A lawyer called Sadakat Kadri was on Fresh Air yesterday to talk about his new book on the history of sharia. He’s very critical of the idea that sharia courts are a bad thing. He’s of the “it’s all a matter of interpretation” school, as if that by itself solves the problem of goddy law.
“It’s a huge oral tradition, which was set down in the 9th century and which was then, by some people, transformed into compulsion and rules,” Kadri tells Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross. “It would be literally impossible to follow all of them, because plenty of them directly contradict each other. So you have to make choices, and Muslims have been making choices for … the last 1,400 years. And what’s happened over the past 40 years is that in certain places, the hard-liners have come to the forefront.”
No, you don’t “have to” make choices. You don’t “have to” pay any attention to it at all. Who cares what people “set down” in the 9th century? This isn’t the 9th century.
We may find wisdom and insight in writing from previous centuries, but we don’t “have to” and we shouldn’t treat any of it as mandatory, much less as orders from god. (If god really wanted to give us instructions it ought to find a more reliable method of saying so. Then we could still decide whether to obey or not.) There is simply no good reason to treat one particular book or collection of sayings from the distant past as any more binding than any other such book or collection of sayings. We should treat them all as what they are: things that human beings have said and written.
If we’re making choices, then we’re making them according to our own secular values. (If we make no choices but obey everything blindly, including when they’re contradictory, we’re making a huge mistake.) Forget the holy books and do your best with secular reasoning.
But of course people don’t, so they’re at the mercy of those hard-liners that Kadri mentions.
People just seemed to be arguing about Islam, Islamic law, the Shariah, without actually getting to the substance of what it was all about. So because I come from a Muslim background, I certainly had plenty of people I could ask. I started with my father. My father’s also a lawyer. I asked him, ‘So what is the Shariah? What does it say? Where is it written down?’ And he didn’t really have an adequate answer, as far as I am concerned. He said, ‘It’s what’s regarded as God’s law.’ And I knew that. I didn’t need to be told that. And the more I asked, the more I realized people just seemed to be ignorant. Muslims seemed to be ignorant, let alone the people who were attacking it without knowing what they were talking about.
But why try to defend sharia then? Why try to defend goddy law at all? It’s not defensible, because the whole idea of “God’s law” is indefensible, because God is not around for appeals.