Traveling Sharia was a metaphor that emerged during
the first seminar of the Humanities Section of the Max-Planck Society (MPS) on Islam-Forschung (Research on Islam) hosted by the Max-Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in
Jürgen Habermas’s thoughts on the role of religious discourses in the postsecular societies of the West are closely related to this issue. Just one month after 11 September, while accepting the Peace Price of the German Publishers and Booksellers Association on 14 October 2001, Habermas, under the title of Knowledge and Faith, focused particularly on this issue. The idea of post-secular societies and their exigencies for today’s western societies is new and needs to be further articulated. Once again, in the April issue of the German journal Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik, Habermas has published an article titled "Die Dialektik der Säkularisierung" (Download Full text of Habermas Article here)
In this article he wades into the current debate on Sharia
in the West by focusing on the aftermath of the recent speech delivered by
Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of
Given the recent controversies around the Sharia debate in Germany after the Frankfurter's Judge justifications, arguing according to classical Sharia interpretations, for rejecting a divorce case initiated by a German-Muslim woman, and especially the recent speech of the Archbishop of Canterbury regarding Sharia law, I think it would perhaps be useful for western scholars and the public alike to bring new insights from the Islamic tradition of jurisprudence to this issue. In this context I would like to make some points (*).
humanistic approach to Islam, I consider the current hot debate on Sharia in
western societies as a blessing for advocates of discourses of freedom in the
Muslim world. Disregarding the controversy around the finer points of his
actual statement about Sharia in
This debate is not really about whether there should be parallel legal systems in
But to have this debate, we need to understand the meanings of Sharia itself. The word has at least three meanings in traditional Islamic legal discourses: the principles of religion, the laws expressed by God in the sacred texts of Islam, and the understanding of Muslim legal scholars arrived at through a particular methodology of reasoning. Even within these meanings, we face competing forms of Sharia. The traditionalist interpretation, which is overwhelmingly a power-based legal discourse and largely reflects the cultural norms and values of patriarchal culture and despotic political systems, currently dominates in the Islamic world. The alternative interpretation, which is freedom-based, emphasizes the role of both law and faith in extending and defending human rights.
With this in mind, we can revisit the Archbishop’s comments. He in fact raises two important questions. First, how many different forms can Sharia law take? Second, can or should there be any place for Sharia law in a pluralist, multi-ethnic society like the
But which Sharia might he be referring to? The existing traditional Sharia, with its power-based theology and its interest in retributive justice, is no option. An alternative, freedom-based Sharia might be – but what would it look like in practice? We have historical examples to consider, the most obvious being the discourses of Islamic law that were introduced, and very rapidly repressed, in the early months of the 1979 Iranian Revolution. During this time, Abolhassan Banisadr, the first president of
First, “let there be no compulsion in religion" While inspired by the Koran (2:256), this guiding principle in modern law-making would have formed the basis for the protection of religious freedom, and belief in general, by removing any imposition or force on any type of belief.
Second, according to the Koran, the guiding principles of “punishment” are in fact mitigation and forgiveness (Koran: 2.178). As such, under Sharia law capital punishment must be abolished and all other retributive, humiliating and violent punishments be replaced with restitutive and humanist ones.
The third principle is called "hifzh al-aql”, which means “protection of thought and freedom of conscience”. There is no “apostasy” here, no punishment for those who “leave” Islam or any other faith. The concept of apostasy was introduced into Islam by theologians functioning within a discourse of power. In this alternative interpretation, there can be no crime of belief.
This vision of a freedom-based Sharia failed to establish itself in
There are now renewed possibilities for this work to flourish; Dr Williams’
comments and his critical approach to the concept of Sharia law within the western
societies offers progressive Muslim intellectuals the opportunity to openly
challenge the legal and theological foundations of traditional Sharia. Instead of attacking the Archbishop and
subjecting him to a barrage of unreflective and anti-dialogical criticism, we
therefore should commend his intellectual and religious tolerance and insight,
and his willingness to initiate a genuinely democratic dialogue of legal cultures. At last, there is a
well-positioned person in
*My friend Dr. Mahmoud Delkhasteh, who
is an expert in the Iranian Revolution and the political sociology of
religion and currently teaches at