For all religious, social and political institutions to be effective, it is crucial to establish guidelines, rules and regulations for its supporters. Accordingly, the Quran outlines religious or Sharia guidelines for its believers so that as a religious entity, Muslims may conduct a just, ethical and moral life. Sharia guidelines are found in the canon of Islam as are elements of faith in the canons of Christianity and Judaism. They are intended to protect believers’ rights in matters such as marriage, education, safety, dietary restrictions, inheritance and peaceful cooperation among themselves and others.
The Quran sets forth a code of conduct for all Muslims to abide by if they wish to remain in compliance with divine revelations. In fact, all monotheistic religions require similar codes of conduct and divine obedience.
According to the First Amendment, it is illegal to deprive anyone from practicing or following the guidelines of religion. Every person in the United States has the right to religious freedom and by condemning those who worship God in ways that differ from one’s own, is saying, “I can worship God and follow his guidelines, but you can’t, unless you worship him my way.” Muslims are expressly told to protect non-Muslims in practicing their religion, so why should they be attacked for believing in the standard procedures of their religion?
Muslims believe that the Quran in which Sharia guidelines are found is one of the most sacred religious texts in the history of mankind. Muslims consider it to be the direct word of God transmitted to the Prophet Mohammed through the Angel Gabriel. It emphasizes the importance of believing in God and the afterlife. It outlines the stories of prophets and saints and how to emulate their conduct. In Islam, the most important codes of conduct are the five pillars of Islam: fasting, charitable giving, performing the pilgrimage, daily prayer and the belief in one God.
While living in secular countries, many Muslims choose to abide by the five pillars of Islam and comply with Sharia guidelines in matters such as marriage, inheritance, dietary restrictions, charitable contributions and dress code. Yet, in legal matters they conform to the lawful guidelines of their country of residence. It is clear in the Quran that secular law and the laws set forth by a country’s constitution take precedence over Sharia.
It is Muslims’ obligation to obey the established civil law enforcement agencies of the country in which they live. They must obey the law of the land and pledge allegiance to its flag as long as it does not deny the existence of God. Hence, Sharia guidelines are not a substitute for civil law, and U.S. courts have never ruled based on its content. In fact, in many instances, Sharia guidelines run parallel to civil law. For example, it forbids incest, alcohol, gambling, prostitution and discrimination based on race, sex and color. If any of the latter are transgressed in Islam, the punishment is harsh, but only in Muslim theocracies. More importantly, is when transgression does takes place, God encourages forgiveness. Also, there is no standardized manual of Sharia guidelines since it is based on the fiqh or the interpretation of the Quran.
There are courts in Muslim countries that do not rule based on Sharia guidelines and if they do, they have their own version of its application. Sharia is more of an interpretation or fiqh created by Islamic scholars. The interpretations are based on their understanding of what it means to live a life that serves the individual and society as a whole. Sharia guidelines are usually separate from the laws of the governing authorities and do not supersede civil law. Its guidelines do not come in a handbook, and it is incorrect to say Sharia urges the declaration of war on non-Muslims, and most certainly, does not subjugate women. There is nothing in the Quran that promotes the subjugation of women. It is more a traditional or cultural trend that has weaved itself into Sharia guidelines of countries with low appreciation for women’s rights.
Sharia guidelines prescribe moral guidance and ethical behavior. It is the duty of every Muslim to comply with their standards as long as these actions do not harm or cause grief to others. They have the right to fulfill or not fulfill their religious obligations and cannot be forced to do so since they believe in free will.
Dr. Mary Assel is the retired director of the English Language Institute at Henry Ford College.