Islam envisions the world in the form of a pluralistic ecosystem. Hence, enacting shariah law becomes impossible even in countries with Muslim majorities, let alone the multireligious nations and societies.
SALEEQ AHMAD NAIK, QADIAN
SEPTEMBER 7, 2021
The term shariah, in its general perception, brings to one’s mind visualization of barbaric acts and horrendous practices. It acquires an even uglier connotation when followed by the word law, especially to the general non-Muslim populace, who are not completely aware of the true spirit of Islamic teachings.
With the recent resurgence of Taliban in Afghanistan, the term has once again taken the forefront of the international headlines and the general response to the incident is resulting in further demonization of the word, creating an impression of shariah as a symbol of oppression, persecution and terrorism.
While this can naturally result in the stigmatization of a community of billions of people, it will also portray an ideology built on the very principle of peace as a menace to the world. This, hence, calls for a proper understanding of the term and an analysis of the fact if shariah really is a threat to the world if implemented, or if it can be implemented at all.
What is Shariah?
To start with, let us examine the term from a linguistic point of view which would amply demonstrate how the word has been dragged from its etymological vastness to a very narrow understanding. Shariah literally denotes a path leading to water. Lane, in his lexicon, explains that shariah “signifies a place of descent to water; or a way to water. And hence, al-Shariah as also al-Shir’ah signifies al-Deen [religion] because it is a way to the means of eternal life”.
In this aspect, the word shariah rightly represents the teachings of Islam and denotes the purpose they serve, which is to provide moral guidance to man and quench his spiritual thirst.
Technically, shariah can be categorized into five main branches: ibadah (worship), mu’amalat (transactions and contracts), adab (behaviour, morals and manners), i’tiqadat (beliefs), and uqubat (punishments).
In order to regulate and govern these five branches, certain guidelines have been set forth by Islam so as to build a moral and just society.
Hence, shariah can be understood as a code of living prescribed for Muslims, who willingly accept to follow the Islamic way of life and look to its teachings for guidance in matters pertaining to their lives.
Does Shariah require a separate legislation?
One of the major misconceptions regarding shariah is that it demands a separate legal system to function. According to this notion, Muslims cannot integrate into any society other than an Islamic one. However, nothing can be further from the truth.
As already explained, shariah is a set of principles that offers guidance to those who adhere to the religion of Islam and mostly comprises injunctions that deals with man’s morality. There is no doubt that Islam tends to reform society and the world at large, but that is a task to be accomplished through reforming people individually. Hence, most of the Islamic shariah can be followed in the presence of other legislations and abiding by the laws of countries and does not require, like other legal systems, separate legislations to operate.
The Fourth Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmadrh states in this regard:
Most of Islam, Christianity and Hinduism can be practised without there being the law of the country. The more so since the general principle accepted by the modern political thinkers is that religion should not be permitted to interfere with politics and politics should not be permitted to interfere with religion.
Hence, shariah can be practised in any society where Muslims are free to observe their religious obligations without restrictions. If such rights are undermined in any nation or country, a Muslim is advised to migrate to a place where he can practise his faith freely.
Can shariah be made the law of land?
Another question that needs to be clarified is if shariah can be formalized when Muslims constitute the majority of a country. It should be remembered that the concept of legislating shariah would require the imposition of Islamic ideologies upon those who do not subscribe to or believe in its concepts.
This would go all the way contradictory to the basic principles of Islam. Pluralism and religious tolerance are among the fundamental values and core tenets of Islam. The Holy Prophetsa was addressed by the Holy Quran in the following words:
For thou art but an admonisher; thou art not [appointed] a warden over them.
This means that Prophet Muhammadsa who was commissioned by God to create an Islamic society was enjoined, in no uncertain terms, that he had no authority to forcefully impose his opinions on others.
The Holy Quran further states:
There should be no compulsion in religion.
Explaining this verse Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmadrh says:
This is a statement of the Holy Quran of course, but it is a universal statement which can never be changed. It is an example of how laws can become permanent and universal. It says there is no coercion in faith or in matters of faith. No coercion is possible and no coercion is permitted.
Hence, in light of these principles, it is impossible to force Islamic ideologies upon those who do not follow them. However, His Holinessrh points out yet another problem with legislating shariah. Even in Islamic societies, there are many Muslims, who in their normal way of living, do not practise Islam in the ideal way. Moreover, Muslims themselves differ in their understanding regarding many Islamic notions to a great extent. This becomes a practical impediment in the implementation of shariah law as it would undermine the opinion of one group or another with respect to their beliefs.
In light of all this, enacting shariah would mean that people – both Muslims and non-Muslims – are deprived of their basic rights while Islam recognizes those rights and stands for them.
Thus, when Islam envisions the world in the form of a pluralistic ecosystem, enactment of shariah law becomes impossible even in countries that are constituted of Muslim majorities, let alone the multireligious nations and societies.
Justice: The cornerstone of Islamic government
It should be remembered that the separation of religious affairs from the matters of state that Islam endorses is not because it does not address the issues of governance, but because it forbids, as already explained, the application of its principles upon those who do not follow them. Governance is an important aspect of human life and Islam has laid out perfect guiding principles on how man should carry out this great responsibility. To this, we turn now.
The Holy Quran does not make mention of any peculiar or specific form of government rather it presents the fundamental and essential principle of absolute justice as the cornerstone for all legal systems of the world. Allah states in the Holy Quran:
Verily, Allah commands you to make over the trusts to those entitled to them, and that, when you judge between men, you judge with justice. And surely excellent is what Allah admonishes you with! Allah is All-Hearing, All-Seeing.
On the one hand, the verse draws the attention of Muslims towards the election of a representative as their ruler and are bidden to vote for one best fitted for the office. Conversely, the rulers also are commanded to be just and fair in their administration.
The central point underscored in the verse is justice while it is a fact that justice can only be exercised when different people who inhabit a country are given equal rights in every aspect of their lives.
This true concept of shariah was exemplified by the Holy Prophetsa when he, in his capacity as the Head of State of Medina, resolved disputes among Jews by applying Talmudic law. This suffices as evidence to reject the misconstrued notion of compulsive application of Islamic law as the law of land.
Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmadrh states in this regard:
Islam pleads for the secular type of government more than any religion and more than any political system…. The very essence of secularism is that absolute justice must be practised regardless of the differences of faith, religion, colour, creed and group. This, in essence, is the true definition of secularism, and this is exactly what the Holy Quran admonishes us to do in matters of state.
Islam lays great emphasis on the establishment of justice so much so that Muslims are demanded to act justly not only with Muslims or non-Muslims but also with their enemies. The Holy Quran states:
And let not a people’s enmity incite you to act otherwise than with justice. Be always just, that is nearer to righteousness.
Hence, with such high standards of justice functioning as the foundation of a legal system, there remains no room for imposing its beliefs and principles upon others. His Holinessrh makes this observation in light of the aforementioned verse saying:
When you dispense your responsibility as a government, you must dispense those responsibilities with absolute justice in mind. Now, when absolute justice is established as the central theme of a government, how could Islamic law be imposed upon non-Muslims; because it would be against justice and so many contradictions would arise?
Hence, shariah mandates Muslims to establish absolute justice in all spheres of life without any distinction of faith, race, caste or creed.
Islam offers golden principles and guidelines for the construction and formulation of secular government and provides pluralistic peaceful teachings based on absolute justice and equality for its functioning.
The bitter truth is that some religious clerics and extremist elements employ shariah to justify brutal killings of innocent people. Instead of adopting the true Islamic values, they try to implement a flawed and fallacious version of shariah through which they wish to carry out clobbering and repression of the vulnerable.
The true Islamic Shariah, however, is conducive to a system of government which adopts absolute justice and equality, guarantees universal human rights, protects minorities, and ensures tolerance and compassion towards mankind.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, in total adherence to these Islamic principles, holds that religion should not be the business of the state and advocates for the fulfilment of the requirements of justice based on non-compulsion and separation of mosque and state.
The author is a graduate from Jamia Ahmadiyya Qadian, the Ahmadiyya Institute of Languages and Theology. He currently serves the community as a missionary in Qadian.
 Arabic-English Lexicon by Edward William Lane p. 1535
It may be noted that shariah is not synonymous with deen in the absolute sense. The word deen encompasses every course which people adopt for their code of life. It is not just a faith in God. Even a denial of God could be a deen. Shariah on other hand is founded on the concept of God.
 The Relationship between Religion & Politics in Islam by Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmadrh p. 21
 Holy Quran 88: 22-23
 Holy Quran 2: 257
 The Relationship between Religion & Politics in Islam by Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmadrh p. 19-20
 Ibid p. 7-8
 Holy Quran 4: 59
 Sunan Abi Dawud, Kitab al-Hudud (Book on Prescribed Punishments)
 The Relationship between Religion & Politics in Islam by Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmadrh p. 28
 Holy Quran 5: 9
 The Relationship between Religion & Politics in Islam by Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmadrh p. 29