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Sharia law, nemesis of justice

While in transit at Abu Dhabi International Airport recently world-renowned Professor Cyril Karabus from Cape Town was arrested and jailed over a child’s death that occurred 12 years ago. Although his trail is due to take place on November 20 his lawyers have not had access to the medical files and there is good reason to suspect that these have been tampered with. In the intervening period, he was tried and found guilty in abstentia and without any knowledge of the case. He is the victim of a legal system, largely based on sharia law, which prescribes as a matter of course that “blood money” be paid over to the victim’s family.

There are about 35 countries whose legal systems are based on sharia law. Countries applying strict forms of sharia law mandate death as a punishment for blasphemy. Abu Dhabi falls into a more lenient category of sharia law that would only prescribe imprisonment for blasphemy.

Two years after the misnamed “Arab Spring”, the resurgent religious parties are demanding the constitutions of Egypt and Libya be in accordance with sharia law. This is indeed a bitter harvest for a promising “spring”. Women, secularists and non-Muslim minorities who played leading roles in the Arab revolutions will be denied basic rights. Women, Christians and other dhimmis (non-Muslims) will not be able to give evidence in court, as their status as witnesses is diminished. Likewise these groups will suffer from diminished property, civic and social rights.

Writing in the Christian Post, Alex Murashko comments about Egypt: “Now the true face of extreme Islam is being unveiled to the world. The high hopes of the revolution and overthrow of Mubarak have now been replaced by the reality of another form of extremist government – an Islamist one.”

As Muslim populations grow, and as they penetrate into previously Christian or Buddhist societies, so will demands and pressures to accept sharia law. Multicultural Europe and Western societies have proved to be accommodating and elements of sharia law now co-exist alongside English law in the UK and Canadian law in Canada where for example polygamy is widely practised.

We need to interrogate whether sharia law is compatible with Western human rights or inimical to these rights. A cursory examination of some of sharia law’s principles should raise red flags, namely that: Islam commands that drinkers of alcohol and gamblers should be whipped; that an injured plaintiff can exact legal revenge based on the principle of a physical eye for physical eye; that a male and female thief must have a hand cut off; that highway robbers should be crucified or mutilated by having limbs severed; that homosexuals must be executed; that unmarried fornicators be whipped and adulterers be stoned to death. That Muslim and non-Muslim critics of Muhammad, the Quran and even sharia itself, be put to death and that apostates (those who leave Islam) be killed and that Islam commands offensive and aggressive jihad against anyone who either insults or questions the Prophet.

Despite there being many different interpretations of sharia “there is (according to Wikipedia) consensus among Muslims that sharia is a reflection of God’s will for humankind. Sharia must therefore be, in its purest sense, perfect and unchanging”. This precludes Islamic law from being able to reform and change because questioning the very foundations of Islam on which it is based is blasphemy and forbidden. Because sharia eschews critical thinking and reasoning it cannot stand up under scrutiny. It is dogmatic intolerant and prone to be excessive.

The increasingly anti-Western dialectic emanating from Islamic countries has merely served to harden the stance taken in 1990 by the Organisation of the Islamic Conference that adopted the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam in contradistinction to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Islamic declaration completely ignores the protection of religious rights and freedoms, the freedom of association and of the press and the protection of democratic principles.

Essentially by subjecting all the rights to the qualification that they are subject to Islamic sharia law, all the hard-won rights of the West that grew out of the age of Enlightenment would be consigned to the dustbin of history. This would be a tragedy and travesty and a denial of human development based on reason and would subject mankind to a nightmare that manifests in many of the failed states that have adopted sharia law. To varying degrees sharia law in all these states tolerates heinous forms of human-rights abuses such as “honour killings”.

The time is past due for the West to draw some red lines to protect and hold onto the values it holds sacrosanct and defined in many constitutions and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


  • Ben Levitas

    Ben studied at Wits, the Hebrew University, London School of Economics and University of Pretoria. He has two master’s degrees and has written four books on anthropology. He was the founding member of Jews for Justice, which took a stand against apartheid and provided assistance to victims of violence in Crossroads. He started Boston House College, a multiracial school in 1979. He currently serves as chairperson of the SA Zionist Federation in the Cape Council. He is married with four children.