How Islam Can Reject Bad Shariah Laws
But Is Islam Willing to Reform?
by James M. Arlandson, Ph.D.
In my series on shariah, posted at jihadwatch.org, readers who react to the series categorically deny that Islam can reform. Maybe they’re right.
These readers also seem to believe that demolishing Islam in one try is realistic, or calling it EVIL will solve problems. None of this is realistic or fixes the mess. But when one brick at a time is taken away from that religion, then we’re closer to a truce. For example, if a bad law like wife-beating can be removed, then that removal gives a little relief for women who suffer under the oppression.
However, on the other side, Muslim leaders must admit that Islam has made a mess of the world. It’s obvious to everyone that Islam has trouble relating to the modern age. If Muslim religious scholars, many of whom teach at Islamic universities and preach at mosques, do not act to change or reject parts of their religion, then the world will never know even a modicum of peace.
But if the scholars acknowledge that reform or rejection is needed and take steps to do this, then there will be some hope for humanity.
Westerners and other non-Muslims would feel confident that reform and rejection of many laws would take place in Islamic counties, if reformers follow these steps:
1. They must publicly acknowledge that the Quran and authentic hadith have misguided and oppressive penal, civil, family, and political shariah laws in them (see Thirty Bad Shariah Laws).
2. They must not cover up or pretend or tell the uninformed that
everything in the Quran and authentic hadith, the two main foundations of
shariah, is perfect, but they are just being misunderstood and misinterpreted.
There really are extreme and inhumane passages in them. If reformers withhold
the bad parts from the public, the reformers appear deceptive and so lose their
3. Since there are inherent problems in the Quran, authentic hadith, and shariah, reformers must publicly acknowledge that those problematic verses and passages are no longer valid today and do not guide modern society.
4. They must publicly explain which interpretive theory they use to reject verses in the Quran and passages in the authentic hadith. Sunnis must back away from the belief that the Quran is “uncreated.” No, it really was part of its seventh century culture. All texts, including the Bible, have an historical context. One possible theory all Muslims can use is historicism , which “is a mode of thinking that assigns a central and basic significance to a specific context, such as historical period, geographical place and local culture” (see the next point).
5. They must publicly acknowledge that original Islam, including the Quran, absorbed too much of its seventh-century culture and does not guide modern society. Even if, hypothetically, Islam improved on its original culture, Islam did not go far enough by today’s standards. Those old laws have expiration dates – back in the seventh century.
6. They must write articles, books, and other works and hold conferences with their fellow scholars who are reluctant to reform, in their native language, explaining why many old shariah laws are no longer valid. If reformers do this already, they should report the results.
7. They must never reference the Quran, authentic hadith, or shariah in any modern declaration of human rights. Those source documents have too many specific outdated laws. Referencing a Creator, from whom humanity itself and our basic rights flows, is fine. But basing a declaration on a specific holy book (the Quran) and outdated religious law (shariah) leads to pitfalls and complications.
8. They must push to eliminate the Quran, authentic hadith, and shariah as a foundation of modern Islamic constitutions. Religion and state must be kept separate.
9. They must tell the defenders of old Islam to drop false labels, such as “Islamophobia” and “Islamophobic” (etc.), which are wrongly thrown at discerning critics of shariah.
10. They must never try to incorporate, by law, policies, or school curricula (etc.), any part of shariah into non-Islamic societies today. Religious shariah laws, like how to pray, keep a fast, wash or eat properly, do not need to be legislated. And other shariah laws, like the ones listed in Thirty Bad Shariah Laws, do not need to be legislated, because societies have their own modern and better laws.
Points nos. 4 and 5 about the absorption of a text’s historical context needs a little more explanation. Devout Muslim scholars – the kind who wish to impose archaic laws on us – believe the Quran is timeless and universally good and did not absorb its historical context.
However, a moment’s reflection shows this to be wrong.
Every text takes in its historical context. The ancient world surrounding Israel commanded execution for various sins and crimes, and so does the Old Testament. The ancient world practiced slavery, and the Old Testament assumes and regulates it, too. The ancient world sacrificed animals, and the Old Testament commands it, too.
The Quran follows the same pattern. Seventh-century Arab culture practiced polygamy, so the Quran permits it. Seventh-century Arab culture allowed males to initiate easy divorce, and so does the Quran. That culture allowed men to hit their wives, so does the Quran. The list could go on. The Quran is not “uncreated” apart from its culture.
Christians believe that the New Testament fulfills the Old. Jews don’t interpret the Torah apart from the Talmud. In other words, the Old is being updated. Can Muslims do the same with the Quran and the Traditions?
Are reformers willing to work on all of these ten suggestions at the same time? If so, please tell us the results, as things go along.
Right now, however, reform seems to be losing ground in many Islamic nations, if it is being attempted at all.
Thomas Jefferson said, “But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my legs.”
This means that beliefs and practices that do not harm us monetarily or physically can be tolerated.
However, many parts in shariah have rulings that do indeed pick our pockets and break our legs. Just one example relevant to the Jefferson quotation: Shariah says to persecute and possibly execute atheists (who believe in no God) and polytheists (who worship many gods). That policy is wrong.
Thus, some parts of religions are so egregious and out of bounds that they need to be rejected, not understood or reformed.
But in the meantime, whether Islam succeeds or not in reforming and rejecting its bad parts, or whether it even tries or not, the West and other non-Muslims countries must remember our foundational rights, to prevent shariah from creeping any further into our society over the next decades.
Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are self-evident and fundamental truths and rights.
The Western intellectual elites, who are the decision and policy makers, must understand that any law in shariah that denies those three rights is unjust.
If we give up on those three God-given fundamental rights and truths and bend towards Islam, rather than seeing it bend towards us, then we will weaken our free and blessed nation.
Articles in the Series (on site)
7. Free Speech
Marital, Domestic and Women’s Issues
Sexual “Crimes” and Punishments
More Punishments (off site)
And See (off site):
James M. Arlandson, Ph.D., has written a book: Women, Class, and Society in Early Christianity. He has recently completed a series on The Sword in Early Christianity and Islam. This article is taken from Towards a Reform of Islamic Shariah Law? at jihadwatch.org.