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Don Stewart :: What Is Islamic Law?

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What Is Islamic Law? (Shari’ah)

Islam – Question 18

Islam is a religion that attempts to exercise complete control over the behavior of its people. This can especially be seen in the laws that have been developed over time.

How Islamic Laws Are Made

When there is no direct word from the Quran or the hadith, rules for Muslims are then derived from the teachings of a consensus of religious leaders as well as by what is called “analogous reasoning.” The combination of the Quran, the hadith, the teachings of religious leaders, as well as analogous reasoning have been combined to create a detailed group of rules and regulations for Muslims. This is known as Shari’ah, or Islamic Law.

To become a Muslim is not difficult. They must recite the creed: There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is the Apostle of God. However, once a person becomes a Muslim, there are an entire host of rules follows for the faithful to keep.

Some Examples of Islamic Law

While Shari’ah is very detailed, there are a couple of matters that should be noted. They include the treatment of Jews and Christians in Muslim counties, and the treatment of Muslims who leave the faith, as well as penalties for various offences.

1. The Treatment of Christians and Jews

Islamic law says that non-Muslims who live within Muslim societies are to be treated as second-class citizens. This is especially true of Jews and Christians. They are called dhimmi. There are a number of petty laws which are intended to restrict and humiliate these non-Muslims. Every aspect of their lives is restricted by these laws. They also have to pay a special tax called the jizya. Islam does not make it easy for non-Muslims who live in Islamic countries.

2. The Treatment of Those Who Leave Islam

There is also the issue of those Muslims who leave the faith. This can be for another religion, or for the mere rejection of Islam. Shari’ah has some strong rules for them. Indeed, they are to be put to death. Even today, it is the state law in Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Iran that those who leave Islam are to be executed.

3. The Penalty for Various Offenses

Islamic law lists severe penalties for criminal offences. This includes cutting off of the hands for offenses such as stealing. Execution is the penalty for murderers and adulterers.

Observations on the Shari’ah

There are a number of observations that need to be made concerning the Shari’ah. They include the following.

The Penalties Have Remained Unchanged for Eleven Centuries

The penalties for violating the Shari’ah have remained unchanged for eleven centuries. Since it is believed the laws, as well as the penalties have been divinely sanctioned, there is no need to change them.

Shari’ah Is to Be Introduced Everywhere in the World

It is important to understand that Muslims desire to put the entire world under Shari’ah. The goal is to create an Islamic state wherever possible in the world. It is believed that this is the divine order of Allah.

The Christian Response to Shari’ah

There is no such thing as Shari’ah in Christianity. Christians can respond to such laws in the following manner.

1. The Old Testament People Had God-Given Laws

In the Old Testament, God revealed Himself to a certain race of people, the Hebrews, and placed them in a strategic geographical position, the Promised Land. They were to be His witness to the world. Consequently, God gave a number of laws by which the people were to obey. These laws dealt with these specific people at a specific time in history. The laws were limited to that time and that place.

2. There Is No Holy Land for Christians

The New Testament has a different focus. Christians were to go out into the entire world and preach the message of Jesus Christ, a message of freedom. Jesus said,

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20 RSV)

The message of freedom from sin that Jesus Christ offers is in contrast to the bondage that a person is placed under when they become a Muslim.

3. The Treatment of Those Who Leave the Faith

The New Testament does have things to say about those who leave the faith. For those who are genuine believers, the goal is restoration. The idea is that the sinful world will cause the believer to return to the fellowship of other believers.

The Apostle Paul told the church of Corinth how to deal with a sinning brother.

When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. (1 Corinthians 5:4-5 ESV)

Notice that the goal was that his spirit might be saved. Instead of eternal damnation, the idea is to bring that person back into a relationship with the Lord and with fellow believers.

4. Christians Are to Obey the Laws of the Land

Because the church has no physical center, or specific land in which it is to govern, there are no laws with respect to how to regulate behavior. To the contrary, the believer is to obey the laws of the land that he or she finds himself under. Paul wrote to the Romans,

Obey the government, for God is the one who put it there. All governments have been placed in power by God. So those who refuse to obey the laws of the land are refusing to obey God, and punishment will follow. For the authorities do not frighten people who are doing right, but they frighten those who do wrong. So do what they say, and you will get along well. The authorities are sent by God to help you. But if you are doing something wrong, of course you should be afraid, for you will be punished. The authorities are established by God for that very purpose, to punish those who do wrong. So you must obey the government for two reasons: to keep from being punished and to keep a clear conscience. (Romans 13:1-5 NLT)

The Christian is to obey the powers that are in control. They are not to rise up against their oppressors as is commanded in Islam. In other words, we are not attempting to “Christianize” the world. Indeed, this world is not our home. A new world is coming where the Lord Jesus Christ will rule in righteousness.

The contrasts between Christianity and Islam are again evident as far as the “law” is concerned. With Jesus Christ there is freedom while with Islam there is only bondage.

Summary – Question 18
What Is Islamic Law? (Shari’ah)

Islamic law, or Shari’ah, guides the behavior of all Muslims. These laws are derived from the Quran, the hadith, and the decisions of Muslim leaders. There is a multitude of laws that have been given that regulate every area of life for believers. This includes laws for the treatment non-Muslims living in Muslim countries, adult males who convert from Islam, and penalties for criminal offenses. The penalties for violating these laws have remained unchanged for some eleven centuries. The ultimate goal of Muslims is to put the entire world under Islamic law.

The Christian has no equivalent to Shari’ah. In the Old Testament, the people were placed in a specific land, and were expected to obey the various laws that God had set up. There were penalties for disobedience but certainly not the same type of punishments that are found in Islamic law.

In the New Testament, there is no commandment to set up a Christian state or govern the entire world by Christian law. To the contrary, believers are commanded to obey the governments in the various lands in which the believers find themselves.

Furthermore, there are no physical punishments commanded for those who leave the Christian faith. Sinning believers are to repent of their ungodly behavior before rejoining the community of believers. However, the goal is always restoration.

There are obviously great differences between Islam and Christianity when it comes the types of laws the followers are expected to obey as well as the penalties for disobeying them.

The difference is indeed clear: bondage in Islam or freedom in Christ.

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What Is the Role of Women in Islam? Next Section →
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