QUESTION & ANSWER: Interpretation of Sharia – Part I

What are the human rights of non-Muslims in an Islamic society? Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad: This is a very pertinent question in view of current affairs and I am grateful to you for raising it. The fact is that Muslim opinion is, unfor- tunately, divided on this issue. Those who hold the ‘orthodox’ view believe that Islam does not give equal rights to non- Muslims. By ‘orthodox’ I mean the views that belong to the ‘medieval’ period of Islamic history when there appeared many scholars who began to interpret Islam according to their own wisdom and their own views – views that are at variance from the Islam that was practiced by the Holy prophet Muhammad of Islam. The ‘orthodox’ scholars, u n f o r t u n a t e l y, believe that Islam does not give equal rights to the non-Muslims in Muslim states and sometimes they define the unequal rights as to what they should be and in what way they should be inferior. Even to the extent 33Review of Religions – June 2002 Interpretation of Sharia – Part One During his visit to Nigeria in 1988, H a d h rat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, the Fourth Head of the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam was invited by BTV, a Nigerian television company, to take part in a series of televised interviews in which a number of questions regarding Islam and Ahmadiyyat were raised. Presented below are answers to some questions that were raised by the BTV presenter in some of these sessions. Prepared by Amatul Hadi Ahmad QUESTIONER that some of the religious clerics of this class would claim that the non-Muslims do not have the right to choose their own dress – the form of their dress should also be decided by the so-called Muslim government and they should be forced to wear that dress so that they may not appear like the rest of the Muslims. Hence, they should be kept distinctly apart. The ‘orthodox’ scholars hold that there are many aspects in which the non-Muslims have inferior rights. I will give example of one. They hold that the non-Muslims, living in a Muslim society, have every right to become Muslims but they have no right to preach their faith to Muslims. Furthermore, having become Muslims, should they later decide that they made the wrong decision and wish to revert back to their faith, according to the ‘orthodox’ v i e w, they will not be permitted to do so – they will be killed. This is the punishment. In short, there exits in Islam only one way traffic according to their interpretation of Islam with which we totally disagree. We reject it entirely, not simply because we do not like it but because we know that the Holy Q u r’an specifically and categorically rejects this barbarism and declares ‘war’ against such an attitude. The Holy Qur’an is full of incidents of the past religious history and goes on con- demning one incident after another where the opponents of truth took exactly this same attitude [of attempting to destroy the Prophets of God who rejected their beliefs]. The Holy Qur’an declares such people to be with Satan and bound for hell. Re c o u n t i n g these events, the Holy Quran reminds us that the Prophet Noah was told by such people that you have no right of believe in whatever you decide and because you have abandoned our religion, we will either make you return to that religion with force or we will turn you out of our land, or we shall kill you. The same 34 Interpretation of Sharia – Part I Review of Religions – June 2002 happened to Prophet Sho’aib and other Prophets after him. The Holy Qur’an repeats this history and mentions Prophet Abraham, Prophet Moses and many others. The same situ- ation is faced by all of them and the Holy Qur’an condemns all the people who opposed the Prophets in this manner. We may well ask as to why it should be the case that with the appearance of the Holy Prophet of Islam, the Leader of the Prophets, the very best, the Seal of the Prophets, the situation should be completed reversed? It is absurd even to imagine this – it is totally untenable. The Holy Qur’an categorically declares: La ikraha fiddeen, that is, there is no compulsion whatsoever in any faith, in any religion in any ‘ism’. Deen is a term that has a very wide application [and includes such groupings as different schools of thought]. Not only, the Holy Qur’an tells us that if anyone chooses to be a Muslim and reverts back to his old faith, denying Islam, and then becomes a Muslim again, and reverts yet again to his old faith, even after all this the Holy Qur’an does not state that such a person should be killed – it tells us that the case of such a person should be left to God. Is there anything in the Qur’an that says that adulterers must be stoned? Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad: One thing that needs to be brought into focus as far as the Shari’a law is concerned is that the opinion of experts differ on fundamental points. In view of this, it must necessarily be the case that some of them would be right and some of them would be wrong. Consequently, we need to ask whether it could in fact be the case that those who take a lenient interpretation of the Shari’a law may be right. Scholars who hold the more lenient view, base their argument on the same verses of the Holy Qur’an as used by 35 Interpretation of Sharia – Part I Review of Religions – June 2002 QUESTIONER those who use a more stern interpretation of the verses regarding punishment. The logical question that arises here is to ask whether it is not possible that those who take the lenient view may be right. If the answer to this question is in the affirmative, then would it not the case that those who enact an incorrect interpretation of Islam, in the name of Islam, would be responsible for those cruel acts? Suppose further that the government change and another government comes or a sect that was prevalent in an area is reduced in number and another sect becomes the majority. Should the interpre- tation of the Shari’a used by the majority be different from the previous sect, would that be Islam changing its position over fundamental issues? Certainly not. One should, therefore, be very careful and cautious in assessing Islamic practice. The accepted principle of justice is always this that when deciding upon punish- ment, the criminal should be given the benefit of doubt. Even if the guilt of a criminal is fully proven, the benefit of doubt that should be exercised in such a case would be that the minimum punishment should be enforced, not the maximum. As far as the punishment of stoning to death is concerned, the Holy Qur’an declares that those who indulge in forni- cation or adultery, (the same Arabic word zana is used for both), should be flogged one hundred times. Here in this verse there is no mention of stoning at all anywhere. M o r e o v e r, it is also stated immediately after this that those who indulge in fornication or adultery should marry amongst themselves and should not marry the innocent Muslims so that they may not destroy the social and cultural values of Islam. In other words, those who indulge in such immoral acts should marry amongst themselves. The point to note here is that if the adulterers are killed, if 36 Interpretation of Sharia – Part I Review of Religions – June 2002 they are stoned to death, how can they marry. If they are to be killed, why is the Holy Qur’an raising the question of their marriage immediately after prescribing this punish- ment? The Holy Qur’an describes the punishment to be one hundred floggings. This flogging is not to be with something like the army hunter or the whip – it is definitely not like that. The nature of the ‘flog’ to be used in enforcing this punishment is, again, a point of difference. In some Sheikhdoms in some states of the Gulf, they still maintain that the manner of flogging that was carried out in the time of the Holy Prophet has come down to them through centuries. They maintain that the ‘flog’ is a piece of some hide of a relatively small size and that is all. The fact is that the ‘flog’ has not been described or defined in the Holy Qur’an. This is something we need to find out from history – we need to know what the Holy Qur’an means and what the Arabs of the early days of Islam used for the purpose of ‘flogging’. Without determining such facts, the second issue will not be determined at all. I have made investigations and have come to the positive conclusion that the present day whip as introduced to us through the army or through some other ways of torture was not at all the instrument of ‘flogging’ used by the Arabs of the early Islamic period. Jaldatan is the Arabic word used in the Holy Qur’an [where reference is made to the punishment of flogging]. The Arabic word J a l d a m e a n s animal skin or hide – it does not mean a cane of some sort. It should be noted here that Jalda , that is, a hide of some sort, is incapable of killing. M o r e o v e r, it is believed by many Muslim scholars that during the ‘flogging’ one should not raise one’s arm to the extent that the white of the arm is revealed, that is to say that the arm should not be 37 Interpretation of Sharia – Part I Review of Religions – June 2002 raised very high. In short, it is impossible for a person to be killed as a result of ‘flogging’ where a small piece of hide is with the arm not fully raised. However, even this is not the whole story. It is important that this aspect of Islamic teaching should be studied together with its relevant background. The Islamic teaching of chastity is of such a high level that it produces an atmos- phere of chastity in the whole s o c i e t y. With its various injunctions, it creates a sense of chastity that pervades the whole society. It engenders a culture and a set of values that is different from that found in western societies or in African society today. There you find that generally a promiscuous attitude is prevalent while in Islamic Societies with all the appropriate application of the Islamic way of life it becomes a very different type of society. In that society there would be a very small likelihood of such matters arising. Moreover, should an accusation of adultery be made, Islam enjoins upon the law enforcing agencies to demand four witnesses to this act. Given this injunction, it is not difficult to appreciate how remote the possibility of such punishment would become. It is a threatening posture but in reality its application would be very rare indeed. 38 Interpretation of Sharia – Part I Review of Religions – June 2002