Friday, November 23, 2007

Challenging Shari'a Law

(All emphases by Always On Watch)
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Recently, Saudi Arabia defended the sentence passed on a nineteen-year-old Muslima who was gang raped. Originally she was sentenced to ninety lashes, but upon review the Saudi General Court in Saudi increased her sentence to 200 lashes. The woman had defied shari'a law in that she was in the company of an unrelated male. According to this November 21, 2007 article in the Washington Post,
The attack occurred in 2006. The victim says she was in a car with a male student she used to know trying to retrieve a picture of her. She says two men got into the car and drove them to a secluded area where she was raped by seven men. Her friend also was assaulted.

Justice in Saudi Arabia is administered by a system of religious courts according to the kingdom's strict interpretation of Islamic law.
Our State Department has "expressed astonishment" over the barbarism of punishing the victim. Hello, State Department? Are you unaware of how Saudi enforces shari'a law? Are you aware of how all-encompassing shari'a law is in some Muslim countries? According to this source,
[C]alling the Sharia 'law' can be misleading, as Sharia extends beyond law. Sharia is the totality of religious, political, social, domestic and private life.


Dogmatically, Sharia is not something the intelligence of man can prove wrong, it is only to be accepted by humans, since it is based on the will of God.
According to this article in the Washington Post, the victim's attorney has himself become a target because he has repeatedly challenged the application of shari'a law in the Saudi justice system:
Saudi officials have revoked the license of human rights lawyer Abdul-Rahman al-Lahem, who has handled the country's most controversial cases and defended a gang-rape victim sentenced to jail time and lashes.

Lahem, 36, faces a disciplinary hearing Dec. 5 to determine the length of his suspension.

Lahem is accused by the prosecutor general of "belligerent behavior, talking to the media for the purpose of perturbing the judiciary, and hurting the country's image," according to an official letter he received Monday.

Since he started practicing law almost five years ago, Lahem has defended clients whom other lawyers refused, including a school administrator suspended for criticizing the religious establishment, a man convicted of promoting homosexuality for saying it was genetic, three political reformists seeking a constitutional monarchy, and the first Saudis suing the country's powerful religious police.

Lahem said that losing his license would be a blow to the country's budding human rights movement.

"If I am banned from practicing law, nobody will dare go up against the judiciary again," said Lahem, a slight man with a limp from a childhood accident. "If I win, it will open a new chapter for human rights in Saudi Arabia."....
At the same time that this modern-thinking Saudi attorney is himself facing a legal battle, we read the following in the Telegraph, a news source in the UK:
Islamic sharia law is gaining an increasing foothold in parts of Britain, a report claims.

Sharia, derived from several sources including the Koran, is applied to varying degrees in predominantly Muslim countries but it has no binding status in Britain.

However, the BBC Radio 4 programme Law in Action produced evidence yesterday that it was being used by some Muslims as an alternative to English criminal law. Aydarus Yusuf, 29, a youth worker from Somalia, recalled a stabbing case that was decided by an unofficial Somali "court" sitting in Woolwich, south-east London.


Mr Yusuf told the programme he felt more bound by the traditional law of his birth than by the laws of his adopted country. "Us Somalis, wherever we are in the world, we have our own law," he said. "It's not sharia, it's not religious — it's just a cultural thing."

Sharia's great strength was the effectiveness of its penalties, he said. Those who appeared before religious courts would avoid re-offending so as not to bring shame on their families.

Some lawyers welcomed the advance of what has become known as "legal pluralism".

Dr Prakash Shah, a senior lecturer in law at Queen Mary University of London, said such tribunals "could be more effective than the formal legal system".

In his book Islam in Britain, Patrick Sookhdeo, director of the Institute for the Study of Islam and Christianity, says there is an "alternative parallel unofficial legal system" that operates in the Muslim community on a voluntary basis.

"Sharia courts now operate in most larger cities, with different sectarian and ethnic groups operating their own courts that cater to their specific needs according to their traditions," he says. These are based on sharia councils, set up in Britain to help Muslims solve family and personal problems.

Sharia councils may grant divorces under religious law to a woman whose husband refuses to complete a civil divorce by declaring his marriage over. There is evidence that these councils are evolving into courts of arbitration.

Faizul Aqtab Siddiqi, a barrister and principal of Hijaz College Islamic University, near Nuneaton, Warwicks, said this type of court had advantages for Muslims. "It operates on a low budget, it operates on very small timescales and the process and the laws of evidence are far more lenient and it's less awesome an environment than the English courts," he said.

Mr Siddiqi predicted that there would be a formal network of Muslim courts within a decade.
And to add to the irony, this source states the following:
Sharia is primarily meant for all Muslims, but applies to a certain extent also for people living inside a Muslim society. Muslims are not totally bound by the Sharia when they live or travel outside the Muslim world.
As at least some in Saudi are attempting to modernize its interpretation of shari'a law, will the West be allowing the entire camel into the tent?

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posted by Always On Watch @ 11/23/2007 10:37:00 AM