16 Thirty Shariah Laws That Are Bad For All Societies
Can Modern Islam Reform Old Islam?
by James M. Arlandson, Ph.D.
of shariah laws is intended to be read by judges, lawyers, legislators, city
council members, educators, journalists, government bureaucrats, think tank
fellows, TV and radio talk show hosts, and anyone else who occupies the “check
points” in society; you initiate the national dialogue and shape the flow of
the conversation in society. You are the decision and policy makers.
intellectuals, you believe the critics of shariah exaggerate (and maybe some
are guilty of it). They”re just “Islamophobes.” Ignore them. Islam is a
worldwide religion, after all. It deserves respect.
also thorough relativists who believe in tolerance for all religions, in all
their parts. At first glance, this is a commendable outlook.
what 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
It is a
true that beliefs that do not harm us monetarily or physically should be
tolerated. Shariah has positive aspects to it — or, rather, they do no damage
in those two ways. Therefore, parts of shariah should be tolerated in a
religiously diverse society like America.
The Five Pillars are examples. They are part of shariah —
divine Islamic law, which traces its origins ultimately back to the Quran (or
Koran) and Muhammad’s example or life, the sacred traditions, which were eventually
written down in the hadith. None of those five rituals and policies picks our
pockets or breaks our legs, if the five are done privately or in the mosque.
however, this list is not about the harmless parts in shariah, but the ones
that are incompatible
with the modern era.
Thomas Jefferson had his limits. He sent the marines to take back captured
American merchant sailors and to open up the trade routes that were hampered by
the Muslim Barbary pirates in North Africa, who had sold the captives into
slavery or demanded ransoms.
cases, a religion does indeed pick our pockets and break our legs.
in the list has one or more back-up articles. Readers should click on them to
find out that the thirty points come right out of original Islam and are not
invented out of thin air. Each back up also has a section on modern Islam,
mentioning Muslims — too few — who advocate reform.
And if readers would like to see various
translations of the Quran, they may go to the website quranbrowser.com
and type in the references. If readers are in doubt about the
meaning of a verse, they may go to the tafsir
(commentary) written by Ibn Kathir (d. 1373), one of the most authoritative and highly regarded
classical commentators in the Sunni world, at qtafsir.com; or the readers may search through the modern commentary by Sunni
Indo-Pakistani religious scholar and politician
Sayyid Abul A”la Maududi
(d. 1979) at englishtafsir.com.
mosque and state are not separate.
To this day, Islamic nations that
are deeply rooted
in shariah, like Iran and Saudi Arabia, do
not adequately separate the two realms, giving a lot of power to courts and
councils to ensure that legislation does not contradict the Quran (never mind
Most of the laws listed below come from this confusion.
may be waged against injustice or an unjust nation, as Islam defines the terms.
Classical texts say Islam is justice, and no Islam is injustice.
Therefore, a “just war” can be waged against a nation or people who do not
submit to Islam.
Yet we are told in the 1990 Cairo Declaration of Human
Rights, which is based on shariah, that humane rules must be followed (Article Three)
Does that article offer hope
that modern Islam can move past old Islam? Maybe.
However, the Quran, sacred traditions, classical law, and
historical Islam contradict or balance out some elements in Article Three.
Would there be a conflict between the old Islam and modern Islam, if war broke
out? Many Islamic clerics
(religious rulings) to wage jihad.
may be waged to spread Islam and force conversions — a holy war.
Yet, we have been told for
many years now that holy wars and forced conversions were never done in Islam. That’s
a myth imagined by Westerners.
captive in jihad may be executed, enslaved, ransomed for money, exchanged for
other prisoners, or released freely.
Quran 47:4 and 33:25-27, 4:24 says those things (and the
last option — free release — is positive). Yet we are
told that in a jihad today everything must
be done humanely and justly.
woman captive of jihad may be forced to have to sex with her captors (now
Quran 4:24 and
especially the sacred traditions and classical law allow this. The sacred traditions
say that while out on military campaigns under Muhammad’s leadership, jihadists
used to practice coitus interruptus with their female captives.
can be destroyed or confiscated during jihad.
Quran 59:2 and 59:5 discuss those rules. Sacred traditions
and classical law expand on the Quranic verses. Modern Islamic law officially
improves on the Quran: see Article Three of
the 1990 Cairo Declaration of Human Rights, which is nonetheless based on
shariah, but it outlaws wanton destruction of property. Would there be any conflict
between old Islam
and modern Islam in a war today?
may be waged to collect spoils.
Quran 8:1, 8:7, 8:41, and 48:20 show this clearly. Early
Islam followed the old Arab custom of raiding caravans, but as its military
grew, the raids were elevated to jihad. The spoils of war were coveted. Which Islam
would prevail in a war today — the old one or the modern one?
second-class submission tax, called the jizyah,
must be imposed on Jews and Christians (and other religious minorities) living
in Islamic countries.
history, vanquished Jews and Christians became known as dhimmis. This word appears in Quran 9:8 and 9:10, meaning a
“treaty” or “oath,” but it can also mean those who are “condemned” “reviled” or
“reproved” (Quran 17:18, 17:22; 68:49). The word “submission” in Quran 9:29 can
also be translated as “humiliation,” “utterly humbled,” “contemptible” or
“vile.” It can mean “small” as opposed to “great.”
It is true that freeing slaves was done in original Islam
(Quran 5:89 and 24:33), and the Quran says to be kind to slaves (Quran 4:36),
but that is not the entire story.
In addition to those verses, Quran 4:24, 23:1-7; 33:52 allow
the institution. Muhammad owned slaves, even one who was black (so says a
sacred tradition). He was militarily and politically powerful during his later life
in Medina, but he never abolished slavery as an institution.
Islamic nations have outlawed slavery (Article 11, which is still based on shariah). That
proves Islam can reform on at least one matter. Can it reform on the other
shariah laws? And we are told that “no other nation or religious group in
the world treated slaves better than the Muslims did.” The back-up
article and next two items in this list contradict that claim.
male owner may have sex with his slave-women, even prepubescent slave-girls.
See Quran 4:24 and 23:1-7; but it is classical law that permits sex
with prepubescent slave girls and describes them as such. Some Muslim
religious leaders and others still advocate this practice, taking the slaves as concubines (though sex
with prepubescent slave-girls is another matter).
may be beaten.
That’s what sacred traditions and classical laws say. See Islamic Jihad: A Legacy of
Forced Conversion, Imperialism, and Slavery
laws, including imprisonment or execution, may be imposed on anyone who leaves
Islam (an apostate).
Normally this is a prescribed punishment, but it is also
political, since it is about freedom of religion. Surprisingly the Quran does
not cover punishing apostates down here on earth, though in the afterlife they
will be punished. Does this modern Islam can reform old Islam? Quran 4:88-89,
9:73-74, and 9:123, read in that sequence, might deal with earthly punishments.
Mainly, however, the sacred traditions and classical law permit harsh treatment
for anyone who leaves Islam.
Back-up article: Freedom
laws, including imprisonment or execution, may be imposed on critics of Islam
These verses should be read in historical sequence, for they
show that as Islam’s military power increased, the harsh treatment of mockers
and critics also intensified, as follows: Quran 3:186, 33:57-61, 9:61-66, 9:73
and 9:123. Sacred traditions, classical laws, and historical Islam are
unambiguous about the punishments, recording the people, often their names, who
were assassinated for mocking Muhammad and the Quran.
Back-up article: Free
and gamblers may be flogged.
Quran 2:219, 4:43, and 5:90-91, in that sequence, show that
Islam gradually prohibited alcohol. The last passage also prohibits “gaming” of
sorts. The sacred traditions and classical law discuss punishing gamblers and
alcoholics. One tradition says to execute unrepentant alcoholics who do not
stop. But usually drinkers were flogged forty or eighty times, with garments,
palm branches, or sandals in early Islam.
Back-up article: Muhammad, the Quran, and
injured plaintiff (a private citizen) has the options of forgiving or exacting
legal and literal revenge — physical eye for physical eye.
Categorized as qisas (like for like), Quran 5:45 is the
main verse (and see 2:187-189). Sacred traditions and classical laws spell out
which punishments should be inflicted on which offenses.
Islamic courts, depending on which way the plaintiff
directs, today may ask a doctor to surgically remove an eye or disfigure the
face or body in
some other way. Currently, qisas can be applied to children
The whole purpose of courts is to remove the punishment of
wrongs and injuries from the plaintiffs who are private citizens; otherwise, blood feuds and personal revenge make
punishments uneven — never mind excessive.
Back-up article: Law of Retaliation
16. The hand of a male or female thief may be cut off.
Quran 5:38 imposes this punishment. The traditions and classical law clarify that the theft has to be a valuable item; or mutilation might not be inflicted during a famine,
Back-up article: Thieves, Give Muhammad a Hand!
highway robber may be crucified or his alternate hand and foot cut off.
Quran 5:33 permit these punishments. Yes, from that verse
other punishments can be inflicted, but the point here is that execution for first-degree
murder with aggravated circumstances is one thing, but mutilation and
crucifixion is excessive.
Back-up article: Crucifixion and Mutilation
Homosexuals may be imprisoned, flogged, or executed.
Surprisingly, the Quran is not all that clear on this
subject, but the traditions and classical laws are.
Back-up article: Homosexuality
Fornicators may be flogged.
Quran 24:2 says this. The hadith and classical laws can
impose additional penalties like exile of the male for a year.
Back-up article: Adultery
Adulterers may be stoned to death.
The verse that says to stone adulterers to death went
missing from the Quran, so says Umar, a companion of Muhammad and the second
caliph (ruled 634-644). But he left no doubt that this penalty was done under
Muhammad’s direction, and the sacred traditions and classical laws confirm it.
But a few rules of evidence must be followed, like confession of the adulterer
or four eyewitnesses. In some interpretations of the law, if a
woman is raped, but cannot produce four just and pious men who witnessed it,
then she is slandering the alleged rapist (or gang rapists) — never mind that
the four just and pious eyewitnesses did nothing to stop it, but stood there
and watched it.
Back-up article: Adultery
False accusers of sexual crimes may be flogged eighty times.
Quran 24:1-4 speak of corporal punishment for sexual sins.
Verse 4 says that if an accuser cannot produce four eyewitnesses to corroborate
his accusation, then he will be flogged (see Quran 24:13).
Back-up article: Adultery
Quran 2:228 and 4:34
states that mankind is superior to womankind in a variety of legal and domestic
contexts. Quran 2:223 says
wives are fields, and their husbands can go into them whenever and however they
like. How does this inferiority work out in the law and society?
22. A woman
inherits half what a man does.
Quran 4:11 says
it, and the hadith (traditions) and classical law confirm it.
Back-up article: Women’s
Status and Roles
woman’s testimony in a court of law counts half of a man’s testimony, since she
Quran 2:282 says
it in the context of business law. But the hadith (traditions) explains that
women’s minds are deficient; classical law expands this curtailment to other areas
Back-up article: Women’s
Status and Roles
man may legally and irrevocably divorce his wife, outside of a court of law, by
correctly pronouncing three times “you are divorced.”
Quran 2:229 says
this, and the traditions and classical law explain and confirm it. A judge in a
modern Islamic country will ensure that the husband did not speak from a fit of
irrational rage (anger is okay) or intoxication, for example. Then the court
will validate the divorce, not daring to overturn it, since the Quran says so.
Back-up article: Divorce
wife may remarry her ex-husband if and only if she marries another man, has sex
with him, and then this second man divorces her.
Quran 2:230 says this, and the
traditions and classical law confirm it. Supposedly, this rule is designed to
prevent easy divorce (see the previous point),
but it produces a lot of pain, in Muslims today.
may hit their wives.
Quran 4:34 says it, and the traditions and classical law confirm it. There is a sequence of steps a husband follows before he can hit her, but not surprisingly this rule creates all sorts of abuse and confusion
in Islamic society today.
Back-up article: Domestic
man may be polygamous with up to four wives.
Quran 4:3 (and
33:50-52) allow this, but only if a man can take care of them. The traditions
and classical law confirm it. Modern Muslims still push for this old marital arrangement even in the USA, and many Islamic nations still
allow it. But some Muslims are fighting polygamy. The
hadith (traditions) paints a picture of Muhammad’s household that was full of
strife between the wives.
Back-up article: Polygamy
man may simply get rid of one of his “undesirable” wives.
Quran 4:128 says
this. The traditions say about the verse that the wife whom Muhammad wanted to
get rid of was “huge” and “fat.” She gave up her turn to his favorite
girl-bride Aisha. He kept the corpulent wife. There is heartbreak in Islam today.
Back-up article: Polygamy
29. A mature
man may marry a prepubescent girl.
Quran 65:1-4, particularly verse 4, assumes, but does not command, the practice. The hadith says Aisha was six years old when she was engaged to Muhammad (he was in his fifties), and their marriage was consummated when she was nine. The hadith indicate she was prepubescent at nine. She never did bear him any children. Classical law says a father may give away his prepubescent daughter, but she also has a few rights.
Officially many Islamic nations have raised the legal marriage age, but pockets in the Islamic
world still follow this old custom. The Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia okays marriage to ten-year-old girls. Work
is still needed to be done for the rights of girl brides,
particularly for their sexual health.
Back-up article: Marriage to Prepubescent Girls
woman must wear a head covering and maybe a facial veil, according to sound traditions
and authoritative classical law.
Quran 24:31, 33:53 and 33:59 are not as clear about the veil as
one might first think. The verses say to dress modestly, but should the head be
covered or just the neckline? What about the face (except the eyes)? Thus, modern Muslims are now in a big debate over the veil. However,
the traditions and classical law are clearer than the Quran: the veil over the
face (except the eyes).
Compiling this list would not have been necessary if modern Muslim
religious leaders and jurists argued that all of those laws have expiration
dates — back in the seventh century. Instead, they are eager to impose those archaic laws today (with the exceptions duly noted
as the list went along). They believe all of the Quran is universally and timelessly
However, most of the public, since 9/11 and the countless
posts about Islam since then, are laughing at Islam behind its back. The
traditionalists, whom we have kept track of in the series, appear very foolish,
when they defend the thirty rules. Do they really intend to tell us to our
faces that the thirty laws should be imposed on all of humanity for its own
good? Apparently so. But you traditionalists are gradually becoming a
laughingstock, in the eyes of most people.
Most people. Why not all?
Are all of these
laws on the brink of being imposed on the West, by the next day? No, but many
of them, especially the ones about marriage and family, can gradually be
lobbied for and slowly make their way into our culture and legal system and
advocated in school curricula, in the name of multiculturalism.
But will modern Islam reform old Islam? Will the Western
elites encourage reform, or do they believe Islam is fine the
way it is? Rather than they and traditionalists defending the thirty laws and
calling critics “Islamophobes,” traditionalists and their allies should work hard to reform the
laws or, better yet, set them aside completely.
For example, the Quran and traditions, classical law, and
Islamic history promote slavery, but modern Muslim states have outlawed it —
officially (see nos. 9, 10, 11, above). This prohibition shows that modern
Islam can improve on original Islam — the one that Muhammad preached and
practiced. Slavery was done throughout the world in the old days; that’s the (outdated)
historical context. Original Islam conformed to it. Can modern Muslim scholars
recognize that all of the other laws in this list were part of the same obsolete
historical context and throw out these archaic laws?
In the meantime, while we wait patiently for this Islamic Reformation
and Modernization (if it happens), the Western elites may want to remember
three universal rights that are self-evident, according to the Declaration of
Independence: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
The hallmarks of those three rights are, among other things, freedom of conscience to follow a religion of one’s choice (or no religion at all) without being harassed. Freedom of speech — even the kind that criticizes the Quran and Muhammad — are signs that democracy and justice have taken root. Equality before the law for both sexes also defines the three universal rights.
of those thirty laws suppress everyone’s highest quality of life before the law and in society; they
suppress our maximum liberty; and they
suppress individual pursuit of happiness
as he or she defines it.
Finally, a religious utopia which is imposed from the top down in Islam, which harshly punishes sins or crimes by disfigurement or mutilation or flogging, and which denies the basic human dignity of the female sex, is the wrong direction for modern society.
centuries, and after many mistakes, the West has learned from its mistakes and is still learning. Islamic leaders say the West is arrogant. Maybe sometimes it is. But Islam’s refusal to learn from the West is also a sign of arrogance. Islam must bend to us, not we to it. Islam is behind the times.
Tolerance of religions in their harmless aspects, like prayer, is one thing, but capitulation to their civilly and socially oppressive parts is another. Let’s preserve our cultural and legal advancements without compromise. Let’s keep religion and the state (government) separate.
word, phrase, or clause of these thirty shariah laws and even the Five Pillars should
ever enter our legal system, legislation,
policy formulations, or school curricula.
Most of all, let’s keep (or return) to our three universal and foundational rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of (individual) happiness.
 This series does not
compare Islam and Christianity, but the readers may be curious about it. It may also seem strange to the intellectual
elite who have pretty much chucked religion out the window that people often
ask about the Old Testament. Doesn’t it have severe laws? How can we talk about
one of significance today advocates bringing those severe Old Testament laws
forward to the modern era, with the possible exception of the death penalty for
first-degree murder with aggravated circumstances (yet countless traditional
and ultraconservative jurists and religious scholars today are eager to impose
those thirty laws). Second, in the very last endnote to each back-up article is
a brief discussion of the question. Basically, Christians believe that the New
Testament reinterprets the Old. See my studies How Christ
Fulfills the Old Testament and How
Christians Benefit from the Old Testament. And Jews today don’t read the
severe old laws without the Talmudic literature. Thus, there should be no
straight line between 3,400-year-old laws in the Torah of the Old Testament and
the modern era, without a reinterpretation of them (can modern Islam
reinterpret or throw out those thirty laws that are 1,400 year old?).