How Islam Can Reject Bad Shariah Laws
But Is Islam Willing to Reform?
by James M. Arlandson, Ph.D.
series on shariah, posted at jihadwatch.org, readers who react to the series
categorically deny that Islam can reform. Maybe they”re right.
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.
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.
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
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that those problematic verses and passages are no longer valid today and do not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
, 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).
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
8. They must push to eliminate the Quran, authentic hadith, and shariah
as a foundation of modern Islamic constitutions. Religion and state must be
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
do not need to be legislated, because societies have their own modern and
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
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.
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.”
that beliefs and practices that do not harm us monetarily or physically can be
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.
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
and Women’s Issues
Sexual “Crimes” and
And See (off
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.