Leaving Islam




Canada Sharia Debate: Are We Over-Reacting?

Taj Hashmi

[York Centre for Asian Research, York University, Toronto]
29 December, 2004

Of late the proposed introduction of a Sharia Arbitration Board in Ontario has created much controversy, among both Muslim and non-Muslim Canadians. Former attorney-general Marion Boyd's 150-page report favouring the introduction of Sharia, or "Muslim principles" (in her language), in the proposed Arbitration Board has become the proverbial last straw.

While the proponents justify the Sharia Board in the name of equal opportunity for the Muslim community, the opponents regard such a move as being contrary to Canadian constitution and anticipate gross violations of Muslim women's right to custody, inheritance and post-divorce alimony.

To the uninformed, Marion Boyd sounds quite "reasonable" in the way she has argued her case. In her view the "Muslim principles" should be considered an acceptable method of religious arbitration as long as they do not violate Canadian law - very similar to how Catholics, Jews and Ismailis have made use of a 1991 Act.

Surprisingly, she tells us: "We're being very clear, this is not sharia law." What is even more surprising is that Syed Mumtaz Ali, the main advocate of Sharia arbitrations in Ontario , is "delighted" with the Boyd Report given that many of the 46 recommendations of the Report came from him. Ali glorifies the proposed Board as "a model for the world to see how sharia law can be used in a Western society." The ambivalence in Boyd’s and Ali’s statements on the true colour of the Report smacks of duplicity. It seems, Boyd is playing a hide and seek game with us, trying to introduce Sharia with a different name.

Although we cannot agree with the sensational view that some “fundamentalist” groups want the Sharia Board as a stepping-stone to eventually create an independent legal system for Canadian Muslims, we can agree that Canada ’s adopting Sharia law may legitimize the excesses of Sharia committed elsewhere in the Muslim World.

Problematically, both the adherents and opponents of Sharia believe that the code was derived from the Quran and is as old as Islam itself. Ordinary Muslims also consider Sharia to be divine law. Contrary to these assumptions, Sharia is hardly Quranic in origin as the Quran contains 80-odd verses, which are prescriptive or regulative. The main sources of Sharia are thousands of spurious Hadises or "sayings" of Prophet Muhammad, collected haphazardly more than 200 years after his death. Muslim jurists' legal opinions collected during the 8th and 12th centuries based on their understanding of the Quran, traditions of the Prophet, local customs and above all, common sense, are collectively known as the Sharia.

Once we consider the following facts, we come closer to resolving the Sharia debate: 1) Sharia is authoritative, not infallible; 2) the (Sunni) Sharia code went through major transformation and changes up to the 16th century; 3) Shiite Sharia is still subject to changes and modifications; and, 4) the moral principles of the Quran outweigh its legal principles (for example, while slavery, concubinage and polygamy are tolerated in Islam for a specific historical era, the Quran never promotes or encourages these practices).

It is quite puzzling that secular Canada should toy with the idea of incorporating Sharia into its legal system while several Muslim countries are gradually replacing the Sharia with secular codes and some have already done away with it.

Canada should be even more cautious about implementing Sharia, as there are very few Islamic scholars in the country, qualified enough to interpret the Quran and the teachings of Islam. It is interesting that Dr Mohamed Elmasry (a mathematics professor at Waterloo University, not an Islamic scholar), controversial for his comments on Jews and his classification of anti-Sharia Muslims as "not religious", also thinks that there could be as few as "only one Muslim scholar in Canada” capable of interpreting the Sharia. Paradoxically, he is an ardent advocate of a Sharia Arbitration Board in Ontario . Again, as it appears in Chapter 4 (Sura Nissa) of the Quran, only immediate family members of Muslim couples may arbitrate in matters relating to divorce and custody, there is no room for outsiders to arbitrate.

And again, whose Sharia are we talking about? There are at least four Sunni and scores of Shiite sects, each with its own Sharia code. While the Wahhabi and other Muslim sects sanction female genital mutilation in the name of Islam and Sharia, the official Iranian Shiism endorses temporary marriage (Muta or Segha) between a man and a woman for a day, week, month or year. Some Muslims, on the basis of wrong interpretations of the Quran, justify polygamy and even consider wife bashing permissible in Islam. Are Canadians willing to allow the implementation of these varying versions of Sharia in this country? I think we should think many times before taking such a rash move. Once we allow a Sharia Board to meddle with the conjugal problems of Muslim couples, the Ontario government would simply fail to protect half-educated, uninformed and dependent Muslim women from being abused in the name of Islam. All concerned should learn that what the Quran has given to women, Sharia has taken away from them. Examples abound. While men and women are equally held responsible for adultery in the Quran, which prescribes 80 lashes for the offenders each, the Sharia is particularly harsh on the adulteress, prescribing death penalty for both the offenders.

Since Sharia is not infallible and is subject to change and modifications, there is no need to rush for its implementation anywhere, let alone Ontario , until the emergence of a Muslim Martin Luther. Unless Islam goes through its Reformation and the Muslim World undergoes a total transformation to adapt to modern, liberal democratic, secular and urban cultures of enlightenment and tolerance, no one should advocate the cause of Sharia in Canada .

Instead of sensationalizing the issue, both the adherents and critics of the proposal should do their homework. Name calling - the portrayal of Marion Boyd as "racist" and the Muslim advocates of Sharia as "fundamentalists", or the Muslim opponents of Sharia as "apostates" - is not going to help anybody. Marion Boyd and like minded non-Muslim well wishers of the Canadian Muslim community should learn more about Sharia, Islam and Muslims. The advocates of a Sharia Board should realise that Ontario Muslims do not have to have a religious arbitration board only because the Catholics, Jews and Ismailis have their own boards. The Ontario government should not try to do “justice” to the Muslim community through comparison with the Catholics or other communities, as apples cannot be compared with oranges.

The Canadian government should not pay heed to the romantic and utopian views of the Muslim Diaspora, which is unaware of the anti-Islamic nature of the Sharia. Some members of the Diaspora, we have reasons to believe, want to come to the limelight as leaders of the Muslim community through the Sharia Board as advisers, arbitrators and “experts” of Sharia law. However, the Government alone cannot stop the formation of the Sharia Board, the civil society in general and the liberal Muslims in particular should come forward to stop this vice, which is neither Islamic nor Canadian in character and spirit.





Articles Op-ed Authors Debates Leaving Islam FAQ
Comments Library Gallery Video Clips Books Sina's Challenge

  ©  copyright You may translate and publish the articles in this site only if you provide a link to the original page.