DATE=3/14/2000 TYPE=BACKGROUND REPORT TITLE=SHARIA LAW / PENALTIES NUMBER=5-45640 BYLINE=WILLIAM EAGLE DATELINE=WASHINGTON CONTENT= NOT VOICED: INTRO: Many in Nigeria remain fearful of Islamic law, or Sharia. They reject the punishments it prescribes for serious crimes - flogging or the amputation of limbs or flogging. Many human rights activist agree, calling such punishments "cruel and unusual." But others say these kinds of punishments are not necessarily part of Sharia. From Washington, reporter William Eagle takes a look at the issue. TEXT: Sharia is a Muslim code of behavior - for the individual and for society. In many Muslim countries, its provisions on family issues - like divorce and inheritance - are incorporated into secular law. But its application in criminal law is less common: Ali Mazrui is the director of the Institute of Global Cultural Studies in Binghamton, New York: /// ALI MAZRUI ACT /// In reality, most Muslim countries do not use traditional classical Islamic punishments. But they do not [openly announce that] because it's a politically sensitive [topic]; they just avoid situations where the maximum punishment for stealing is chopping off the hand or the maximum punishment for adultery is capital punishment. They just do not implement them. The great majority of the 50 countries which are members of the Organization of Islamic Conference have systems of civil law that are very far from the severe punishments of yesteryear. /// END ACT /// But there are exceptions - such as Sudan, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia. These countries use the criminal provisions of Sharia that may lead to amputation for stealing or flogging for adultery. While infrequently used, these punishments make headlines - and alarm even some Muslims. In Nigeria, many Muslim leaders who favor the imposition of Sharia assure non-Muslims that Sharia will not apply to them, but others remain doubtful and point to the experience in some other African countries. Mohammed Salih, a native of Sudan, is a professor at the Institute for Social Studies in the Hague (Netherlands). He says Christians and other non- Muslims in Sudan have suffered since the imposition of Sharia there over 10 years ago, during the rule of then-President Jaafar el-Nimeiry. /// SALIH ACT /// How do you distinguish between Muslims and non- Muslims in Sudan? When someone is caught by the police, and you plead no, I am not a Muslim, it is hard to verify if you are [telling the truth]. During Nimeiry's time, more than 250 southern Sudanese Christians got their hands amputated. /// OPT //// The number of hands cut in Sudan during the first three months of the implementation of Sharia during Nimeiry's [rule] was more than 100 times more than the total number of people whose hands were cut off during the time of the Prophet Muhammad and his four successors. /// END OPT /// The whole idea of verification is not taken seriously once you are caught. In Sudan, you have vigilante groups that take the law in their own hands. They will see a woman in the street with her head not covered, and they will ask her to cover herself. In these kinds of situations, these [assurances] of verification [by authorities] and decency do not exist. /// END ACT /// Professor Salih say Sharia also has an indirect impact on non-Muslims. /// SALIH ACT /// [When] you accept Sharia as the [legal] code, you accept the whole notion of citizenship that comes with it. You divide society in two: the people of the [Koran] and the non-Muslims. Here you create a hierarchy of citizens: Christians, Jews, and traditional believers. The hierarchy is applied to power - if you are Muslim you are more likely to have more legal rights under Sharia law than non-Muslims-so the implications [of Sharia] go beyond the criminal code. /// END ACT /// Others say a better understanding of Sharia would reduce the concerns of non-Muslims. Roman Loimeier [pron. LOI-my-er] is a professor of religion at Beyreuth [PRON. BAY-roit] University in Germany. He says all four schools of Islam - including the Maliki school of northern Nigeria - have rules of procedure that Islamic judges are expected to follow when applying Sharia. He says that when the guidelines are followed properly, it is very difficult to apply extreme penalties - which are called "hadd" or "fixed" in Islamic law: /// LOIMEIER ACT /// In all schools of Islamic law, the only possibility to punish someone with the "hadd" punishment for adultery would be if both partners confess. If they do not confess, the procedural law says you have to bring four witnesses who have seen the act committed. Next, these four witnesses have to be men, and good citizens - honest and accepted members of the community. Thirdly, all the witnesses have to give identical statements. [So] it is almost impossible to carry out a "hadd" [severe] punishment unless there's a confession [by the adulterers]. The problem is in countries like Sudan where Sharia is applied, these [laws of procedure] ruling the application of the Sharia are not applied. So what you [get] is a perversion of the application of the Sharia. Many [Islamic scholars] conclude that the real Sharia as applied in Sudan or Afghanistan is not the real Sharia - but a perversion of it. /// END ACT // Besides following these judicial procedures, experts say there are other recourses for reducing penalties. John Voll is a professor of Islamic History at Georgetown University in Washington, D-C. He's also the associate director of Muslim-Christian Understanding in Washington. Professor Voll says a state governor in Nigeria has the authority to reduce a harsh penalty suggested by an Islamic judge: /// VOLL ACT /// If [the governor] were doing it in the more traditional sense, he would go to a Sharia scholar and ask for a "fatwa", a legal advisory opinion. He would ask the scholar [if] it would it be justified to suspend the amputation of the hand of this person because of the extenuating circumstances at the current moment, and the scholar might say yes, it's possible. The governor would then say in light of this non- binding opinion, I will then suspend the implementation of the amputation, but give an equivalent punishment. /// END ACT /// Other Muslims say there's too much focus on literal interpretations of Sharia. Farid Esack [pron. fah-REED eh-SACK] is a Muslim theologian in Cape Town, South Africa. He's also a member of the country's Commission on Gender Equality: /// ESACK ACT /// The Sharia is meant as a path for reaching a harmonious society. When the Sharia gets elevated to being a sacred entity by itself, this is the antithesis of what Islam stands for - which is the absolute supremacy, or sacredness of God - and only God is sacred: religion is not sacred - Sharia is not sacred, the path to reach God is not sacred. And so Muslims then have to see what are the underlying principles of the law that God enunciated for Muslims at a particular time, and what are the objectives of the law. It is the objectives of the law which we should seek to fulfill and not the letter of the law. /// OPT /// .particularly when there is no homogenous community where everyone has an equal level of religiosity [belief] and commitment to that particular faith, or where everyone has an identical understanding of what following Sharia entails. /// END OPT /// /// END ACT /// Some Muslim scholars are saying that countries that have adopted Sharia law should also allow judicial review, under which interpretations of the Sharia would be broadened to take into account historical and political conditions. Many conservative Muslims oppose judicial review, saying that the Koran and Sharia are sacred and are to be taken literally. Professor Ali Mazrui of the Institute for Global Cultural Studies supports it: /// MAZRUI ACT /// The whole body of Islamic law grew out of interpretation by major scholars generations after the Prophet Mohammed. So if there was no interpretation and reform and re-interpretation [to begin with], there would be no Sharia law as we know it today. [Sharia] itself is an outgrowth of the extension, re-interpretation, and use of analogy of basic principles of the Prophet's own time when the Muslim community was much smaller. The problem is that many Muslims in the 20th and 21st centuries have tended to act as if the doors of judicial review ["ijtihad"] are closed. But many of us believe they are not - and we should look at many of these things that were intended to operate in seventh century Arabia and be reformed in the light of changing circumstances. /// END ACT /// Yet the literal view of Sharia - with its harsh penalties - appeals to many. According to news reports from the area, Muslim protesters in northern Nigeria favor the strict interpretation of Sharia adopted by their newly elected governors. (Signed) NEB/WE/KL 14-Mar-2000 10:32 AM EDT (14-Mar-2000 1532 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|