by George Brahm
A while ago, I got to interact with Tara MacArthur, a student of Islam, in an attempt to better understand ‘sharia law’, given the various and sundry misunderstandings concerning it. The original interview was posted on Answering Muslims, but I have chosen to reproduce it below, complete with references at the end.
Hello, Miss MacArthur, before we begin, I’d like to give you a chance to introduce yourself.
Hello, Mr Brahm. I’m an ordinary university graduate who knows something about research methods. I live with my family, go to work, go to church and socialise with my friends. Most people don’t know about my secret life as a researcher and writer.
When I write about Islam, I use the name “Tara MacArthur,” which is Irish for “Asma bint Marwan”. This was the name of a real Arabian poet who once wrote a poem about Muhammad. He didn’t like her poem and so he killed her. I chose my pseudonym in her honour.
Tara does nothing except write about Islam. I keep her in a box and only bring her out on occasions like this one. She writes to encourage and inform the important conversation that we need to have about the origins of Islam.
Tara has written a biography of Muhammad and a three-book series on the lives of his wives. The biography, Unsheathed – The Story of Muhammad, is free, so as to make it accessible to everyone including people in countries where it might be dangerous to buy it. It is available in PDF and MP3 audio format from http://www.answeringmuslims.com/2018/09/tara-is-free.html, and on Amazon for those who like paper and Kindle versions. Amazon is the best place to leave a review if you’d like to write one. The audio version is currently available through Castbox or Soundcloud.
The issue that we will be discussing today is sharia law and its effects on society. So as an introduction, what exactly is sharia law and what are the sources from which it is derived?
Sharia is the Arabic word for “pathway” and it refers to the laws of Islam. These laws are found, first of all, in the Quran, which is the book that Muhammad claimed that God had given him. For matters not mentioned in the Quran, sharia is derived from the hadeeth, which are the traditions about Muhammad’s life and teaching. For matters not mentioned in the hadeeth, more laws are derived from what the early Muslim scholars understood by analogy or from common sense.
And for listeners who are unfamiliar with these terms, how do the Quran and the hadeeth differ in terms of their authority? Are all Muslims obligated to follow both these sets of texts?
The Quran is Islam’s holy book. Muslims believe it is Allah’s direct word to the human race. The hadeeth are the traditions about Muhammad’s life and teaching. They are not Allah’s word at all; they are just human memories of Muhammad’s words.
This means that the Quran is the first authority for every Muslim. It can never be disputed or updated because Allah knows best. However, if Muslims want to know about a topic that is not mentioned in the Quran, their second source of wisdom is the hadeeth. It is assumed that Muhammad knew better than any other person what Allah wanted.
All Muslims are obliged to follow both the Quran and the hadeeth. If they don’t have time to read them, they ask their leaders to read on their behalf. The Muslim leaders issue a ruling, called a fatwa, to explain Allah’s will in a given situation. A small number of modern Muslims reject the hadeeth and claim to follow the Quran only; but mainstream Muslims consider this position heretical.
We’ve all heard about the threats of various radical groups that aim at establishing a worldwide sharia state. Is this desire for a worldwide sharia state restricted merely to these radical groups, or is it desired by a broader group of Muslims? Why?
It isn’t just the radicals. It was Muhammad himself who said: “I have been sent as a mercy for all the world. I have been commanded to fight against people until they testify that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is Allah’s Messenger.” (1) So the radicals did not invent this idea. Since Muhammad was supposed to speak the words of Allah, you would logically expect all Muslims to obey Allah by fighting everyone until the whole human population has agreed to a worldwide sharia state.
In practice, this is not the case. Only a minority of Muslims want a sharia state. A British survey found in 2008 that 40% of British Muslim university students would support having sharia law in the U.K. (2) That means that 60% do not want it, although the survey did not ask them why not.
The number of Muslims who truly support sharia becomes even smaller when we realise that many of them do not understand what sharia really means. The same survey found that only 3% of the British Muslim students were in favour of killing apostates. That means that 37% of the students both wanted sharia and disagreed with its teachings. So it’s possible that many of those British Muslims did not understand sharia but knew that it was something that Muslims are supposed to want.
There are instances when we’ve seen people like Anjem Choudhary talk about the establishment of sharia law as a good thing for society. They accuse people who think otherwise of fear-mongering and Islamophobia. Can you think of any positive results that the establishment of sharia law can bring about in society?
Sharia does have some positive aspects. For example, it forbids murder (3) and stealing (4), and it urges helping the poor (5).
However, every single benefit that sharia confers already exists in the Western world. We already have laws against murder and stealing and a taxation system that cares for our poor. So sharia has nothing new to offer our current society.
We will be speaking about the various possible infractions of sharia law and the effect this law has on individuals under its jurisdiction. But before that, who is given the responsibility of enforcing sharia law, and how strictly is it supposed to be enforced?
Muslims believe that sharia is the direct word of Allah, and therefore no deviation from it is permissible. It ought to be followed to the letter (6). In practice, of course, it almost never is. Even in Saudi Arabia, we’d probably find that not every detail of sharia is enforced.
Sharia cases are referred to a judge, called a qadi, who is qualified in the study of the law (7). If it’s a civil case, such as how to divide an inheritance, he applies the sharia formula. If it’s a criminal case, such as a theft, he orders the prescribed sharia punishment. If it isn’t clear what has happened, such as two people who disagree over a debt, the judge calls in witnesses and determines the facts before he makes a ruling (8).
Other cases can be settled in-house. For example, a Muslim man can beat his wife (9), his child (10) or his slave (11), and there is no need to take the matter outside the family. Even in the case of a murder, the victim’s family can ask for blood-money (12). This is a cash compensation equivalent to the price of a hundred camels. If the murderer pays up without making any fuss, that is the end of the matter, and there is no need to involve the judge.
So let us examine sharia law in a step by step manner, starting off with the family laws. Can you give us a general outline of the marriage, divorce, and inheritance laws in the sharia system?
Every Muslim is encouraged to get married (13), and a man who can afford it is allowed up to four wives. A woman, however, can only have one husband at a time (14).
Technically, a woman must consent to her marriage; however, a girl’s consent is inferred from her silence (15), and there is no minimum age for a marriage contract. The marriage can be consummated as soon as the bride is deemed mature enough (16), which usually means at nine years.
A married woman is her husband’s ward (17), so she must obey him in everything and must not leave the house without his permission. If he suspects her of disobedience, he is allowed to beat her (18). Under sharia, a man’s parents are more important than his wife (19); a man who loves his wife must nevertheless divorce her if his parents require it.
A man can divorce his wife at any time, simply by saying, “I divorce you” three times, without stating any reason (20). A woman can only divorce her husband if the judge agrees that she has a strong reason (21). Muhammad once allowed a divorce to a woman whose husband had broken her arm (22). However, ordinary beating does not qualify as a strong reason (23), and nor does the husband’s acquisition of an additional wife or concubine (24).
Islamic inheritance is distributed according to a rigid but complex formula that is applied regardless of the family’s financial circumstances. This usually means that one-quarter is given to the husband (25); one-eighth is divided among the wives; one-sixth is given to each surviving parent (26); and the rest is for the children (27). Each son receives twice as much as each daughter. There is nothing for an adopted (28) or illegitimate (29) child, as they are not considered “real” children. There is nothing for a dead daughter’s children (30), and a dead son’s children may inherit a share under certain circumstances but not always. A testator (31) can give away up to one-third of his estate to anyone else, including to charity, but he is not allowed to bequeath (32) any extra gifts to his parents, spouses or children.
A common criticism brought up against Abrahamic religions is the supposed endorsement of slavery. What is the sharia position on slavery (are there any positives or negatives)?
According to sharia, slavery is morally neutral (33). It is not a sin to keep slaves, and the general assumption is that slavery will always be part of life. Muhammad once told his wife Maymuna that it had been a mistake to free her slave-girl (34). It would have been better to give the slave away to a relative who needed a shepherdess, because generosity to relatives brought more reward from Heaven than freeing slaves.
Sharia made life slightly better for slaves because it forbade a master to kill or beat his slave without some good reason (35). Slaves were entitled to food, clothes and a reasonable workload (36).
On the other hand, sharia orders Muslims to fight until they have conquered the world (37), and any war-captives were legally slaves. The result of those wars was a huge increase in the total number of enslaved people. The more slaves there were, the more slavery was accepted as a part of life, and the less likely the society was to consider the possibility of granting slaves any human rights. It is no accident that Muslim-majority countries were the last in the world to outlaw slavery (38), or that they only did it due to international pressure. The Muslim understanding is that Muhammad allowed slavery and therefore there cannot be anything wrong with it.
A Muslim master had the right to copulate with his female slaves (39). This was not considered rape, as the slave had no legal right to refuse her master’s orders; and it was not considered adultery, as a wife had no right to forbid her husband to take a concubine. This may explain the attitude of the Muslim rape gangs in modern Britain. The non-Muslim girls whom they captured were considered legally-acquired slaves, and therefore there was no problem with using them as concubines.
Finally, a master had the right to punish his slave as he saw fit (40), and that included the right to kill him (41).
A common claim raised by non-Muslims against sharia law is the treatment of the apostates, or those that have chosen to leave Islam and follow another religion. What treatment are apostates supposed to get under sharia law?
The punishment for a Muslim who leaves Islam is death by beheading (42). A Muslim who openly admits that he has left his religion is called repentance first; but if he refuses to return to Islam, he is beheaded. However, if a Muslim leaves Islam secretly, pretending he is still a Muslim but actually believing something else, there is no call to repentance (43). He is just killed immediately. The logic here is that his word is untrustworthy so there is no point in asking him what he really thinks.
In practice, this means that anyone can behead another Muslim and then use the excuse, “He had secretly left Islam.” I know this sounds extraordinary, but Muhammad spelled it out (44). He told his followers that they could expect to see people who pretended to be Muslims but were not, and that they must kill those people wherever they found them. “Kill them wherever you find them” means “Kill them immediately,” without any need to call witnesses or hold a formal trial. What’s more, a Muslim who does this will be rewarded in Heaven. Muhammad apparently failed to foresee that this rule on slaying apostates could be abused to cover up murder.
However, even in a case when a person really is an apostate, it is outrageous that the punishment for leaving a religion should be death. I wonder why Muhammad was so insecure of his followers that he kept them faithful by threatening to cut off their heads.
This sounds to me like a contradiction. What about Surah 5:32, which states, “… whoever slays a soul … it is as though he slew all men; and whoever keeps it alive, it is as though he kept alive all men”?
Muhammad was quoting the words of the Jewish Rabbi Hillel, which are found in Sanhedrin 37a of the Babylonian Talmud. This saying helps explain why Talmudic Jews place a high value on human life and on each individual.
However, Muhammad added some extra words to the quote. I notice that you omitted those words, and they change the meaning of the sentence. Let’s open the Quran and see what Muhammad actually said (45).
Notice that Muhammad added an exception. It is not a crime to employ the death-penalty for murder or “mischief in the land”. Obviously, the crime of “mischief-making” is very vague and it could cover just about any action that the head of state disliked.
We need to ask why Muhammad felt the need to quote the Talmud, especially as there were no more Jews in Medina by then. It was because the Muslim converts in Medina had been influenced by their Jewish former friends. Muhammad needed to remind his audience that, while this had been the rule for the Jews, the Muslims also needed to consider the exceptions. Let’s read on to Surah 5:33, which explains what Muhammad decreed for those mischief-makers (46).
- “The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His messenger and strive to make mischief in the land is only this, that they should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides or they should be imprisoned; this shall be as a disgrace for them in this world, and in the hereafter they shall have a grievous chastisement.”
This means that anyone whom Muhammad deemed mischievous could be murdered, crucified, deprived of body-parts or imprisoned.(47)
He had in fact just sentenced eight men to blinding and amputations before leaving them to die of thirst in the desert sun and then crucifying their corpses. His mischief-makers were not innocent. They had murdered a herdsman by blinding him, cutting off his hands and feet and leaving him to die, and Muhammad did to them exactly what they had done to their victim. But I wonder why he felt the need to imitate their barbarism instead of setting an example of more civilised behaviour. A quick, painless death would have been equally effective in protecting the community.
How about smaller infractions, like, say, lying? What were the rules and punishments regarding such acts?
The sharia lays out a varied system of punishments. For example, the penalty for refusing to pay taxes was to have olive-oil poured over the head and then to be forced to stand out in the desert sun (48). A woman who knocked out another woman’s tooth in a catfight was sentenced to having one of her own teeth broken with a file (49). Fortunately, in this case, the victim agreed to accept a cash compensation instead.
The sharia also mentions many small crimes for which there is no prescribed punishment. For example, a Muslim is not supposed to kill his newborn child (50); but if he does commit this sin, there is no punishment (51). It is also strictly forbidden to play backgammon (52); but the exact punishment is at the discretion of the judge (53). Other sins do attract punishment yet are easily hidden. For example, the penalty for breaking the Ramadan fast is to perform extra fasts or to give food away to the poor (54); but a Muslim who breaks the fast in secret can avoid the prescribed punishment simply by never confessing.
You asked about lying; this depends on the type of lie. It is not a sin for a man to lie to his wife if this is the best way to promote harmony in the home (55). On the other hand, bearing false witness in a law-court is serious and carries a risk of Hellfire (56). The earthly punishment varies. Muhammad ordered 80 lashes for a false accusation of adultery (57); since the penalty for adultery is death, a false accusation here is in fact an attempted murder. He ordered 20 lashes for calling a fellow-Muslim a Jew or a homosexual (58), which could seriously damage the person’s reputation in the community.
Wait, so calling someone a Jew or a homosexual is an insult, according to sharia law. Wouldn’t that make sharia law both anti-Semitic and homophobic by today’s standards, hence rendering it incompatible with our culture today?
Yes, sharia is very homophobic. The penalty for sodomy is death (59), although Islamic experts disagree on exactly how the person is to be killed. This penalty applies even if the two men involved are not married and therefore not hurting any third party. Muhammad even ordered that people who looked as if they might be gay should be thrown out of home (60).
Muhammad’s history with the Jews was more complicated. At first he taught that Jews and other monotheists were also servants of Allah and their status was similar to that of Muslims (61). After he fled to Medina, he met some real Jews, who quickly made it clear that they did not believe he was a prophet (62). By then it was too late to retract all the positive things he had said about the Jews in the past, but he very much regretted saying them. He accused the Jews of Medina of plotting against him and betraying him to his enemies (63), though without any evidence; and by 627 he had killed, enslaved or exiled all of them. The next year he also destroyed the Jewish city of Khaybar (64). In revenge for this, a Jewish girl tricked him into eating poison, which contributed to his eventual death (65).
These events ensured that the Muslim community never forgave the Jews. Muhammad fostered this hostile attitude by cursing the Jews (66) and forbidding Muslims to make friends with them (67). So calling someone a “Jew” was like calling him a traitor. This attitude of distrust and resentment spilled over toward all Jews and it lasts to this day.
A word that is often used these days, very often by people who don’t exactly know what it means, is taqiyya. What exactly does taqiyya mean, and how does it relate to sharia law?
Taqiyya comes from an Arabic word that means “caution”. It refers to situations in which Muslims might need to be careful of what they say (68). Muslims are advised to exercise taqiyya in order to save their lives or to promote the interests of the Islamic state.
Saying the cautious thing may mean telling a lie, and this is not a sin if it is a genuine taqiyya situation. For example, an early Muslim named Ammar was subjected to life-threatening torture until he denied his faith (69). Muhammad told Ammar that this was just taqiyya and not a sinful lie because Ammar had had the right to save his life. Some years later, Muhammad wanted to kill one of his critics (70). The Muslim who volunteered to be the assassin said that he would need to deceive the victim in order to lure him outdoors. Muhammad said that this kind of lie would be fine because it was for the benefit of Islam.
Even Allah is willing to deceive people if it advances his divine agenda (71): the Quran tells us that Allah is the best of plotters. Most Muslims believe that Jesus was never crucified (72); but Allah tricked the Jews into believing they had crucified him when they had not.
With this example from Allah himself, it is not surprising that there are Muslims today who believe that it is acceptable to tell any lie if the goal is to advance Islam. Terrorists who practise taqiyya are willing to tell as many lies as are required to help them carry out their plot, since the purpose of the plot is to fight Islam’s enemies. There are also some Muslim teachers who are willing to lie about the teachings or history of Islam in order to make Islam seem more attractive to Westerners.
For this reason, we should be very cautious of accepting the word of a Muslim evangelist whose interpretation of Islam doesn’t fit what we read in the Quran and hadeeth. He could be deliberately omitting the parts that he doesn’t want Westerners to know about. We should also be cautious of Muslim leaders who assure our politicians that Islam doesn’t really teach what the Islamic sources claim. They could be practising taqiyya to allay suspicion of the Muslim community.
In practice, of course, it is difficult to discern which Muslims are deliberately practising taqiyya and which ones are truly ignorant of Islam’s teaching. An ordinary Muslim who tells his friends that Islam is peaceful and merciful may never have read any Islamic history or even the Quran. He is probably not trying to fool them with taqiyya; he is just speaking from limited information.
How about the sharia laws on issues like drunkenness and extra-marital affairs, etc., which are normalized in today’s progressive 21st century culture?
Some of the benefits of sharia come with huge drawbacks. For example, it forbids drunkenness and adultery, and obviously society would be better if these things never happened. However, the penalty for drinking even a small amount of alcohol is flogging (73), and the penalty for adultery is to be stoned to death (74). The evils of these severe punishments harm society far more than the crimes that they punish.
It is important not to posit a false dichotomy between sharia severity and modern permissiveness, as if no other attitudes were possible. If you have ever witnessed the anguish of an adultery victim, you could not claim that adultery was acceptable behaviour. Nevertheless, there are ways to be realistic about its horrors without resorting to murder.
For example, the first adultery case that Muhammad ever judged was for a Jewish couple in Medina. Their community was shocked when he sentenced the guilty pair to stoning as the Jews had not killed adulterers for over a thousand years (75). The rabbis told Muhammad that their usual procedure was to flog the culprits and then shame them by blackening their faces and parading them around the town seated backwards on donkeys. Even this is too severe by modern standards. However, an adulterer might be suitably punished by being disadvantaged in the divorce settlement. We can certainly make adultery socially unacceptable without going to the extreme of killing anyone.
Muhammad’s regressive attitude to adultery becomes all the more shocking when we recall that he made an artificial distinction between adultery and polygamy. By the year 630 he was living with twelve women (76), sleeping with all of them in rotation, yet it never crossed his mind that this was a form of adultery. Even worse, seven of those twelve women had never given informed consent.
What impact do you think sharia law would have on human rights in general?
It is difficult to imagine that sharia would suddenly seize a Western nation overnight. A sharia take-over is more likely to creep up on us by stealth. Even in Muslim-majority countries, the law is only partly sharia; so the idea of becoming one hundred percent sharia overnight is a fantasy that could never actually happen.
However, if we were to imagine the nightmare scenario of awakening with a groan to find ourselves sharian, I think the first thing we would notice would be the loss of our property rights (77). They would kill our pet dogs, since the dog is a dirty animal. There would be a call to exchange our mobile phones for standard sharia-approved models that didn’t take photographs or play music because both photography and music would be contraband (78). We would have to smash photographs, pictures, statues (79), all of our musical recordings and all musical instruments (80).
People who protested over this loss of property would soon discover that the second right we would lose would be our freedom of speech (81). Anyone who criticized the new sharia regime would be put to death. Anyone who said anything unflattering about Allah, Islam or Muhammad would also be killed, even if it were true. In Muhammad’s time, a man once confessed to killing his concubine; but when he added that he had done it because she had been speaking critically of Muhammad, Muhammad agreed that she had deserved to be killed. He accepted the murderer’s version of the story even though there were no other witnesses, because he deserved the benefit of the doubt in a matter as serious as the criticism of Islam.
The third violation of our rights would be the brutal sharia punishments. For example, the sharia punishment for stealing is to cut off the thief’s hand (82) and the punishment for fornication is to be flogged a hundred lashes (83).
As a result of this, I think we’d see an increase in crime. It’s like this. Most of us assume that cutting off a person’s hand is a far worse crime than stealing. So we’d become reluctant to report crime; we would rather lose our wallets than cause someone else to lose his hand. As a result, thieves would be less likely to be caught. Since the certainty of being caught is the best deterrent to crime, the removal of this deterrent would encourage an increase in crime. So we’d also lose the safety of our streets.
So would that mean that the Charlie Hebdo attacks were justified under sharia law, since they depicted the Prophet Muhammad in a derogatory manner?
Absolutely. Muhammad ordered the deaths of several poets who wrote mocking songs about him, and those poems were the equivalents of our cartoons (84). So when the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists mocked Muhammad in their art, it is not surprising that some Muslims decided to follow Muhammad’s own example.
After assassinating one of these poets, Muhammad ordered, “Kill any Jew who falls into your hands!” (85) This explains why, as soon as the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists had been murdered, the assassins went off to kill customers in a Jewish supermarket. They were simply following the blueprint that Muhammad had laid out in 624.
But does this rule only apply to the prophet Muhammad? What about mockeries of other prophets in Islam, say Jesus Christ? Why do you think that there weren’t any violent reactions from the Islamic world over images of Jesus in South Park, or over his depiction in films like The Da Vinci Code and The Last Temptation of Christ?
Muslims do sometimes react badly to the mockery of other prophets. For example, back in 2001 in Melbourne, Australia, a play was staged about the life of Jesus, portraying him as a homosexual (86). The local Christians just ignored this; but the Muslims marched in the streets, demanding that the play be cancelled.
Regarding The Last Temptation of Christ, there was so much outcry from the Christian communities that I suspect the Muslims felt they didn’t need to bother. We note, however, that the protesting Christians were not calling for anyone’s death, and nor did the protests become violent. They only wanted to cancel the film.
As for The Da Vinci Code and South Park, they are recent phenomena. I think that since nine-eleven, Muslims have been too busy protecting the reputation of Islam and Muhammad to worry much about the lesser prophets.
Linda Sarsour was one of the leaders at the forefront of the Women’s March, which claimed to fight for the rights of women. She is also promoted as a feminist. What effect do you think would sharia law have on women’s rights in the countries that it would be established in? Is it compatible with modern feminism? Why/Why not? (Do you have any historical evidence for that claim?)
People who claim that Islam promotes feminism usually mean that Islam made life better for women in seventh-century Arabia. While this is debatable, it is not completely false (87).
However, in the twenty-first century, there is no country in the world where women are so badly treated that sharia would improve their lives. On the contrary, the more sharia-adherent a country is, the worse its women are protected in issues like domestic violence (88). In Saudi Arabia, women were not, until recently, even allowed to drive a car (89).
Muhammad did not believe in female equality because he believed that a woman is only half as intelligent as a man (90). He even ruled that the testimony of a woman in the law-court was only worth half as much as a man’s (91); a woman’s memory was too unreliable for her word to be taken seriously if a man said something different. For this reason, Muhammad believed that women could not be expected to live and work like men.
Central to sharia is the segregation of the sexes. A man cannot be alone with any woman outside his immediate family (92). This is achieved by giving the men normal freedom of movement but ensuring that no woman leave her home unless she is escorted by a male relative. Conversations between men and women are supposed to be kept short and businesslike (93). Social mixing between non-relatives is discouraged; for example, men and women usually occupy separate spaces in the mosque (94) and do not speak to each other after prayers. Hence Muslims are forbidden to form normal social relationships with half the human race.
It is not directly forbidden for men and women to work or trade together, but in practice it is distrusted, because it involves women leaving their houses and conversations that may digress from the business at hand. Hence a Muslim woman’s career opportunities are limited and her earning capacity is lowered. This forces women to remain economically dependent on men (95). Muslim men are required to provide for their women, but in return for fulfilling this duty, they have a right to the women’s gratitude and obedience.
It never occurred to Muhammad to allow women freedom of movement and their own careers so that they need not be a burden to the men. At his Farewell Sermon, he reminded the men, “Treat women well.” (96) By this he meant give them food and clothes and only beat them if it’s for some reason. His reason for this injunction summarises his whole attitude: “because women are like farm-animals among you.”
There was a video that was circulating on social media, which involved two women discussing the notion of wife-beating in Islam. They talk about beating using a siwak, which was a twig used in Muhammad’s time as a toothbrush, in a manner that does not cause pain. Do we have any support of this practice being done by the prophet Muhammad or his followers, or was it any different?
Yes, we do. Muhammad’s wife Umm Salama had a slave who didn’t come when she was called (97). When the girl was finally located, Muhammad exclaimed, “If I were not afraid of Allah’s punishment, then with this toothbrush …” and he gestured beating her with it.
It is really obvious from the context that this was a joke between Muhammad and his wife. He was reminding her that he had the power to beat the slave but chose not to. When Muhammad was serious about punishing his household, he did not use a toothbrush.
The truth is, siwaks grow in all sizes and can be several inches thick. Muhammad’s sister-in-law, Asma, said that her husband regularly beat her with a siwak that was used as a clothes-hanger, and that he would continue the beating until the rod broke (98).
One night Muhammad’s wife Aisha offended him (99). She woke up to find him missing from the bed and suspected him of going to another woman, so she went out to spy on him. When she realised that he had only gone out to say prayers, she ran home; but Muhammad arrived in time to find her out of breath. He was so angry that she had distrusted him that he thumped her chest, which, she said, hurt a great deal.
Another time, Aisha asked Muhammad to give her more pocket money (100). Her father was so angry over her impertinence that he beat her on the spot. Muhammad just sat there without interfering, allowing his father-in-law to beat his wife.
Muhammad forbade face-slapping (101); but in practice, he made no attempt to stop it. One woman came to ask him for a divorce because her husband had beaten her face until it was green with bruises (102). Muhammad did not consider this a good enough reason to grant the divorce. He did not even rebuke the husband, let alone punish him.
Common sense shows us that when the Quran says “beat them” it does not mean a symbolic beating or a joke. It is referring to a wife who has refused to listen to reason or to being sent to her room. A woman like that is not going to pay any attention to a joke or symbol about pretend-beating. However, if her husband or father thumps her chest or back, this is not a sin; and even if he beats her face, it is not a serious sin.
What effect would sharia law have on religious minorities?
There are two kinds of religious minority under sharia: those who are tolerated and those who are not.
Sharia does not tolerate polytheism or atheism (103). Muslims are required to keep on fighting Hindus, Buddhists, animists, atheists and agnostics until they convert to Islam or are killed. While many of these people would fake a conversion to Islam rather than die, we could expect to see Hindus and atheists killed in open warfare until there were none left.
However, some toleration is shown to monotheists such as Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians (104). They are allowed to stay alive and keep their religion if they pay a super-tax to the Muslims. They also suffer various other restrictions. They are not allowed to build or repair their synagogues and churches, to announce services with loud trumpets or bells, to hold funerals in public or to display symbols such as crosses. They are not allowed to own any weapons, defend themselves when attacked by a Muslim or bring a civil law-suit against a Muslim. They may not occupy any profession where they might hold authority over a Muslim, which precludes such careers as the police force, law, teaching or even running a business with Muslim employees. They have to show subservience in public places by giving up their seats to Muslims and letting them take the widest part of the road. Above all, they must not teach their own religions to anyone except their children, or use apologetics to try to prove it, or in any way try to persuade a Muslim to leave Islam; but if a Jew or a Christian wants to become a Muslim, they must not do anything to stop him (105). A monotheist who keeps all these rules is allowed to remain alive. However, if a Muslim breaks the rules and kills a monotheist anyway, he only pays a cash fine (106). He cannot be subjected to the death penalty because capital punishment is only for the murder of a Muslim.
Do you have any historical evidence to back up your claims?
This pattern of religious bigotry is not just a theory; it has been played out again and again in history. Wherever Islam has conquered, it has killed polytheists and relegated monotheists to third-class status. Islam conquered Syria, Persia and North Africa, and it made serious inroads in India and Europe.
Egypt is a country where the Muslim conquerors did not apply sharia law very strictly at first, and Christians remained the majority for about six hundred years (107). Then in the fourteenth century the Sultans began to enforce sharia properly. Christian officials had to convert to Islam or lose their jobs, and once they were Muslim, their Christian families could not inherit their wealth. There were periods of mob violence, when Muslims could kill Christians in the streets without fear of punishment. The result of this pressure was that Christians converted to Islam to save their lives and support their families. Egypt was a Muslim-majority country by the fifteenth century.
Sharia was much stricter when the Muslims ruled Spain, and the religious minorities suffered (108). In the mid-ninth century, a monk was asked what Christians thought of Muhammad. He quoted the Gospels and explained that Muhammad was one of the false prophets. A few days later the monk was arrested for “insulting the Prophet” and beheaded. There was a protest reaction in which dozens of Christians stood up in public to declare that Christ was God and Muhammad was a false prophet, and they were all beheaded, boiled, impaled or lashed to death. These Spanish Christians have been blamed for their “provocative” behaviour, for they knew very well that it was against the law to denounce Muhammad in public. This criticism misses the point that no such laws against free speech should ever have existed.
Sharia governments have enforced these inequalities in great things and small. In Damascus until the mid-nineteenth century, a Christian had to be ready to carry shopping home for any random Muslim who stopped him at the market, and he had to accept being slapped without fighting back (109). In Pakistan to this day, non-Muslims are usually found in the menial jobs that Muslims don’t want; Muslims who beat or rape non-Muslims have little fear of being brought to justice; and Christians who share their faith are imprisoned for blasphemy (110).
One exception to the general rule is India (111). Hindus are polytheists, so their Muslim conquerors ought to have applied the “convert or die” rule. Instead, although they killed millions and enslaved millions more, other Hindus were allowed to pay the super-tax and survive. The original plan of killing all of them had proved impossible because the Hindus were so numerous. However, the Hindus suffered for many centuries under Islamic rule. The fact that they survived simply means that life is better when sharia is less strictly enforced.
From what you’ve told me, the effects of sharia law seem to be at odds with the values of progressivism that is upheld these days. What in your opinion has led to this sort of “unholy alliance” between the progressive left and sharia-embracing individuals like Linda Sarsour? Why do people think that sharia is deserving of progressive protection?
I don’t know what motivates the progressive Left – ask them!
Speaking of people in general, however, I think that most people don’t know very much about Islam. Nice people don’t want to believe that a billion Muslims have been conned into believing that an evil worldview is good. It’s easier to believe that Islam itself is harmless and that only a few extremists have perverted its teachings. Once people have convinced themselves of this point of view, it is confirmed by their interactions with nice Muslims. These are of course Westernised Muslims who don’t hold extreme views anyway. I think those well-meaning people would gain a very different impression if they read the Quran for themselves or read an unbiased life of Muhammad.
Beyond that, some people support the apparent underdog, which presumably means the immigrant or the brown man, without looking any more deeply than that. Other people might be looking for allies against the perceived threat of Christian conservatism. Islam seems to be an exotic curiosity that will weaken the place of Christianity as the mainstream religious option without ever becoming strong enough to threaten mainstream society. Obviously, this attitude completely overlooks the point that even moderate Muslims are likely to be at least as conservative as fairly extreme Christians.
But we do see progressive Muslims, or those who call themselves “moderates”, say that they are willing to let go of these “extreme” aspects of sharia law and only hold on to the basic rules. Is it possible to bring about such a reform within sharia law? What does the Quran or the Prophet Muhammad have to say about this?
Of course there are many Muslims who want to adapt to modern values and who reject the extreme aspects of sharia. However, they achieve this by admitting that they don’t accept the whole of sharia. They want to take general inspiration from the aspects of Islam that please them yet be free to ignore the rest. They are effectively saying that they know better than Muhammad how they should live their lives. Obviously Muhammad would not have liked that at all.
In practice, it’s difficult to see how any country could have a government that was “partly sharia”. No two people would agree on which rules to keep and which to throw out. Who would have the final say on how the “reformed sharia” was developed?
Classical sharia itself cannot be reformed. As soon as anyone suggests a reformation, Islamic scholars express outrage. Their attitude is that the sharia comes from Allah himself and nobody knows better than Allah. Since Muhammad was the final prophet, his words must be valid for all time, including the twenty-first century. Anyone who claims to know better than Allah is an apostate who must be killed.
So individuals themselves can be “reformed” and abide by what they consider to be humane principles, but that would cease to be the sharia that classical Islam demands. So would Islamic scholars basically consider reformists like Maajid Nawaz and Raheel Raza to be apostates for jettisoning many of the fundamental principles of sharia law?
Maajid Nawaz is a former terrorist who now opposes terrorism (112). He believes we should educate people against extremist ideas before those ideas morph into terrorist behaviour, and that jihadis should be isolated from the rest of the Muslim community. He is also a strong supporter of freedom of speech, even if this means tolerating blasphemy, and an opponent of Female Genital Mutilation.
Raheel Raza is a journalist who claims that jihad cannot be justified from the Quran and has condemned hate-preaching in mosques (113). She wants to ban the Islamic women’s veil in Canada and she believes women should be allowed to occupy leadership positions, even if this means having authority over men.
People like Mr Nawaz and Mrs Raza identify themselves as Muslims but they have rejected any part of classical Islam that they dislike. While this is obviously a better option for a humane society, it is an intellectually dishonest position. For example, no matter what Mrs Raza would like to believe, the Quran does command Jihad, and a denial of this requires ignoring large parts of the evidence. Dishonest positions never last very long.
While “reformed” Muslims might be good for society, they are not popular with traditional Muslims. Raheel Raza received death threats in 2005 just because she had led an Islamic prayer service for a congregation of both sexes. In 2014 Maajid Nawaz tweeted a cartoon of Jesus and Muhammad, claiming he had a right to this kind of freedom of expression (114). As a result, twenty thousand people signed a petition that he be withdrawn as a candidate for a parliamentary seat in North London, and the threats against him included a call for his beheading.
Muslims who blatantly ignore the authority of the Quran and hadeeth are considered apostates. I suspect that Muslim leaders in the West tolerate the reformists because they help Islam’s reputation by presenting an attractive face to outsiders. However, in Muslim-majority countries, the reformists simply don’t survive. In 2016 in Jordan, Nahed Hattar drew a cartoon of the ISIS view of Paradise (115). He was arrested for blasphemy and assassinated by a local imam on the courthouse steps. In 2011 in Pakistan Salman Taseer proposed modifying the blasphemy laws and releasing the woman know as Asia Bibi, who was in prison on blasphemy charges (116). A member of Governor Taseer’s own bodyguard assassinated him, and thousands of Pakistanis rallied in the streets in support of the blasphemy laws. Both of these assassins were later executed; but the accused Pakistani woman remained in jail for ten years (117).
Going back to Linda Sarsour, she once tweeted, “I don’t drink alcohol, don’t eat pork, I follow Islamic way of living. That’s all sharia law is,” and also mentioned something about all your loans and credit cards becoming interest free. She further tweeted, “sharia Law is misunderstood & has been pushed as some evil Muslim agenda. If only my fellow Liberals understood what sharia Law actually is. Smh.”
After having studied sharia law via authentic Islamic sources and presenting that information to us today, what would you say to the followers of someone like Linda Sarsour?
I would point out that there are great fat volumes of sharia law, literally millions of words in hundreds of books, and obviously those words must say more than just, “No pork, no alcohol, no interest.” Even the silliest fan of Islam must understand that. Nobody literally believes that sharia is no more than a ban on pork, alcohol and interest.
Ms Sarsour hinted at the “more” by adding to her definition of sharia, “Islamic way of living”. She offered no details beyond a vague assurance that it was not really evil. Why should we believe her reassurance that we have “misunderstood” sharia when she won’t give us any information to correct our “misunderstandings”?
Once we read the Quran, hadeeth and early Islamic histories, we see that sharia is about slavery, the oppression of women, the persecution of non-Muslims, brutal punishments, a military campaign to conquer the world and the silencing of all critics. Is Ms Sarsour too ignorant to know this? Or is she deliberately hiding the unpleasant truth?
And that would be taqiyya, right?
If she is deliberately hiding the truth in order to make Islam appear more attractive to westerners then, yes, that is taqiyya.
Thank you, Miss MacArthur for joining us today. Before you leave, are there any resources that you would like to recommend to our listeners that would help them better understand the topic that was discussed today?
The major hadeeth collections have been translated into English and are available online (118). If you google for sunnah.com, you can use the internal search functions to discover the sharia ruling on any topic you like.
I also recommend Muhammad ibn Ishaq’s Life of Muhammad, which was translated by Alfred Guillaume. This is one of the earliest biographies of Muhammad and also one of the best. You can read in it exactly how Muhammad himself applied the sharia to his own life and other people’s. It is now out of copyright and you can access it online for free.
If you don’t have time for primary research, plenty of secondary researchers have made summaries for you. For example, if you go to YouTube, you can find David Wood’s videos about sharia and many other Islamic topics.
Finally, you can read my book, Unsheathed, which is a biography of Muhammad (119). I’ve also written Unveiled, which is a group biography of Muhammad’s nineteen wives.
1 Quran 21:107.
3 Bukhari 9:83:17, 37.
4 Quran 5:38.
5 Quran 89:17-20; 107:1-3.
6 Quran 33:36.
7 Abu Dawud 24:3581.
8 Quran 2:282.
9 Quran 4:34.
10 Abu Dawud 2:494. Bukhari, Mufrad 7:142; 37:880.
11 Buhkhari, Mufrad 9:181. Muslim 15:4079
12 Quran 2:178. Bukhari 9:83:19.
13 Quran 4:3.
14 Bukhari 7:62:58.
15 Abu Dawud 11:2087.
16 Tirmidhi 2:6:1109.
17 Quran 33:33.
18 Quran 4:34.
19 Ibn Maja 3:10:2088.
20 Malik 29:1153.
21 Abu Dawud 12:2218.
22 Abu Dawud 12:2220.
23 Bukhari 7:72:715.
24 Quran 66:1. Abu Dawud 12:2171.
25 Malik 27:0.
26 Quran 4:11.
27 Malik 27:0. See also Quran 4:11.
28 Bukhari 5:59:335.
29 Abu Dawud 12:2258.
30 Malik 27:0.
31 Muslim 13:3991.
32 Quran 4:11-12. Nasai 4:30:3672.
33 Bukhari 3:46:721
34 Bukhari 3:47:765.
35 Muslim 15:4079. Tirmidhi 3:14:1414.
36 Bukhari 3:46:721.
37 Muslim 1:30.
39 Quran 4:24; 23:6.
40 Abu Dawud 10:1814.
41 Malik 43:14. Abu Dawud 39:4348.
42 Bukhari 9:83:17.
43 Malik 36:15.
44 Bukhari 9:84:64.
45 Quran 5:32.
46 Quran 5:33.
47 Ibn Saad 2:114-115. Bukhari 4:52:261
48 Muslim 32:6327.
49 Bukhari 4:52:61.
50 Quran 6:140; 17:31.
51 Tirmidhi 3:14:1399, 1400, 1401.
52 Abu Dawud 42:4920.
53 Bukhari, Mufrad 54:1268, 1273.
54 Bukhari 8:82:811.
55 Tirmidhi 4:27:1939.
56 Bukhari 9:84:54.
57 Quran 24:4. Bukhari 9:83:17.
58 Tirmidhi 3:15:1462.
59 Abu Dawud 39:4447.
60 Abu Dawud 42:4912.
61 Quran 2:62.
62 Ibn Ishaq 268.
63 Ibn Ishaq 363-364, 437-438, 461-464. Waqidi pp. 87-90, 177-186, 244-256.
64 Ibn Ishaq 511.
65 Abu Dawud 40:4497.
66 Bukhari 1:8:428.
67 Quran 5:54. 68 Quran 3:28.
69 Ibn Saad 3:190-191.
70 Bukhari 5:59:369.
71 Quran 3:54.
72 Quran 4:157.
73 Bukhari 8:81:770.
74 Bukhari 9:83:17, 37. Muslim 17:4194.
75 Ibn Ishaq 266-267.
76 Ibn Saad 8:43-44, 61, 67, 70, 81, 83, 86, 88, 92-93, 95-96, 100-101, 106, 124, 137-138, 149-150, 152, 153.
77 Muslim 10:3811.
78 Bukhari 3:34:318.
79 Abu Dawud 33:4146
80 Bukhari 7:69:494. Muslim 24:5279.
81 Abu Dawud 39:4348.
82 Quran 5:38.
83 Quran 24:2.
84 Ibn Ishaq 675.
85 Ibn Ishaq 369.
87 E.g., Bukhari 9:85:81.
90 Bukhari 1:6:301.
91 Quran 2:282.
92 Bukhari 4:52:250.
93 Quran 33:32.
94 Bukhari 1:12:829.
95 Quran 4:34.
96 Tabari 9:113 (see also Ibn Ishaq 651).
97 Bukhari, Mufrad 9:184. See also Ibn Saad (Haq) 1:449.
98 Zamakhshari 1 #275 on Q4:34
99 Muslim 4:2127
100 Muslim 9:3506
101 Abu Dawud 39:4478
102 Bukhari 7:72:715
103 Muslim 1:30.
104 http://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/source/pact-umar.asp See also Tabari 12:191-192. Ibn Kathir, Tafsir on Q9:29.
105 Muslim 26:5389. http://www.answering-islam.org/NonMuslims/rights.htm
106 Bukhari 6:60:114. Bukhari 9:83:49.
108 Fernández-Morera, D. (2016). The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise: Muslims, Christians, and Jews under Islamic Rule in Medieval Spain, pp. 133-134, 230-233. Wilmington, Delaware: ISI Books.