Islamic Law in the Contemporary World





Islamic Law in the Contemporary World

Modernity is the outcome of a complicated web of different dimensions and elements that have been at play for a long period. Nation states, individual leaders, and non-governmental organizations are all involved in the efforts to modernize their territories and pursue other interests. While a subject such as modernity can be considered a comatose one especially within international relation circles, it has recently taken on new ideological dimensions that have focused on Islamism. Within the Eastern world, modernity has been increasingly perceived as a Western phenomenon rather than an outcome of economic growth. In particular, this new interest seeks to understand the level of compatibility between Islamic law and the contemporary world. Therefore, this paper seeks to analyze different aspects of Islamic law and answer the different questions raised during the investigation.

Originating from a cultural and historical practice delineated by a division between the state and church, the majority of Westerners presume that a secularized approach is a fundamental prerequisite for the growth of contemporary, democratic versions of government that protect and uphold human rights. This perception underlines Western policymakers’ endorsement of secularization as the route to economic, social, and political changes in the Muslim regions. After the September 11 terrorist attacks, the United States, and other European policymakers have generally increased their efforts to promote secular democracy in the Muslim regions with the intention of introducing reforms. While there is certainly an obvious need for an all-inclusive reform in the Muslim world, it remains unclear as to whether secularization is the answer to achieving it. The divergence between state and church that has marked the greater part of Western history is a phenomenon that has altogether been missing in the greater Muslim area. Consequently, the line between secular and religious responsibilities is not concretely established among Muslims when compared to the Western world. However, there is a societal consensus supporting the need for such a divide between religion and the state. From the previous illustration, it is clear that Western religion has been clearly alienated from law. It is also evident that sharia or Islamic law is not restricted to strictly religious issues. Islamic law is applicable in a broad assortment of secular legal matters, for instance, inheritance, matrimony, and separation to commercial activities and criminal violations. Furthermore, after a brief and failed attempt to introduce secularization in the 1950s, several Muslim countries concentrated on deliberate efforts to instill more religion into the state apparatus. Understanding the political and social background of Muslim states is imperative in the investigation of compatibility between Islamic law and the modern world.

One of the ways through which Islamic law is in conflict with modern principles of secularism is through its recent political developments. A growing number of Muslim states are including ‘sharia supremacy’ articles into their constitutions. This implies that all legislation that disagrees with the stipulations of Islamic law is deemed unconstitutional. States that initiated this trend and worked tirelessly to promote it include Pakistan that assented to the Hudood Ordinance as well as Egypt where an amendment affirming the supremacy of Islamic sharia principles over any other legislation. Currently, Iraq adopted a new constitution incorporated a clause declaring that it was illegal to pass any law that disagreed with the definite Islamic laws. Such gestures are a clear indication that it is next to impossible to separate religion from the state. The argument being based on the premise that modernized societies need to illustrate a clear separation between state and religion, it can be concluded that Islamic law acts to thwart and eliminate the efforts of pro-modernist theorists and scholars. The blatant opposition by the Muslim world to secularization, combined with the current growth in the reputation of Islamist parties, has created an exceptional dilemma for influential Western groups. Policymakers assessing these behaviors often respond with distress, criticizing the involvement of religious parties in government as risky and regressive.

It is evident that the modern Muslim world is in a predicament. In spite of the Golden Age that introduced scientific evolution and modern ideas, the Muslim world is currently significantly left behind when compared to other regions of the world in several areas including scientific advancement, cultural and artistic production. The Islamic society has been particularly famous for its resistance towards any form of education and academic progress. This has reached a point where Nobel Peace prizewinners and accomplished professors have been brutally attacked for their contribution towards modern global activities and problems. Governance is also a significant challenge all over the Muslim world that reinforces the incompatibility between Islamic law and the modern world. In the Muslim regions, genuine democracies are uncommon and most states consistently refuse fundamental human rights to their people. Approximately 7% of 46 Muslim-affiliated states have adopted a semblance of freedom while 44% display elements of partial freedom. This implies that about half of Islamic states are not liberated. These percentages are quite alarming when compared to the rest of the world.” The definition of “free” in the above statement refers to the full access of inalienable all human rights and freedoms such as freedom of association, worship and other privileges. However, in these Islamic countries, there exist a blatant violation of human rights including the right to demonstration, expression, and freedoms of the press. It is imperative to remember that all of these unfavorable conditions are enforced and perpetuated by sharia law. Conversely, modern worlds are characterized by liberal access to all forms of human rights and privileges. Citizens are able to enjoy the benefits of a democratic system that respects their demands. At this point, it is relatively easy to understand the difficulty in achieving compatibility between states functioning under Islamic law and other contemporary states.

In arguments concerning the combination of religion and secularism in the Muslim world, it is prudent to add that basing national legislature on teachings of the Quran amounts to malpractice, anarchy, and corruption of the state apparatus. Granted, there are several important teachings contained in the Quran that have been reaped from centuries of observing the society. Indeed, most of the contributors towards content in the “holy” book were seers, kings, and scholars apart from the alleged sections written by Allah himself. However, the Quran lacks the basic qualifications that would allow it to be categorized as a legal document. Even though the Quran is the fundamental reference of Islamic jurisprudence, it is not designed as a legislative manuscript. The larger part of the book’s verses are simply historical literature laden with stylistic devices. Other sections contain moral statements and religious declarations. Verses that specifically address legal issues are approximately between 200 and 400. In fact, this shallowness is only complemented by the teachings of Prophet Muhammad. Given the sketchy content and background of the Quran, it becomes easy to understand why one can dismiss its validity as a legal document. Even in the event that it is accepted legally, understanding the Quran has proved to be difficult even for native Arabs who perceive it as being a disorganized and random collection of stories. Using the Quran as the foundation of regulations and policies that ultimately guide whole states and other political entities creates a grossly misguided society and perhaps suffering from political deficiency and immaturity.

The issue of adopting the Quran into the secular system also suffers from a major flaw: human interpretation. Most of the current clauses in different constitutions are outcomes of individual interpretations that may be accurate and functional or completely ineffective in restoring stability in the society. Furthermore, the background of Quran was forged in such a way that contained very little aspects of legitimacy. It development involved the collection of different sub cultures, practices and beliefs making it have shallow roots. In contrast, Christianity that guided the early formulation of modern day law in the Western world was based on a religion full of legitimacy. It has very deep roots but even more significantly, it has a high amount of tolerance for other social variables such as religious, economic, academic and even sexual orientation. The aspect in Islamic law that makes it incompatible with other forms of social order is the issue of inflexibility and divinity. Christian roots endorsed the need to comply with a secular government rather than a divine one as is practiced in Muslim-majority states. This form of secular authority has allowed citizens to acknowledge the legality of laws that openly breach what was understood to be divine instructions.

People in the Western world are forced to acknowledge the validity of abortion; they are obligated to award the same privileges and opportunities to people with unique sexual orientations; they must permit their children to marry whomever they love and divorce them when it becomes difficult to live together. Most of these examples are enforced by rules that occasionally go against religious convictions. Furthermore, any change in these constitutional clauses is to be conducted by ultimatums made in parliament, by political representatives whose religious preferences are often anonymous, and whose personal behavior is normally inexcusable. Christians as well as other races living in Western countries have learned to accept this. Muslims are obligated to accept this new way of life. The rationale behind this proposal is that it represents the best way to be governed. AT the heart of this type of governance is the need for separation of the church and the state, or in this case, Islamism. At this point, Islamic law can be seen as being the cause of internal conflicts through its rigid nature that does not accommodate any viewpoint apart from that of the Quran’s.


Implementing Islamic law is perceived as particularly worrying and obstructing the path for freedom and the adoption of universal human rights. Certainly, with the supposed ‘Islamic’ governments promoting totalitarianism and a wide collection of revolting norms while hiding under sharia law, one can easily assume that the West is locked in a conflicting war of civilizations with the Muslim world. It is this and other assumptions that have led many analysts to conclude that it is impossible for Islamic law to be compatible with the modern world. However, the problem revolves around the interpretation of sharia law itself. Over the course of many years, sharia has gradually been distorted and corrupted from a set of flexible and dynamic regulation used to guide activities in the society into an inflexible and unchallengeable law with strong ties to a supernatural being. This distortion has drawn away the ability of Islamic law to adapt to modern settings such as those in the 21st century. It is essential and possible to develop a contemporary and tolerant body of Islamic law that endorses respect and acknowledgment of human rights. In the absence of a stable sharia-based validation for liberal stands on social and economic issues, the reforms being proposed by Muslim activists and Western policymakers will not be assumed as legitimate by the citizens in Muslim-dominated states. Therefore, offering political and economic backing to a system running on a corrupted version of the sharia law creates a complicated situation similar to that in the Muslim world. While the Muslim world is in dire need of political reform, it is next to impossible to realize this change through secularization. The evidence throughout the paper has revealed that achieving a sense of compatibility between Islamic law and modernity may involve a massive amount of time, resources, and political will. These elements may be insufficient or lacking altogether. Western leaders interested in championing for reform stand a better chance of succeeding by desisting from forcing a culturally and historically inappropriate model of secular governance upon the Muslim world, and instead maintain domestic initiatives to reform and regenerate Islamic law.



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