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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Sharia: a route to rule of law?

If you're like most Americans, this sums up your understanding of sharia.
To many, the word “Shariah” conjures horrors of hands cut off, adulterers stoned and women oppressed.
The author of a piece in this week's NY Times Magazine sets out to correct this fallacy and to discuss how sharia may actually be an aid to Islamic countries hoping to establish rule of law. He starts with the definition, noting that sharia is not actually a set of rules, but principles.
Shariah, properly understood, is not just a set of legal rules. To believing Muslims, it is something deeper and higher, infused with moral and metaphysical purpose. At its core, Shariah represents the idea that all human beings — and all human governments — are subject to justice under the law...The word “Shariah” connotes a connection to the divine, a set of unchanging beliefs and principles that order life in accordance with God’s will.
He goes on to explain how sharia was used in a balance of powers in traditional muslim societies, with leaders subject to the law that was interpreted by scholars (much like today's executives are checked by judges). In other words, it was used as a check on abuse of power, a problem plaguing many muslim countries from Iran to Saudi Arabia.

Interesting stuff.

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