What Sharia Law Teaches Us About Islam

To understand the effects of religion, it can be instructive to examine what happens when church and state merge into a single entity (i.e., there is no separation of church and state whatsoever). This is precisely what one observes in a theocracy, and it shows us what the religious would do if they had the power to make and enforce laws.

There are certainly Christian groups with theocratic leanings in the U.S. and other Western democracies, and it is possible to get at least some idea of what they would like to do by looking closely at how they behave when they face little opposition. Still, the clearest examples of true theocracies are found in the Muslim world. In predominately Muslim countries with official theocracies, we can learn a great deal about Islam by studying Sharia law and the manner in which it is enforced.

Let us suppose that Islam is a peaceful religion in which tolerance of human differences are valued and persons are to be treated with kindness and respect. We would expect to see clear evidence of this in Islamic law. Great value would be placed on human life, social harmony, and service to the collective good. Conflict would be discouraged, and armed conflict would be rare. Punishments, when deemed necessary, would fit the crimes.

Sadly, we see something quite different when we examine Sharia law and its enforcement. Women are not afforded the same worth as men. Spousal rape and battery are permissible, and unmarried female victims of rape are to be killed. Apostasy is punishable by death. Blasphemy is a criminal offense.

We could go on and on (and perhaps we should), but doing so is probably is not necessary to make the desired point. When religious people have the power to make and enforce laws based on their religion, what they do can reveal a great deal about the nature of their beliefs. Thus, we can learn a great deal about Islam from examining Sharia law in both Muslim theocracies and in Western democracies that are not willing to oppose religious extremism.

Portions of this post were previously posted here in 2009.