The law of the land in the United States is the Constitution. In Great Britain it is the English Common Law, which is embedded in a larger unwritten body of legal doctrine known as the British Constitution.
Other Western countries have their own constitutions, and most of them are similar. They outline the rights of their citizens, which are generally similar to those found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
But what about Muslim countries? What is the law of the land in an Islamic state?
The obvious answer is “sharia”: the body of jurisprudence laid down in the first three centuries after the death of Mohammed. Sharia is based on the Koran and the sunna (the authenticated sayings of Mohammed, as recorded in the hadith, plus the deeds of the Mohammed, as described by authenticated witnesses), and was later elaborated into precise legal codes.
This answer may seem obvious to you and me, but it isn’t obvious to everybody else. A couple of weeks ago I posted an email by a progressive Israeli named Adam Keller, who objected to the “racist” views of Geert Wilders and said that the Dutch politician was not welcome in Israel.
Most readers have long since tired of the comment thread on that post — which now has more than 140 comments, and is still going — so the exchange that went on there tonight is probably going unread by all but a few.
Mr. Keller returned to the fray to offer this, concerning Islamic countries:
There is very often some vague and ambiguous reference to Sharia – which does NOT mean that Sharia is the law.
I’d been staying out of the argument there, but I had to jump in on this one, because his statement is simply incorrect. The idea that most Muslim countries do not really observe Islamic law is a fairly common misapprehension, so it’s important to set the record straight. Here’s my reply to Mr. Keller:
Actually, you are mistaken here. The facts don’t support your statement; they refute it.
You have evidently failed to research your case before making this assertion.
I’ll give you some major examples of the “law of the land” from various Muslim countries:
Article 3 [Islam] Section 2 of the Syrian Constitution
Islamic jurisprudence is a main source of legislation.
Chapter 1 Articles 2 and 106 of the Jordanian Constitution:
Islam is the religion of the State and Arabic is its official language.
The Shari’a Courts shall in the exercise of their jurisdiction apply the provisions of the Shari’a law.
Chapter 1, Article 7 of the Saudi Constitution
Government in Saudi Arabia derives power from the Holy Koran and the Prophet’s tradition.
Part 1, Article 2 of the Egyptian Constitution
Islamic jurisprudence is the principal source of legislation.
From the Constitution of Iraq (written by the United States):
Section One, Article 2:
First: Islam is the official religion of the State and it is a basic source of legislation:
(a) No law can be passed that contradicts the undisputed rules of Islam.
From the Constitution of Afghanistan (written by the United States):
Article 2 [Religions]:
(1) The religion of the state of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is the sacred religion of Islam.
Article 3 [Law and Religion]:
In Afghanistan, no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam.
What is “vague and ambiguous” about the above examples?
As you can see, sharia is codified as the law of the land in these countries. And, in case you think that “Islamic jurisprudence” or “the undisputed rules of Islam” do not refer to sharia, think again: Islam does not recognize any “jurisprudence” or “undisputed rules” besides sharia; those are in fact the precise definition of sharia.
I don’t have the constitutions of other Islamic countries to hand — and does Yemen even have a constitution? — but I have no reason to suspect they are much different from the examples given above, with the obvious exception of Turkey.
What kind of law do you think is the law of the land in Iran?
You’re out on a limb here. Do you want to saw it off, or shall I?
If the enforcement of sharia is less than perfect in Muslim countries — and places such as Egypt and Syria are notoriously corrupt in their jurisprudence — it is because prosecutors and judges fail to observe their own laws.
This is why the Muslim Brotherhood has gained such a foothold in these countries. The members of Al Ikhwan al-Muslimeen are reformers: they want to return their nations to the letter of the law — Islamic law.
The Brotherhood considers the current regimes in the Middle East to be illegitimate despots and tyrants, usurpers who have driven their countries away from the path of true Islam and into error and blasphemy. They demand a return to the Caliphate, in which Muslims will be governed justly according to the word of Allah.
They insist that their rulers obey the law of the land — sharia.