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US Law and Shari’a

The next area we will explore is the compatibility of US and shari’a law.  As should be clear by now, Islam is more than simply a religion.  It is politics, military, civics, ethics, culture, law, and religion – all in one package.  Further, it is impossible to separate one aspect from another.  Islam is all.

We’ll look at shari’a from two perspectives.  First we will look at the origins of its structure.  This will be followed by a look at its basis in thought.  Both of these aspects will be compared to some of our relevant founding principles.  All presidents, before our current one, have viewed Islam as being contrary to our society and way of life.  One should ask themselves why this president is different.  Has something changed within Islam to warrant this change in attitude, or is it a change that has occurred within us?  You can go as far back as Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams, who both made serious studies of Islam in connection with the Barbary Pirates in the early 1800’s.  Both these men professed that Islam is contradictory to our founding principles, something they were both intimately involved in helping to shape.

A Brief History

The development of Islam was marked by several significant outside influences.  In the words of Ignaz Goldziher, ‘The dogmatic development of Islam took place under the sign of Hellenistic thought; in its legal system the influence of Roman law is unmistakable; the organization of the Islamic state as it took shape during the ‘Abbasid caliphate shows the adaption of Persian political ideas; Islamic mysticism made use of Neoplatonic and Hindu habits of thought.  In each of these areas Islam demonstrates its ability to absorb and assimilate foreign elements so thoroughly that their foreign character can be detected only by the exact analysis of critical research.

‘With this receptive character Islam was stamped at its birth.  Its founder, Muhammad, did not proclaim new ideas.  He did not enrich earlier conceptions of man’s relation to the transcendental and infinite . . . The Arab Prophet’s message was an eclectic composite of religious ideas and regulations.  The ideas were suggested to him by contacts, which had stirred him deeply, with Jewish, Christian, and other elements, and they seemed to him suited to awaken an earnest religious mood among his fellow Arabs.  The regulations too were derived by foreign sources; he recognized them as needed to institute life according to the will of God.’

Goldziher recognized several influences that are relevant to the development of shari’a.  These included:  (1) the political ideas taking shape with the Abbasid caliphate, and (2) the incorporation of Hellenistic thought into Islam’s development.  Further, both of these were incorporated into a specific culture which is in many respects different from ours – the Bedouin culture. 

We’ll start with the time of Muhammad’s death in 632.  The first four caliphs were from Muhammad’s inner circle or his family.  It was the third caliph, Uthman, who selected the Medinan codex as the true Qur’an and ordered all others destroyed.  The first four caliphs reigned a total of twenty nine years, before one of Muhammad’s wives (Aisha) conspired with the Syrian Governor to overthrow the fourth caliph – Ali, one of Muhammad’s cousins.  The result was the Umayyad Dynasty which lasted until 749.  The new dynasty was largely secular and its primary goal was the acquisition of land and wealth.  They went as far west as present day Spain and southern France, and as far east as the Indus river in modern Pakistan.

The Ummayad were in turn overthrown and the Abbasid dynasty established in 750.  The Abbasid were concerned with religion and the spreading of Islam.  During the first one hundred and fifty or so years of the Abbasid’s rule, the following events took place:  (1) the development of the Systems of the 7 (with their different transmitters) of the Qur’an, (2) the selection and compilation of the trustworthy hadith, (3) the writing of Muhammad’s biographies (the sirat), (4) the development of the Sunna, and (5) the development of the four Sunni and one Shia schools of jurisprudence.  This development is shown in the file Timeline of Islam’s Development.

Separation of Church and State

We’ll pick up the above with a look at the relationship between each of these components.  First, the Qur’an.  As was mentioned last time, the Medinan codex contained unpointed text.  As this text was unpointed, there were literally thousands of variant readings of some of the Qur’ans verses by the middle of the 8th century.  Reasoning and consensus was applied in developing rules that resulted in the System of the 7 and their different transmitters.  The second source of Islam, the hadith, contained many fabrications by this time.  Some clerics admitted on their deathbed that they had created some of the fabrications, but these were not necessarily viewed as bad if they were consistent with the meaning of Islam.  These two sources, along with reasoning and consensus, were used in the creation of the Sunna. 

The Sunna forms the basis for Shri’a law.  It is derived directly from the traditions, actions, and sayings of Muhammad as revealed within the Qur’an and hadith.  The hadith compilations by those, such as al-Burkhari, became the codification of the sunna to be used in interpreting the Qur’an.  The sirat provided a sense of history as to when events occurred as related to the contents of the Qur’an and hadith.  As noted in the timeline above, the development of the Systems of the 7, the writing of the sirat, and the creation of the schools of jurisprudence all occurred during the same period in time.  The collections of hadith were written shortly after the preceding events.  By the middle of the tenth century, shari’a was fully developed and a final set of rules limiting the variant readings of the Qur’an had been canonized.  The relationship between each of these components is shown in the diagram below.

Those items in green are those which form the basis of Islam.  The items were yellow are its written sources before the application of reasoning and consensus, and the ones in blue are the cleric’s interpretation that was applied to those sources.  These relationships are indicated by the black arrows.  The gray arrows indicates those structures which were derived from the Sunna.

From the above diagram, it is clear that there is a direct relationship between the Qur’an and shari’a.  The development of the meaning of the Qur’an, the Sunna, the hadith, and the sirat all lead to a closed system which can only be changed by divine revelation.  While we may have some disagreement within America as to the meaning of ‘the separation of Church and State’, all agree that this notion is one of the foundations of our society, which was discussed at length by our Founding Fathers.  Shri’a is a direct contradiction to that notion and incompatible with it.  It is the very thing that our Founders strove to prevent as the having these powers together leads to the corruption of both – as they had seen firsthand in England.

Next time we will look at the form of government arising from Islam.

Posted in: Islam

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About Dan Wolf

Dan WolfMy goal is that my writing will help you to get started on your own journey of discovery, or help you along the way on a journey you may have already begun. Our Founders considered education, religion, morality, and virtue to be the cornerstones for any successful society. Being successful requires understanding both the languages of reason and faith; reason alone is insufficient.