorities counts. Second, if at any time there is a consensus among the highest authorities, after that the dissenters can be ruled “heretics” so their opinions don’t count, either. It’s really very clever.

The consequences of this doctrine are far-reaching and tragic. Many centuries ago, there were highly regarded Muslim legal scholars called mujtahedin. These were rare individuals; in order to be considered a mujtahedin, a person would have to fulfill stringent qualifications. Only a mujtahedin of the first class had the authority to write new law based on the Quran and other foundational religious texts, without consulting the work of earlier mujtahedin. The last mujtahedin of the first class was Ahmed ibn Hanbal, who died in 855 A.D. The process of independently creating new law is called ijtihad.

According to Islamic scholar Cyril Glasse, about 900 years ago, it was clear that there was consensus on all the major religious issues. Because of the doctrine of ijma, this consensus meant their decisions were infallible, and therefore it was no longer permissible to write new law. The gates of ijtihad were closed in Sunni Islam. (According to some experts, this occurred at an even earlier date.) Today, Muslim clerics can issue fatwas applying existing law to events, but they are not qualified to disregard the mujtehedin and go straight to the Quran and Sunnah.

So, what does Sharia say about Jihad? Let’s examine the legal writings of each of the four major schools of Sharia. Thanks to Robert Spencer for these quotes:

Maliki School, jurist Ibn Abi Zayd al-Qayrawani (d. 996):

“Jihad is a precept of Divine institution. Its performance by certain individuals may dispense others from it. We Malikis maintain that it is preferable not to begin hostilities with the enemy before having invited the latter to embrace the religion of Allah except where the enemy attacks first. They have the alternative of either converting to Islam or paying the poll tax (jizya), short of which war will be declared against them.”

Hanbali School, jurist Ibn Taymiyya (d. 1328), popular with modern terrorists:

“Since lawful warfare is essentially jihad and since its aim is that the religion is God’s entirely and God’s word is uppermost, therefore according to all Muslims, those who stand in the way of this aim must be fought. As for those who cannot offer resistance or cannot fight, such as women, children, monks, old people, the blind, handicapped and their likes, they shall not be killed unless they actually fight with words (e.g. by propaganda) and acts (e.g. by spying or otherwise assisting in the warfare).”

Hanafi School, Hedaya, classic manual of Hanafi laws, 12th century:

“It is not lawful to make war upon any people who have never before been called to the faith, without previously requiring them to embrace it, because the Prophet so instructed his commanders, directing them to call the infidels to the faith, and also because the people will hence perceive that they are attacked for the sake of religion, and not for the sake of taking their property, or making slaves of their children, and on this consideration it is possible that they may be induced to agree to the call, in order to save themselves from the troubles of war… If the infidels, upon receiving the call, neither consent to it nor agree to pay capitation tax, it is then incumbent on the Muslims to call upon God for assistance, and to make war upon them, because God is the assistant of those who serve Him, and the destroyer of His enemies, the infidels, and it is necessary to implore His aid upon every occasion; the Prophet, moreover, commands us so to do.”

Shafi’i School, scholar Abu’l Hasan al-Mawardi (d. 1058):

“The mushrikun [infidels] of Dar al-Harb (the arena of battle) are of two types: First, those whom the call of Islam has reached, but they have refused it and have taken up arms. The amir of the army has the option of fighting them…in accordance with what he judges to be in the best interest of the Muslims and most harmful to the mushrikun… Second, those whom the invitation to Islam has not reached, although such persons are few nowadays since Allah has made manifest the call of his Messenger…it is forbidden to…begin an attack before explaining the invitation to Islam to them, informing them of the miracles of the Prophet and making plain the proofs so as to encourage acceptance on their part; if they still refuse to accept after this, war is waged against them and they are treated as those whom the call has reached…”

Worldwide Sharia is the goal of Jihad

The goals of the Muslim Brotherhood and al Qaeda are clear: restoring the Islamic Calphate and ultimately Islamizing the US, Europe, and the world.

Some Muslim apologists say that Jihad has nothing to do with imposing anything on anyone because it really means “inner spiritual struggle” against evil. However, although it is true that Jihad literally means “struggle”, there is clear evidence that a violent military struggle has always been part of the meaning–in fact, the greater part of the meaning–of Jihad. And the goal of that struggle is subjugating us beneath the full weight of an Islamic State.