Surplus to requirements

Matt Rowland Hill says why the Law Society’s guidance on sharia-compliant wills was such a shit idea.

British Muslims aren’t a single culture with a monolithic faith, and it’s not up to the Law Society to decide which understanding of “sharia practice” is correct. Instead of producing a neutral description of sharia, it has effectively issued a declamation on behalf of a regressive, reactionary version of Islamic jurisprudence that more liberal-minded Muslims fight bravely against.

For an organisation ostensibly committed to the liberal values enshrined in British law to join the theological fray on the conservative side is a cruel blow to reformist Muslims. (To name just one, Dr Usama Hasan, an astronomer, Islamic scholar and imam, argues there is no necessary conflict between sharia and feminism for those with a less literalistic approach to holy texts than the Law Society.)

What makes the controversy over these guidelines all the more absurd is their utter pointlessness. The Law Society ought simply to remind its members that their job is to provide legal, not religious, advice: clients looking for guidance on what sharia requires should be advised to consult an Islamic authority of their choice.

What I said all along. It’s a job for an imam, not a lawyer.


  1. Seth says

    Yeah, it’s a job for an imam; a British Law Society has no business doling out advice on ‘law’ that isn’t parto f the British legal code.

    Off the topic at hand, the parenthetical remark irked me a bit: “To name just one, Dr Usama Hasan, an astronomer, Islamic scholar and imam, argues there is no necessary conflict between sharia and feminism for those with a less literalistic approach to holy texts than the Law Society.”

    So there’s no conflict between sharia and feminism as long as you say that feminism trumps sharia whenever there is a conflict. I’m sorry; whom does Dr. Usama Hasan think he’s fooling?

    Feminism posits, among other things, that a woman’s word is of equal worth to that of a man. Sharia posits, among other things, that a woman’s testimony is worth precisely half a man’s (at least in certain situations–in other situations, like whether or not a wife can consent to marriage, sex, and divorce, Sharia insists a woman’s word is worth nothing at all). Of course there is no conflict between these two positions as long as one position is not taken ‘literally’…but what, exactly, does that mean? It seems to mean that religion does not conflict with morality only when religious texts are treated as literature, sources of mundane rather than divine inspiration, able to be argued and disputed and developed just as much as any other human work.

    If that’s the case, then morality is obviously exterior to religion, and any morality within religion cannot claim to find its source in that religion. What is the point of being a priest, then? Why the insistence that there’s some ‘deeper truth’ in the Quran, Hadith, Bible, Torah, etc, which one cannot find in, say, the Iliad or the Art of War? Submitting ‘holy texts’ to textual criticism is a good and noble endeavour, vital to the interests of free societies wherever they hope to thrive. But it is a secular exercise, not a religious one. As long as scholars such as Usama Hasan pretend otherwise, they are giving credence and comfort to fundamentalists of the kind that drove the Law Society to offer up its dog’s breakfast of ‘advice’.

    In short, one can be a good scholar or one can be a good priest. One cannot be both.

  2. Matt Rowland Hill says

    Look, I’m an atheist and I think both liberal and reactionary Muslims are wrong, insofar as I don’t believe in Allah and I think the Koran is just another book.

    But I also think it’s both dangerous and logically wrong when non-Muslims start playing the game of deciding which Muslims are following the correct version of their faith and interpreting their scriptures correctly. Dr Usama Hasan is no doubt doing some intellectual acrobatics in order to find a way of crowbarring Islam into his liberal principles. But I don’t think he’s “giving credence and comfort” to the fundamentalists – I think he’s doing more to undermine them than a hundred Richard Dawkins books.

    Why? Because Islam isn’t going away. If you expect all Muslims to suddenly embrace atheism some time soon, you’re dreaming. What we can hope for, however, is for growing numbers of them to embrace liberal values as a result of living in the west while continuing to identify themselves culturally as Muslims. And if that’s to happen, reinterpretations of Isamic holy texts to make them more compatible with liberalism and democracy are crucial, even if they are not intellectually sound. Christians have reinterpreted their own scriptures to cleanse them of support for slavery, misogyny and violence – and though I think those efforts are intellectually dishonest, I am glad they’ve been made. Give me an intellectually inconsistent liberal Islam over a more consistent fundamentalist Islam any day. Anyway the fact is that *all* attempts to find consistency and coherence in the Koran and hadiths (or the Torah or Christian Bible) are fallacious.

    In other words, there is no such thing as a “correct” version of Islam that is pure, authentic and authoritative. There are just various interpretations. All non-Muslim secularists and liberals can do is support the reformists – or, at least – stay out of this fight and avoid sponsoring the reactionaries.

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