A Brief Look at Islam and Sharia

By GotReason and Yahya Omar

“It’s culture, not religion” is a phrase often used to explain away problematic practices common in Muslim countries and communities. Sharia is Islamic law that has influenced societies with different languages, cultures, histories, and interpretations of Islam. In the face of a worrisome incident, many Muslims believe that Islam has been misinterpreted, while others believe it agreeable to Islamic teachings. Is it accurate to say that the negative aspects of Sharia are not based on Islamic teachings, that the negative influences are primarily external to religion?

To answer this truthfully, one must go to the Islamic religious texts. Sharia is derived primarily from the Quran and hadith. The Quran is the holy book of Islam, believed to be the literal word of God. It is believed to have passed verbally from the angel Jibril (Gabriel) to Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, who then relayed it to his followers over the course of two decades. It is the ultimate authority in Islam, traditionally believed to be a guidance for all times. A hadith is a report that describes the actions of Muhammad and his followers. They are important in understanding the Quran as they supplement many of its verses, and have played an essential role in the development of Islamic jurisprudence. The hadith are second only to the Quran.

The importance of hadith is in its practical application. For example, the Quran instructs Muslims to pray, but does not clearly specify how or how often. The Hadith gives instruction on not only how to pray, but clarifies that Muslims must pray five times a day.[1] Individual hadith are classified as (1) sahih (“authentic”), which is the highest classification, (2) hasan (“good”) or (3) da’if (“weak”). The classifications are based on how credible the hadith collectors found the chain of narration, tracing the chain to the originator of the content of the report. Unless otherwise stated, all of the hadith we use for this article are sahih hadith. Still, one should spend a moment deliberating that all of the hadith, including those classified as weak, are from Muslim sources, favored towards Islam. Finally, this article also looks at tafsir (the exegesis of the Quran) to provide more context to certain verses.

We will look at verses from the Quran and hadith on four subject areas: women’s testimony, torture, slavery, and jizya, the special tax required from non-Muslims. This article is by no means a comprehensive list of controversial topics related to Islam, but it is meant to provide a basis of understanding some influential writings in authoritative Islamic sources regarding these topics.

Women’s Testimony

Regarding the worth of a woman’s testimony, let us focus on a passage from the Quran, along with a hadith. For financial transactions, the Quran instructs Muslims to bring two men as witnesses, and if two men are not available, then a man and two women:

O you who have believed, when you contract a debt for a specified term, write it down. And let a scribe write [it] between you in justice. Let no scribe refuse to write as Allah has taught him. So let him write and let the one who has the obligation dictate. And let him fear Allah, his Lord, and not leave anything out of it. But if the one who has the obligation is of limited understanding or weak or unable to dictate himself, then let his guardian dictate in justice. And bring to witness two witnesses from among your men. And if there are not two men [available], then a man and two women from those whom you accept as witnesses – so that if one of the women errs, then the other can remind her. (Quran 2:282).

Below is a hadith that supports the verse above:

Once Allah’s Messenger went out to the Musalla (to offer the prayer) of `Id-al-Adha or Al-Fitr prayer. Then he passed by the women and said, “O women! Give alms, as I have seen that the majority of the dwellers of Hell-fire were you (women).” They asked, “Why is it so, O Allah’s Messenger?” He replied, “You curse frequently and are ungrateful to your husbands. I have not seen anyone more deficient in intelligence and religion than you. A cautious sensible man could be led astray by some of you.” The women asked, “O Allah’s Messenger! What is deficient in our intelligence and religion?” He said, “Is not the evidence of two women equal to the witness of one man?” They replied in the affirmative. He said, “This is the deficiency in her intelligence. Isn’t it true that a woman can neither pray nor fast during her menses?” The women replied in the affirmative. He said, “This is the deficiency in her religion.” (Sahih al-Bukhari 304)

There are many things wrong with the above-mentioned hadith, one being that the prophet of Islam ironically uses circular logic to say that women are intellectually deficient because the evidence of two women is equal to the witness of one man.[2] Keep in mind this verse is from Sahih al-Bukhari, which, along with Sahih Muslim, are viewed as the two most trusted collections of hadith in Sunni Islam, the largest denomination of Islam.

Quran 2:282 set a nonsensical precedent for societies to follow. It dictates blatant discrimination against women, while reinforcing the idea that women are deficient in intelligence. A society not following 2:282 would be sinning according to one of the first (but not only) surahs of the Quran, Quran 2:2-Quran 2:7.  The hadith cited above supports this view. To not follow the command regarding witnesses would be an act against God, a factor in why a mindset that should have been left in the 7th century continues to prevail. Imagine how any subgroup would do in a society where they were taught since childhood that they were less intelligent? Of course this will impact women, and in the long run, impact the progress of a society.

TORTURE

The following is a verse from the Quran that, in certain cases, commands torture:

Indeed, the penalty for those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and strive upon earth [to cause] corruption is none but that they be killed or crucified or that their hands and feet be cut off from opposite sides or that they be exiled from the land. That is for them a disgrace in this world; and for them in the Hereafter is a great punishment. (Quran 5:33).

Some Muslims may argue that this torture is only reserved for those who actively fought against Muhammad. Let us assume for a moment, that this is true. It still shows that the author of the Quran allows torture, which seems inconsistent with a fair and merciful God.

It is commonly agreed among Muslim scholars that this verse was revealed in connection with a hadith where Muhammad sent some converts to seek a camel herder and drink camel urine and milk to cure their ailments. (Tafsir Asbab Al-Nuzul by Al-Wahidi). The new converts did this, then renounced Islam and killed the herder. They then stole or drove the herd away. Muhammad found the perpetrators, had their hands and feet cut off, their eyes branded with hot nails, and left them there until they died. (Sahih al-Bukhari Hadith 6802. See also Sahih al-Bukhari 5686, Sahih al-Bukhari Hadith 6804, Sahih Muslim 16:4131). This illustrates that Islam allows torture of a condemned suspect in a slow and painful manner. The incident also makes a case for the claim that Muhammad made up revelations to suit his needs or to justify his actions, since he didn’t mention Quran 5:33 until this event occurred and he had to decide on a punishment.

Other forms of torture in Islam include:

A tafsir breaks down punishments for the following crimes (Tafsir al-Jalalayn):

  • Theft: cutting off of limbs on opposite sides
  • Murder: execution
  • Theft AND murder: crucifixion

Ask yourself whether these laws benefit society better than alternatives. Killing a person for cheating on their spouse should not be encouraged, much less supported by a state. Killing them in a brutally painful and slow manner like stoning is utterly barbaric, as is cutting off body parts for stealing. Keep in mind that torture is used in Islam as punishment, as the examples given provide no ethical dilemma such as where one can argue that torture is necessary to gain valuable information that may save lives.

Sexual Slavery

There are multiple verses in the Quran allowing slavery. We will look at the Quran and some of the hadith that further detail how women were treated after being captured following a battle.

And [also prohibited to you are all] married women except those your right hands possess. (Quran 4:24). (See also Quran 8:69 and Quran 33:50).

The term right hands possess refers to slaves. A Muslim man may have sex with his slaves, along with his wives (See Quran Quran 23:5-Quran 23:6). The hadith gives us more information on how female slaves were treated. The following is from Sahih al-Bukhari:

that while he was sitting with Allah’s Messenger he said, “O Allah’s Messenger! We get female captives as our share of booty, and we are interested in their prices, what is your opinion about coitus interruptus?” The Prophet said, “Do you really do that? It is better for you not to do it. No soul that which Allah has destined to exist, but will surely come into existence. (Sahih al-Bukhari 34:432). See also (Sahih al-Bukhari 62:137).

This next hadith is from Sahih Muslim:

Abu Sa’id al-Khudri reported that at the Battle of Hanain Allah’s Messenger sent an army to Autas and encountered the enemy and fought with them. Having overcome them and taken them captive, the Companions of Allah’s Messenger seemed to refrain from having intercourse with captive women because of their husbands being polytheists. Then Allah, Most High, sent down regarding that: “And women already married, except those whom your right hands possess. (Sahih Muslim 8:3432). See also (Sahih Muslim 008:3371).

As you can see from these verses, slavery is condoned in Islam, a polytheistic woman’s marriage is invalid if she is captured by a Muslim army, and Muslim men who capture women after a battle can have sex with them. Of course, this raises the disturbing question of the likelihood of whether the captives were raped, or whether they consented to have sex with those who made them slaves and killed members of their tribe and family.

JIZYA

Jizya is a per capita yearly tax historically levied by Islamic states on non-Muslim citizens of said states.[3] The following is a verse from the Quran:

Fight those who do not believe in Allah or in the Last Day and who do not consider unlawful what Allah and His Messenger have made unlawful and who do not adopt the religion of truth from those who were given the Scripture – [fight] until they give the Jizya willingly while they are humbled. (Quran 9:29).

While discussing jizya, it is important to mention the concept of zakat and jihad. Zakat is the obligatory payment Muslims pay for charitable and religious purposes. An argument can be made that jizya and zakat should be viewed as equivalent forms of payment; however, this is easily dismissible. For one thing, zakat is only obligatory for Muslims if their net worth exceeds their personal need. This is not the case for jizya.[4] Another difference is that the zakat amount is fixed, while the jizya amount is not.[5] In addition, there is a sense of humiliation in paying the jizya, as can be seen from Quran 9:29.

Jihad is a term often used to mean a holy war waged on behalf of Islam as a religious duty. Thus, jizya is sometimes viewed as a payment in return for protection, since non-Muslims do not have the religious duty to perform military service. Consider for a moment the implications of an ideology where Muslims are commanded to fight until jizya is given, while people are treated severely different based on religious beliefs. Ask yourself whether this seems like a good idea for all times.

In case apologists say that the correct Arabic translation doesn’t call for collecting Jizya by force and violence, please consider the following statement from one of Muhammad’s most-trusted generals, Khalid ibn al-Walid:

I call you to God and to Islam. If you respond to the call, then you are Muslims: You obtain the benefits they enjoy and take up the responsibilities they bear. If you refuse, (then you must pay) the Jizyah. If you refuse the Jizyah, I will bring against you tribes of people who are more eager for death than you are for life. We will then fight you until God decides between us and you.” -Khalid ibn al-Walid, one of Muhammad’s generals, 632AD (The History of Al-Tabari Volume 11, page 4)

Under Sharia, there is an immense difference between the treatment of non-Muslims and Muslims. It is somewhat amusing that the same apologists who defend jizya would vehemently oppose the concept if another religious group directed it towards Muslims.

Conclusion

A significant portion of the Muslim community realizes that there are major problems in their societies but choose to place all of the blame on the people and the culture, refusing to acknowledge the role that Islam plays. We just examined how writings from Islamic sources influence women’s testimony, torture, slavery, and jizya. The results are unimpressive, and in many cases, appalling. It is unfortunate because while culture does deserve some of the blame, it is also much easier to change than religion.

Culture is the reason why countries did progress throughout the ages—it brought a sense of humanity throughout the times because it is not as rigid as a religion, especially one that constantly threatens its followers with eternal damnation. Criticizing Islam is considered blasphemy so it is hard to openly do so, and is partly why Muslims are so hesitant to criticize Islam now. It is why so many adherents would rather place every drop of blame on themselves, as a people, than give themselves credit for what they have achieved, despite such archaic beliefs.

[1] See Quran 2:238, Quran 17:78, and Quran 11:114 for references to the amount of prayers. Compare with Sahih al-Bukhari 3887, which is very direct that one has to pray five times a day. The hadith also has information as to how one should perform the prayers, including but not limited to Sahih al-Bukhari 750, and Sahih al-Bukhari 809.

[2] Although it is possible that this idea had roots from arab customs prior to Islam, note that the women in Sahih al-Bukhari 304 questioned Muhammad as to why they are deficient in intelligence, suggesting that this idea was new to them, or at least that such a custom was not quite set in stone.

[3] For more information on jizya than is discussed here, please see The Masked Arab’s video.

[4] Nisab is the minimum amount that a Muslim must have before being obliged to zakat.

[5] Sahih Bukhari 1454 is often used to calculate the percentage of zakat as 2.5%.

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4 thoughts on “A Brief Look at Islam and Sharia

  1. Sahih al Bukhari 304 raises a lot of questions and moral issues . My first question could be , how did the prophet see there are more women in hell when everybody there is on fire, can you really tell the gender if the whole body is on fire ?

  2. Peace Abdullah Sameer,

    Hope you are doing fine….it’s me H again 🙂

    I’ve been researching shiism recently…. Listening alot to Ammar Nakshawani..
    Have you looked into his work? ..my background is sunni salafi so u know the official stance on shiism but even I have to admit alot of what he says makes sense historically

    Ive looked into the issues that made u leave islam….and i really think u should spend time and listen to him…he’s got a massive database of YouTube videos and I’ve spent my free time binging on his videos….

    I sincerely hope u watch them.. some issues at first glance seems crazy to a sunni but if you YouTube his other videos ull find the answers in them….
    Also taking into consideration u were an Ismaili originally maybe u should revisit your Shia origins

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