Louis Palme / Mar 26, 2012

The last thing Islamists would want you to know is that the practice of Sharia Law is actually outlawed in many countries, and it is opposed by Muslims themselves where they have a voice in the matter.  Even among Muslim-majority countries, there are very few that actually invoke the draconian hudud penalties prescribed in the Quran.  So while the debate over Sharia Law continues in state legislatures in the United States, it is informative to examine its acceptance or lack of acceptance in different parts of the world.


 The standard for applying Sharia Law is made quite clear in the classic manual of Islamic sacred law – Reliance of the Traveler:

[It is an act of apostasy punishable by death] to deny the obligatory character of something which by the consensus of Muslims is part of Islam, when it is well known as such, like the prayer (salat) or even one rak’a from one of the five obligatory prayers, if there is no excuse. (Para. o8.7(14)    . . . it is clear that there is virtually no country on the face of the earth where a Muslim has an excuse to behave differently than he would in an Islamic country, whether in his commercial or other dealings.  (w43.5(c)


One of the clearest commands in the Quran is to amputate the hand of a thief: “As for the man or woman who is guilty of theft, cut off their hands to punish them for their crimes. That is the punishment enjoined by Allah.” (Surah 5:38)  This punishment enjoined by Allah is carried out today only in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Sudan, and northern Nigeria – representing only 2 percent of the population of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation countries.  This demonstrates quite conclusively that the requirements of Sharia Law are horrific and repulsive, even to Muslims themselves. Given the nature of the countries actually practicing amputation, one can see that it is practiced by autocratic governments to terrorize their subjects, not to promote a moral society for its citizens. Other countries have found lots of ‘extenuating circumstances’ to ignore this clear command from Allah.   Even fewer Muslim countries treat apostasy as a capital crime.


Sharia Law was never meant to be a “cafeteria” where governments could pick and choose which elements to implement and which to ignore.  It is a complete system of government covering all aspects of religious, domestic, commercial, and government activities.   In view of this, it is surprising that countries representing only 16 percent of the total population of the OIC countries have incorporated Sharia Law as the primary source for determining the laws of the country.  Many other countries apply Sharia Law to family matters only or to Muslims only in mixed populations.   In Malaysia, for example, the Malay Muslims are a protected class representing only about half of the population, but they are subject to much stricter, Sharia regulation than their Chinese and Indian counterparts.    They alone are forbidden to comingle with the opposite sex, drink alcoholic beverages, or marry a non-Muslim in the case of Malay women.


While Sharia Law is conveniently subordinated to “man-made laws” in 84% of the Islamic countries, the opposition in non-Muslim countries is growing stronger and more wide-spread.  In 2003, Ontario, Canada, was faced with the possibility of Sharia Courts after faith-based tribunals were allowed for Catholic and Jewish communities. The leader of the opposition to Sharia Courts was an Iranian Muslim, Homa Arjomand, who said such courts would push back Canadian law by 1,400 years.  The outcry was so intense that even the Catholic and Jewish leaders agreed to abandon their tribunals rather than allow their own precedent to pave the way for Sharia Courts.  In May, 2005, the Quebec National Assembly unanimously supported a motion to block the use of Sharia Law in Quebec courts. 


Other countries have banned or strictly limited the jurisdiction of Islamic religious courts.  In France, the equivalent of the Supreme Court ruled in 2004 that Islamic divorces, where the husband has a unilateral right to initiate a divorce and where his support responsibilities are limited, are in fundamental contravention of French public policy since they infringe on the principal of equality between the spouses.  The French court cited the European Convention of Human Rights, Article 5, Protocol VII, which states:   “Spouses shall enjoy equality of rights and responsibilities of a private law character between them, and in their relations with their children, as to marriage, during marriage, and in the event of its dissolution.”


In several other European countries, rogue Sharia Courts have popped up, but they do not have government sanction.  There is a single court in Amsterdam and one in Antwerp.  It is expected that European countries will have to find common grounds within the EU protocols to outlaw these in all countries.


Of the 27 European countries, only one – the United Kingdom – has allowed Sharia Courts to resolve  disputes with the full power of the judicial system.  The Muslim Arbitration Tribunal system was established in 2007. Today, there are some eighty-five Sharia Courts in the United Kingdom which settle financial and family disputes among Muslims.  Increasingly, non-Muslims are using those courts because of the lower cost and faster resolution of disputes. Because of their informal nature and lack of documentation, however, it has been impossible to determine if these courts are administering justice in accordance with British law.  Often the victims of this process are Muslim women who are unaware of their civil rights under British law and cannot afford proper legal counsel. Furthermore, there have been complaints that litigants have been choosing between civil and Sharia courts depending on which was expected to provide them the most favorable outcome.  In 2011, the Ministry of Justice launched an investigation into Sharia tribunals, but had to abandon the inquiry when Muslims refused to cooperate. Last year, Baroness Cox introduced a bill in Parliament to ensure that Sharia tribunals and councils operate within the law and do not constitute a de facto parallel legal system within the U.K.  Some Muslim rights organizations, like the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organization, are campaigning to disband the Sharia Courts entirely because the councils are dominated by men and they are making judgments in favor of men. 

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