Understanding the basics and the foundation behind Sharia law is not such a difficult task. Accepting it as a reasonable alternative to democracy is a bit more of a stretch for those who have only experienced democratic systems of crime and punishment. Crimes against a religious book are nothing new to Christians and those of any faith. The laws in a modern society of a nation that observes Sharia law seems archaic. Even more difficult to accept are the punishments handed out in accordance with the prescribed hudud punishments that are ‘fixed’ punishments handed out and assigned depending on the crime committed.
Sharia law has more in common with a tyrannical state like Nazi fascism in that the laws are unequivocally unbendable and if you are not part of the correct heritage or religion, you are marked as a lesser human. That notwithstanding, the punishments for breaking the laws of the Sharia are also resolute. Some might say excessive and inhumane. Human rights groups have cited numerous events that would be considered so. One example in Turkey, who is considered a more moderate Muslim country, arrested and jailed the woman for having inappropriate relations with a man who was not her husband.
This woman was raped against her will (Dorsey, 2001). Did Allah will this to happen to her? Probably not. Other sacred groups have laws that are absolute and the punishments are difficult, even life changing, but not classified as inhumane or even corporal in nature. The first that comes to mind is the Amish community and how they might banish a member of their community, but that is for the most heinous of transgressions. The corporal punishments in Saudi Arabia and other countries that practice Sharia law would not be tolerated in any modern democracy.
Comparisons of the punishments handed down for breaking democratic laws and Sharia laws are virtually at opposite ends of the spectrum. Not only are the punishments different, but the locations at which they are carried out are much harsher in countries like Saudi Arabia. The jails and detainment areas are not only barely able to sustain human life, the creature comforts are extremely limited, police are even more easily corruptible, and the law of God is above any human standard so committing a crime against God is punishable by any means. There are set or fixed punishments or penalties called hudud (O’Connell, 2010).
Hadd (singular for hudud) punishment derive from a religious nature and are broken out and separated into five areas; unlawful intercourse (Zina), False Accusation or Unlawful Intercourse (Kadhf), drinking of wine (Shurb), theft (Sariq), and highway robbery (Qat’ al-Tariq) (Johnson ; Vriens, 2013). Comparing an act in the United States to what is a crime in Saudi Arabia, the punishments that follow are entirely different. For example, unlawful intercourse is defined as sexual relations with anyone not a spouse or sex slave (which is allowed under Sharia).
This is not referring to just unwanted sexual acts. In fact, a woman can be the victim and still be punished for being raped by multiple men. (Abedine ; Jamjoom, 2007). Punishments include stoning and/ or lashes. Homosexual acts fulfill all these requirements and the penalty is death and sometimes for both parties involved (Arlandson). In the United States a simple consensual one night stand, while sometimes shameful and can result in punishments involving shots and or creams will not usually result in a judicial punishment resulting in lashes or stoning.
The United States not only would not condone punishments for homosexuality, but in some states it is being celebrated and even supported legally. Alternatively, the punishment for false accusation of unlawful intercourse is eighty lashes (O’Connell, 2010). The resulting potential for the crime one is accused of is certainly much more than the potential punishment for one who lies about it. Drinking of wine is a crime that would most certainly keep the courts and jails extraordinarily busy in the United States.
While there are many laws against excessive drinking and the resulting actions if they are performed; DUI, public intoxication etc… it certainly is not a crime to merely consume it. In Saudi Arabia the punishment for consuming wine (this includes other intoxicants or drugs) is lashes (O’Connell, 2010). Theft, or Sariq is the removal by stealth of an item owned by another. A pretty basic and easy definition and similar to the definition of what theft is in the United States. The punishments are so different it is amazing.
While in the U. S. the punishments are specific to the amount taken (grand larceny and petty theft are defined by the value of the item stolen), in the eyes of those who follow the Sacred Law, amputation of the hand is directly attributed to the Qur’an. Due to increase crime in the Kingdom, Saudi Arabia is intensifying the punishments to send a message. While the amputation is now rarely used as a punishment, in 2007 an Egyptian man had his hand amputated for pick-pocketing (Reuters, 2007).
Highway robbery is by the Arabs as the most serious crime because it threatens the cam and order of all society and the punishments can include amputation (like theft), but usually the punishments are much harsher or might include ‘cross amputation’ of a right hand and a left foot and the opposite on the second offense (Shenouda, 2011). There are multiple types of fixed punishments. Previously the hudud were mentioned. After that and for more serious crimes, there are the Quesas crimes.
The Quesas area of crimes include much more severe crimes and the punishments are too (Dammer ; Albanese, 2011). For instance, a crime such as Willful Murder carries a punishment of death enforced by the victim’s family, compensation, exclusion from inheritance or a pardon. Restitution is common in the Islamic community for the payment to the family for a crime committed against a family member. This is called Diyya (Dammer ; Albanese, 2011) and is paid by the offender’s family or even the government. What is interesting is the proof required for the defendant to the crimes to be convicted.
Two witnesses or a confession is required for most of the heinous crimes (Dammer ; Albanese, 2011). Similarly fixed punishment has been implemented in other ancient civilizations. Hammurabi’s law was a codification of rules by Prince Hammurabi in ancient Babylonia. He was authorized to do so by Anu the Sublime and Bel, the Lord of Heaven and Earth (King, 1997). His list or code included at least 282 (the code had been wiped from the logged stones) specific laws that were to protect the weak and were intended to improve all of mankind through ‘righteousness’.
Included in the list are laws that include punishments of false accusations involving witchcraft, payment of false accusations in a civil case, restitution payment for theft of livestock, and restitution to the owner of a slave imprisoned and killed during the imprisonment due to mistreatment by a guard (King, 1997). Additionally, Draconian code was followed in Greece, Emperor Justinian codified laws in Italy that was the basis for much of the democratic laws throughout Europe, and secular law during the middle ages are examples of legal punishments that were fixed (Misis, 2011).
Before that the punishments were viewed as the responsibility of the victim or their family and the vengeance was to be sought by them. The Quran has verses that define and explain offenses and the punishments to be handed out for certain offenses. The following is an example of this by way of these versus: “And to you, we have revealed the book with the truth, confirming the scriptures which had already been revealed before it and superseding them, Judge, then, between them in accordance with what Allah has revealed and do not follow their vain desires, forsaking thereby the truth that has come to you.
To each of you we have given a code of law and a way of life. Had Allah so willed, he could have made you all one community: but (it is his wish) to test you by means of that which he has bestowed on you… To Allah you shall all return. He will then make you understand all that over which you now differ. ” (Quran 5:48) “Judge between them in accordance with what Allah has revealed, and do not follow their vain desires; and beware of them lest they tempt you away from any part of what Allah has revealed to you. If they turn away, then know that it is Allah’s will to afflict them for some of their sins.
Indeed, a great many people are transgressors. Do they desire to be ruled by the law of pagan ignorance? But for those who are firm in their faith, who can be a better lawgiver than Allah? ” (Quran 5:49-50) Additionally, the Quran states in Chapter 2, verse 256 that God created multiple nations and religions for all of us to work toward good deeds and society benefits. This directly supports what is known as “the Golden Rule”, “We (God) have created your from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another.
Verily, the most honorable of you with God is the pious. Verily Allah is All-Knowing and All-Aware. ” One might feel the treatment and punishments for crimes would be above the standards of even a democratic legal system. While the Bible is a collection of stories and testaments of early Jewish leaders and eventually the first Christians who followed Jesus on which the Christians base their faith, the Quran was written as the words revealed to Muhammad from God and are treated as the words to live by in modern society as they were recorded at that time.
Christians base their life around these teachings, but are not judged in from a legal standpoint in a democratic society. While the belief systems are largely the same in that God is holy in the highest and Islam does believe in all the previous prophets and their actions (to include Moses and Jesus), it holds Mohammad as the last and best prophet. Islamic societies and those who practice Sharia seem to hold the old ways of the punishments over those countries that are predominantly Christian and democratic societies.
International pressures have found their way to affect Saudi Arabia and other countries that practice Sharia. In the last Olympics, several women represented Saudi Arabia and Qatar in a surprising shift in deadlocked debates that initially had the Islamic countries not sending women to compete in any of the competitions or games. Although these highly publicized acts seem to be a step in the right direction, there are still numerous stories of amazing atrocities as punishments for crimes in the Kingdom.
Eyes that are lost in a brawl are punished by having a person who potentially caused the injury to have his own eye gouged out, beheadings number approximately 100 per year in Saudi Arabia, and stoning as punishment is to use stones large enough to cause pain, but not to kill immediately. Even the attempts to bring about human rights within the country are stamped out.
The organizers of the non-government group organization state that The NGO’s founding statement lists among its aims: “to spread and defend the culture of human rights, enforce its principles and values, and promote the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”, and “to reinforce the role of women in political participation and social activities in accordance with Islamic Sharia [law]” (Luther, 2013). Additionally the group strives to abolish death penalties as punishments.
In the democratic systems of governments, the separation of church and state is a cornerstone of the equality argument. Sharia law contradicts this though process directly. “In this worldview, the separation of religion from politics creates a spiritual vacuum in the public arena and opens the way for political systems that have no sense of moral values. From such a perspective, a secular state opens the way for the abuse of power.
The experiences of Muslim societies with military regimes that are secularist in ideological origin, such as the Baath Arab Socialist regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, reinforce this mistrust of separating religious values from politics. Advocates of Islamic democracy argue that the Oneness of God requires some form of democratic system; conservatives contend that the idea of the sovereignty of the people contradicts the sovereignty of God; often the alternative then becomes some form of a monarchical system” [ (Esposito ; Voll, 2011) ].
The changes to the mindsets and potentially the systems of Sharia controlled governments, like that of Saudi Arabia might be making some moves toward stronger human rights, but the move to democracy is far from the case as it is evident from the actions of the Arab Spring and the revolution to overthrow (albeit corrupt) democratic governments only strengthened their power to implement the laws that most of the world would hold as cruel and inhumane.
How on earth could paralyzing a person on purpose be within the teachings of a religious leader? Christians are not exempt from this way of thinking either. The Salem Witch Trials and the Spanish Inquisition do not show that they are any better, a hundred plus years ago, but the modern times and changes to rule of law and equal opportunity show the evolution of the Christian and democratic ideals may be far ahead in the humane treatment of individuals, even if they are criminals.