Features

Shariah's evil twin

Interview | Scholar Paul Marshall says the difference between Shariah and extreme Shariah is the difference between moral values and mortal conflict

Issue: "Space: Dawn of Discovery," Aug. 13, 2005

Paul Marshall, a senior fellow at Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom, has lectured worldwide and is the author or editor of 20 books on religion and politics, including Their Blood Cries Out and Islam at the Crossroads. His latest edited book is Radical Islam's Rules: The Worldwide Spread of Extreme Shari'a Law (Rowman & Littlefield, 2005).

WORLD: A few years ago, a book on Islamic law (Shariah) was likely to be read only by academic specialists and some Muslims. Why is it important for general readers now?

MARSHALL: Islamic extremists, including terrorists, want to impose restrictive forms of Shariah in place of "man-made law" and democracy. Last Dec. 16, Osama bin Laden denounced the Saudis for implementing "man-made laws" and warned, "If a ruler . . . abandons Allah's law, it is incumbent on the subjects . . . to rebel." Two weeks later, his "Letter to the Iraqi People" denounced the Jan. 30 election since Muslims may elect only a leader for whom "Islam is the only source of the rulings and laws." He also forbade participation in the Palestinian Authority elections.

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WORLD: Why, especially in speaking with Muslims, should we make a distinction between Shariah and extreme Shariah?

MARSHALL: Shariah's root meaning is "the way" or "path to the water," hence to nearly all Muslims it implies doing God's will, not necessarily imitating the Taliban. While it covers crime and judicial procedure, it provides guidelines for marriage and prayer and pilgrimage; it is more like a traditional Jewish understanding of biblical and rabbinical law than a Western legal code. In Indonesia, polls show 67 percent support for "Shariah" but only 7 percent for banning women politicians. There the term "Shariah" often means something like the American polling term "moral values."

WORLD: In which countries has radical Islamic law been instituted, and what are a couple of leading examples of its effects?

MARSHALL: Thirty years ago, only Saudi Arabia accepted it, but it has spread, often funded by Saudis, to Sudan, Pakistan, areas of Nigeria, Malaysia, and Indonesia, and, in Shiite form, Iran. It produces inhuman punishments-amputations and stoning to death women for adultery-but its effects are far wider. In Iran, it is a crime to listen to certain forms of music. The penalty for killing a woman or a non-Muslim is less than for killing a Muslim man. There is no penalty at all for killing "apostates" or members of unrecognized religious minorities like the Bahai.

WORLD: What has happened regarding extreme Shariah in Nigeria?

MARSHALL: In 1999 Zamfara state instituted extreme Shariah and appointed hizbah (religious police). Eleven northern and central states followed suit, closing churches and non-Muslim schools and mandating "Islamic" dress. In the last five years, tens of thousands of people have died in Shariah-related violence. The governor of Yobe state has said he will defend the new laws even at the cost of civil war, and governors have urged forming their own armies to defend Muslims and promote Islam.

WORLD: Under radical Islamic law, what leeway exists for free speech and dissent?

MARSHALL: Its major threat is that it equates questioning the government or laws with questioning God, so that religious debate or political opposition is treated as apostasy or blasphemy. Hence, it directly negates political and religious freedom by criminalizing dissent and open discussion.

WORLD: Shariah may still seem like something far away from North American readers of WORLD. In what ways is it already hitting close to home?

MARSHALL: It motivates al-Qaeda as well as Zarqawi and his allies in Iraq. Countries that implement extreme Shariah will almost certainly become our enemies. It is also being imposed by vigilantes in the West against Muslims and others: Note the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, and the murder of movie producer Van Gogh last year in the Netherlands. There will be increasing pressure, as in Canada, to implement it in the United States. Here it is vital to ensure that Islam is not given any legal privileges not given to other religions.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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