What Is Sharia Law?

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The word shari’a has a history among Jewish and Christian communities prior to its usage in Islam. The translation of the Old Testament into Arabic attributed to Saadia Gaon (d. 933) shows that shari’a was used by the Arabic-speaking Jewish community. The most commonly used term for translating Hebrew torah is Arabic shari’a or its plural. The word shari’a is also used to designate single rules or a system of rules in the Hebrew Bible. Around the tenth century, we also have the word shari’a in certain Christian writings, where the Christian religion, the law of the Messiah is referred to as shari’at al-Masih. In Islamic literature , sharia and its various cognates also refer to a rule of law, laws or the totality of a particular Prophetic message. 

Most Muslims use shari’a to mean God’s law; sharia is the transcendent moral law of God, known only to God. Laws that are accessible to humans are referred to as figh, and are based on the elaborate interpretative works of the scholar jurists called the fuqaha. In other words, sharia is divine in origin, while fiqh – which means ‘understanding’ or ‘jurisprudence’ – is always a human activity. Although the concept of Gods ideal law is encapsulated in the word shari’a, it was the juristic discipline of fiqh that came to dominate the intellectual world of Islam. Jurisprudence was the most prestigious branch of Islamic sciences, valued more highly than theology or philosophy, despite some overlap. This was the situation right up until the period of European colonialism, after which European legal codes combined with aspects of sharia. From the end of the 19th century, however, in most Muslim countries, Islamic law was relegated largely to family law, including inheritance. 

Fiqh was never more than a human approximation of a sacred ideal, a product that was ultimately a pious, but imperfect, effort. Its stylistic features combined juristic speculation with literary ingenuity.  

While there were several schools of law in early Sunni Islam, the groupings of these jurists eventually settled out at four schools (maddhabs). According to medieval Islam, these schools were named after their founders: Malik ibn Anas (d.796), Abu Hanifa (d. 767), Al-Shafi’i (d. 822), and Ibn Hanbal (d.855). Many western scholars have argued that the founder of the schools were not responsible for establishing the ‘schools’ named after them, for example, Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i and Hanbali, but that it was the pupils of the founders who established the basic elements of the school. There are also Shi’i schools – the Zaydis and Ithna ‘Asharis – which developed separately. 

As the four schools became established, jurists of individual schools wrote according to the methods and disciplines of that particular school, despite spatial and temporal differences. There were two ways by which the views of different writers from different eras were established. One was through the exploration of those problems that each generation of jurists inherited from their ancestors and the other was through the process of citing past authorities. 

The richness of juristic speculation within each school and across schools is contained in the diversity of juristic opinion (ikhtilaf), the central stylistic feature of fiqh. The principle of ikhtilaf allowed the jurists to put forward various perspectives on a single point of principle by the discussion of options and circumstances. As fiqh literature grew, these principles often became buried under the mound of detail and formula, but never lost the element of discussion and debate. 

Sunni Islam recognizes four sources through which Islamic law is derived. These are the Qur’an, the sunna of the Prophet, the consensus (ijma’) of the community and analogical reasoning (qiyas). Islamic law is divided between works of positive law (furu) and the principles of law (usul). A fundamental hermeneutical aspect of furu is ijtihad, meaning ‘effort’. Technically it refers to individual effort made by each jurist to take into account all principles of interpretation to discover a rule of law. 

Those who exercised ijtihad became known as mujtahids. A mujtahid who was asked a direct question was known as a mufti and his legal opinion is known as a fatwa. From the ninth to the tenth centuries, major works of positive law have largely covered the same topics and have a similar structure. As well as exploring areas of worship, such as purity, prayer, fasting, topics include marriage, divorce, inheritance laws, sale and penal laws. All areas of life are subject to moral and legal reflection. 

Most non-Muslims, however equate sharia with the fixed penalties known as hudud. In classical law, these are known as crimes against God, mentioned either in the Qur’an or the hadiths. The crimes are unlawful intercourse, false accusation of unlawful intercourse, drinking wine, theft, armed robbery, and, in most schools apostasy. For these crimes, there are fixed penalties, invoking a mixture of flogging, amputation and even death. 

Strict rules of evidence and complex nuances on what counted as a crime, made application of the penalties very difficult to carry out. During the 19th Century, many Muslim countries abolished Islamic criminal law completely and replaced it with Western statue law. While some Muslims majority societies continue practice these punishments, or threaten their use, many reformers, scholars and human rights activists in the Islamic world argue that they should be abolished completely, as they were never meant to be immutable and are used only as a means of oppressing society; they go against the ethical and interpretive spirit of Islamic law. 

“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints official stance on the Prophet Muhammad”

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(Left to right: N. Eldon Tanner, President Spencer W. Kimball, Marion G. Romney of the first Presidency)

It truly does sadden me when I notice fellow Latter-Day Saints totally bash Islam and with no historical evidence continue to state their disdain for Islams founder the Prophet of Muhammad. I’m guessing that those fellow Latter-Day Saints have not read the official Church statement regarding Muhamma. This statement came from the Prophet Spencer W. Kimball and his councillors Marion G. Romney and N. Eldon Tanner in 1978. This statement came directly from a Prophet of God, so who we to disagree with the Lord.

STATEMENT OF THE FIRST PRESIDENCY OF

THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS
REGARDING GOD’S LOVE FOR ALL MANKIND

February 15, 1978

Based upon ancient and modern revelation, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gladly teaches and declares the Christian doctrine that all men and women are brothers and sisters, not only by blood relationship from common mortal progenitors but as literal spirit children of an Eternal Father.
The great religious leaders of the world such as Mohammed, Confucius, and the Reformers, as well as philosophers including Socrates, Plato, and others, received a portion of God’s light. Moral truths were given to them by God to enlighten whole nations and to bring a higher level of understanding to individuals.
The Hebrew prophets prepared the way for the coming of Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah, who should provide salvation for all mankind who believe in the gospel.
Consistent with these truths, we believe that God has given and will give to all peoples sufficient knowledge to help them on their way to eternal salvation, either in this life or in the life to come.
We also declare that the gospel of Jesus Christ, restored to His Church in our day, provides the only way to a mortal life of happiness and a fulness of joy forever. For those who have not received this gospel, the opportunity will come to them in the life hereafter if not in this life.
Our message therefore is one of special love and concern for the eternal welfare of all men and women, regardless of religious belief, race, or nationality, knowing that we are truly brothers and sisters because we are sons and daughters of the same Eternal Father.

-N. Eldon Tanner, President Spencer W. Kimball, and Marion G. Romney, First Presidency.

The Real Meaning of the Genesis Creation Story

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(Marduk, Chief God of Babylon, with his thunderbolts destroys Tiamat the Dragon of Primeval Chaos)
The first chapters of Genesis were not written to communicate history or science. Creation stories had an entirely different purpose in the Ancient Near East. They were written to give people a vision of their place in the world, and to help them make sense of existence. In other words, they gave people a narrative in which they could live their lives. This is not an outdated idea, as people today still live within functional narratives that cause them to see the world in a certain way. Perhaps the most forceful element of all creation stories is that they explain the essence of what it means to be human.

One creation story that was written before Genesis is the Babylonian creation tale, known as the Enuma Elish. This story has its own way of explaining humanity. The god Marduk kills the goddess of primordial chaos, Tiamat, and forms the heavens and earth from her body. He then kills one of Tiamat’s sons, a rebellious god named Kingu, combines Kingu’s blood with clay, and fashions humans from this mixture. Marduk creates humans to be slaves, in order to do the dirty work so that the gods could be free to enjoy leisure. The picture of what it means to be a person in this story is that human beings are innately worthless and consigned to endure the evil curse of labor without any meaning. This is a story in which many people still live today.
The format used in the opening chapters of Genesis clearly resembles the Enuma Elish, but it tells a completely different story. Instead of God mixing the blood of a dead god with clay to make people, the God in Genesis simply breathes his own life into humanity with no struggle. Rather than making them slaves, this God makes them his image-bearers, meaning that humans are to be his ambassadors, and that they bear irrevocable worth. Contrary to seeing work as a bad thing, this God works, creates, cultivates, and then creates humans to be his co-creators, stewards, and caregivers to the creation. This presents an entirely new way of being human.
Many religious motifs today tell the first story rather than the second. Sadly, many of these are even done in the name of Christianity. Somewhere along the way, followers of Jesus fumbled the plot of the story. The reason the creation narrative in Genesis is so profound is because it paints a picture in which humans are sacred and hold incomputable value. It sounds strange to talk about people being valuable under the banner of religion, because so much of many religions have been fueled by denigrating people and shaming them into conformity and submission. It is a wonder that members of some religions still have the fortitude to wake up in the morning when they’ve been taught to see themselves as worthless garbage.
The Jesus tradition rests on the shoulders of the Jewish belief that human life is holy and incontrovertibly precious. Yet, the world is paradoxically broken, and the humans who possess unsurpassable worth are capable of hideous, vile things. The mission of Jesus is not to throw everything out, or incinerate everything with condemnation, but to reclaim that which is good, restore what has been distorted, and redeem what has been squandered. While there is wreckage and turmoil in the world, the signature of God in each person still remains intact, and Jesus has come to lead us into a world in which all people recognize themselves and others as sacred.

In the beginning, God said that everything was good. In the end, God will say that everything is still good, and nothing will be lost. The message of Jesus is that we are on our way there, that we are all called to invest in this new creation, and that this hope will ultimately win out. And that is Good News.

Posted from Bauang, La Union, Philippines

I’ve always been fascinated by the story of Rabbi Shlomo Goren and the Western Wall

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Who is that man on the far right? 50 years ago today, Jerusalem was reunified, and the eternal capital of the Jewish people was once again open to us, and all people.R

I love this picture featuring Rabbi Shlomo Goren and the IDF soldiers who liberated the Western Wall, and prayed there for the first time in 2,000 years without having to ask anyone’s permission.

My question today is this: who is the guy on the far right, crashing the historic pic with a handkerchief kippah?

I want to hear his story…

posted from Bauang, La Union, Philippines

It’s heartbreaking that there is no mention or tributes being paid to the victims of the attacks in the Middle East

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In the past two weeks there have been countless terrorist attacks in Afghanistan, an attack in Pakistan, and an attack in Tehran Iran which was the first in over 30 years. In total killing over 100 people. I am actually saddened to notice that for those people there have been no vigils, no candles, no concerts and no Facebook profile pictures changed to the flags of the affected nations. Do those people not matter? What I find even more devastating is that the media has scarcely reported on those attacks. I’ve read countless Facebook statuses after the heartbreaking attacks in England stating that “we are one” and “we will not be broken by terrorists” etc. I just wish those people aimed their statuses at the whole of humanity and not just their own nation. We can’t defeat terrorism by just sticking up for our own nations, we need to all stick up for each other. Once the world will stand together terrorism will not and can not win because it will no longer divide us. I pray that all Homo Sapiens will stand strong together and eradicate terrorism for good. I pray for world peace. It is most definitely possible.

-Posted from Bauang, La Union, Philippines