Does Shariah Promote Human Rights?

The Archbishop of Canterbury says that implementing or permitting some parts of Shariah (Islamic law) is unavoidable. Is this wise?

It may be true that some parts of Islamic law are only about halal (permitted) foods, but other parts - not so.

The Archbishop says he would not recommend incorporating Islamic punishments (hudud) in English law or permitting them in informal but binding Islamic courts in the UK. But are these fine line distinctions possible in Islam? Is all of Shariah eventually destined, as many millions of Muslims believe, to cover all parts of society, gradually, over the years - around the globe? Is it possible to take multiculturalism and cultural senstivity, though positive in many ways, too far?

If the UK adopts or adapts any part of Islamic law or permits informal but binding Islamic courts to function under the UK's larger legal system, then the wise British people still need to ask these questions: Does Islamic law embody justice, beyond halal concerns? Does Shariah really promote human rights?

Shariah comes mainly from the Quran and the hadith (Traditions) - original Islam - and they were developed and systematized later by legal scholars. Thus, "Islam" in this article stands for Muhammad, the Quran, reliable Traditions, the earliest Muslim leaders (e.g. Caliphs and judges), and classical legal scholars.

1. Islam commands that drinkers and gamblers should be whipped.

Iranian officials sentenced three men to flogging not only for illicit sex, but also for drinking alcohol.

In Nigeria a Shariah court ordered that a drinker should be caned eighty strokes.

In the Indonesian province of Aceh, fifteen men were caned in front of the mosque for gambling. This was done publicly so all could see and fear. Eleven others are scheduled to undergo the same penalty for gambling.

After going through two previous stages before coming down hard on drinkers and gamblers, the Quran finally prohibits alcohol and gambling in Sura (Chapter) 5:90-91; these verses do not prescribe the punishment of flogging, but the hadith does. This drinker was brought to Muhammad who became angry:

The Prophet felt it hard (was angry) and ordered all those who were present in the house, to beat him [the drinker dragged into Muhammad's presence] . ( Bukhari, Punishments, nos. 6774-6775 (online source; see the one just above, and the others below the one directly linked)

The later classical legal rulings follow the Quran and the hadith, so we do not need to examine them here.

Here is the article that supports this point and that analyzes the Quranic verses on drinking and gambling. It also analyzes the hadith and later legal rulings:

No drinking and gambling in the Quran: Prohibition in the Quran.

Maybe drinking and gambling is no concern to the Queen's Counsel, but what about the punishment (lashing) for these offenses in the Muslim community? Will the QC permit it to be meted out? If not, how can the proper authorities stop Islamic judges from doing this clandestinely?

2. Islam allows husbands to hit their wives even for perceived highhandedness in their wives.

Rania al- Baz, who had been beaten by her husband, made her ordeal public to raise awareness about violence suffered by women in the home in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi television aired a talk show that discussed this issue. Scrolling three-fourths of the way down the link, the readers can see an Islamic scholar holding up sample rods that husbands may use to hit their wives.

The Quran says:

4:34 . . . If you fear highhandedness from your wives, remind them [of the teaching of God], then ignore them when you go to bed, then hit them . If they obey you, you have no right to act against them. God is most high and great. (MAS Abdel Haleem, The Qur'an, Oxford UP, 2004)

The hadith says that Muslim women in the time of Muhammad were suffering from domestic violence in the context of confusing marriage laws:

Rifa'a divorced his wife whereupon ' AbdurRahman bin Az-Zubair Al- Qurazi married her. 'Aisha said that the lady (came), wearing a green veil (and complained to her (Aisha) of her husband and showed her a green spot on her skin caused by beating) . It was the habit of ladies to support each other, so when Allah's Apostle came, 'Aisha said, "I have not seen any woman suffering as much as the believing women. Look! Her skin is greener than her clothes!" (Bukhari)

The next hadith shows Muhammad hitting his girl-wife, Aisha, daughter of Abu Bakr:

"He [Muhammad] struck me [Aisha] on the chest which caused me pain." (Muslim no. 2127)

Here is the article that explains wife-beating as permissible.

Domestic violence in the Quran (it has a long list of different translations of Sura (Chapter) 4:34, in order to resolve confusion over this verse, circulating around the web.)

"Wife-beating may be unacceptable to us and our traditions today, but we must respect the customs of other cultures." How far do the British allow multiculturalism to go?  

3. Islam's laws on women and marriage are archaic and patriarchal.

The rights of women is that part of Shariah that has nothing to do with hudud (punishments), but has everything to do with oppression. Specifically, marital relations may become the first and most prominent area, beyond dietary laws, that are arbitrated in "informal but binding" Islamic courts. Here are some articles with brief annotations:

Women are inferior to men in the Quran: In inheriting, women get half the share of men's. In the courtroom, women's testimony counts half that of men, because of the women's "deficient" mind.

Polygamy in the Quran: Men are allowed to have four wives. Will Islamic courts in the UK uphold this? Will the British legal system cave into multiculturalism? "Polygamy is not our modern custom, but we must respect the customs of other cultures."

The truth about Muslim-Christian marriages: Muslim men may marry Jewish and Christian women, but Jewish and Christian men are not permitted to marry Muslim women; how will this inequality be adjudicated in an Islamic court? Will they be permitted to adjudicate these matters? If so, will men get custody of the children in most cases of interfaith marriages? After all, isn't the West so decadent that an Islamic judge would be foolish, from his point of view, to award custody to "corrupt" western women? What if the Muslim husband, delighting in the foregone ruling (private but binding to him) that he gets custody, surreptitiously leaves the UK and returns to his "pure" non-western homeland to raise the children, never again to be seen by the mother?

A strange divorce and remarriage law in the Quran: After a divorce, if the couple wants to reconcile and marry each other again, then the ex-wife must marry another man and divorce him. Will British law accept this? How far will it follow multiculturalism to its logical conclusion and permit this fused civil-religious-marriage law?

Top ten rules in the Quran that oppress women: a summary article, with many links under each point.

4. Islam allows an injured plaintiff to exact legal revenge-physical eye for physical eye.

In Saudi Arabia a man had two teeth extracted under the law of retaliation.

In Saudi Arabia, a man was about to have his eye removed.

In a court in Pakistan sentenced a man to be blinded by acid after he carried out a similar attack on his fiancée.

An Iranian court orders a man's eye to be removed for throwing acid on another man and blinding him in both eyes.

The Quran says:

5:45 And We ordained therein for them: Life for life, eye for eye, nose for nose, ear for ear, tooth for tooth and wounds equal for equal. But if anyone remits the retaliation by way of charity, it shall be for him an expiation. And whosoever does not judge by that which Allah has revealed, such are the Zalimun (polytheists and wrongdoers . . .). (Hilali and Khan, the Noble Qur'an, Riyadh: Darussalam, 1996)

This passage allows for an indemnity or compensation instead of imposing the literal punishment of eye for an eye. No one should have a quarrel with this option. According to the hadith, the plaintiff also has the option to forgive, and this is legitimate, provided a judge oversees the process. The problem is the literal law of retaliation.

The hadith and later legal rulings demonstrate that this excessive option was actually carried out, as do the three modern examples linked above.

Please go to my own study:

Law of retaliation: cites the hadith and later legal rulings.

Would an Islamic court eventually carry out this sentence under the UK's very nose, before the proper authorities can intervene? Doesn't multiculturalism, carried out to its logical conclusion, demand that we today respect the cultural, legal custom of eye-for-an-eye punishment, literally?

5. Islam commands that a male and female thief must have a hand cut off.

Warning! This short article has photos of severed hands.

Warning! This page has photos of thieves getting their hands chopped off. They also show beheadings.

This news report shows a man getting his hand chopped off in Nigeria.

The Quran says:

5:38 Cut off the hands of thieves, whether they are male or female, as punishment for what they have done-a deterrent from God: God is almighty and wise. 39 But if anyone repents after his wrongdoing and makes amends, God will accept his repentance: God is most forgiving and merciful. (Haleem)

At first glance, verse 39 seems to accept repentance before the thief's hand is cut off. But the hadith states emphatically that repentance is acceptable only after mutilation. Muhammad himself says that even if his own daughter, Fatima, were to steal and then intercede that her hand should not be cut off, he would still have to cut it off (Bukhari, Punishments, no. 6788; online source). This hadith (no. 792) repeats that a woman's hand was cut off, even though some interceded for her so that she would not suffer from this atrocity. Muhammad says she must be punished regardless of this request. This is a parallel hadith in Muslim (no. 4187). Scroll a little above to view the section title. Also, note the hadith below this linked one. The legal scholar Malik (d. 795) says that cutting off a hand is obligatory even if the thief returns the stolen item or intercession is made on his behalf before the Caliph: Here and here.

If the readers would like to see more hadith passages, they should click on this long supporting article: Thieves, give Muhammad a hand!

We may not hear of such punishments being meted out in the short term in an Islamic court in the UK, but what about later, in a few decades? How far will respect for other customs and multiculturalism go?

6. Islam commands that homosexuals be harshly punished, including execution.

The Taliban, who once ruled in Afghanistan (and who are still kicking and breathing their last), ordered a stone wall to be pushed over onto three men convicted of sodomy. Their lives were to be spared if they survived for thirty minutes and were still alive when the stones were removed.

On April 7, 2005, it was reported that Saudi Arabia sentenced more than 100 men to prison or flogging for "gay conduct."

Ibn Abbas, Muhammad's cousin and highly reliable transmitter of hadith, reports the following about early Islam and Muhammad's punishment of homosexuals:

 . . . If you find anyone doing as Lot's people did, kill the one who does it, and the one to whom it is done. (Abu Dawud no. 4447)

This hadith passage says that homosexuals should be burned alive or have wall pushed on them:

Ibn Abbas and Abu Huraira reported God's messenger as saying, "Accursed is he who does what Lot's people did." In a version . . . on the authority of Ibn Abbas it says that Ali [Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law] had two people burned and that Abu Bakr [Muhammad's chief companion] had a wall thrown down on them. (Mishkat, vol. 1, p. 765, Prescribed Punishments)

If the reader would like to see the Quran on the matter of homosexuality, the severity in the hadith, and rulings of classical fiqh, they should see the supporting article:

Islamic law is not gay. The longer back-up article has links to many discussions on Islamic punishments of homosexuals (scroll down to "Supplemental material" in that link).

Will we eventually hear of some kind of physical punishments (e.g. lashing) of Muslim gays and Lesbians in an "informal but binding" Islamic court in the UK? The Archbishop may not recommend hudud (punishments) as part of these courts, but can such fine line distinctions be made in Islamic law, which is destined to rule over all of society around the globe?

7. Islam orders unmarried fornicators to be whipped and adulterers to be stoned to death.


In 2001, Iranian officials sentenced three men to flogging for illicit sex.

In Saudi Arabia, a rape victim may be flogged. But what does the Quran say?

The Quran says:

24:2 The fornicatress and the fornicator, flog each of them with a hundred stripes. Let not pity withhold you in their case, in a punishment prescribed by Allah, if you believe in Allah and the Last Day. And let a party of the believers witness their punishment. [This punishment is for unmarried persons guilty of the above crime (illegal sex), but if married persons commit it (illegal sex), the punishment is to stone them to death, according to Allah's law]. (Hilali and Khan)

The additions in the brackets, though not original to the Arabic, have the support of the hadith. These command flogging only of unmarried fornicators: Bukhari, Punishments, nos. 6831 and 6833. For many hadith dealing with fornication (and adultery, see below), go to the hadith collector and editor Bukhari and scroll up and down to read them.

The classical legal rulings follow the Quran and the hadith closely, so we do not need to analyze them here.

According to this report, in Iran a teenage boy broke his Ramadan fast, so a judge sentenced him to be lashed with eighty-five stripes. He died from the punishment. Though his sad case does not deal with fornication, it is cited here because it shows that lashing can be fatal.


In December 2004, Amnesty International reports:

An Iranian woman charged with adultery faces death by stoning in the next five days after her death sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court last month. Her unnamed co-defendant is at risk of imminent execution by hanging. Amnesty International members are now writing urgent appeals to the Iranian authorities, calling for the execution to be stopped.

She is to be buried up to her chest and stoned to death. Where might the judges get this punishment?

This hadith reports that a woman was buried up to her chest and stoned to death:

And when he had given command over her and she was put in a hole up to her breast, he ordered the people to stone her. Khalid b. al- Walid came forward with a stone which he threw at her head, and when the blood spurted on his face he cursed her . . . (Muslim no. 4206)

Later Islamic legal rulings follow the Quran and the hadith closely, so we do not need to analyze them here.

Will we hear of lashing and death for fornicators and adulterers in Islamic courts in the UK, in the future?

Here is the back-up article.

8. Islam orders harsh punishments, including execution, for Muslims and possible death for non-Muslim critics of Muhammad and the Quran and even Shariah itself.

In 1989, Iran's Supreme Leader issued a fatwa (legal decree) to assassinate Salman Rushdie, a novelist, who wrote Satanic Verses, which includes questions about the angel Gabriel's role in inspiring the Quran. Now the extremists in the highest levels in Iran have recently renewed the fatwa.

In 2005, The Muslim Council of Victoria, Australia, brought a lawsuit against two pastors for holding a conference and posting articles critiquing Islam. Three Muslims attended the conference and felt offended. The two pastors have been convicted based on Australia's vilification law. While on trial, one of them wanted to read from the Quran on domestic violence (see 9, above), but the lawyer representing the Council would not allow it. The pastors are appealing their conviction.

Here are the classical legal rulings.

First, the Muslim deserves death for doing any of the following (Reliance of the Traveler pp. 597-98, o8.7):

(1) Reviling Allah or his Messenger; (2) being sarcastic about "Allah's name, His command, His interdiction, His promise, or His threat"; (3) denying any verse of the Quran or "anything which by scholarly consensus belongs to it, or to add a verse that does not belong to it"; (4) holding that "any of Allah's messengers or prophets are liars, or to deny their being sent"; (5) reviling the religion of Islam; (6) being sarcastic about any ruling of the Sacred Law; (7) denying that Allah intended "the Prophet's message . . . to be the religion followed by the entire world."

The non-Muslims living under Islamic rule are not allowed to do the following (p. 609, o11.10(1)-(5)): (1) Commit adultery with a Muslim woman or marry her; (2) conceal spies of hostile forces; (3) lead a Muslim away from Islam; (4) mention something impermissible about Allah, the Prophet . . . or Islam.

According to the discretion of the caliph or his representative, the punishments imposed on non-Muslims for violating these rules are as follows: (1) death; (2) enslavement; (3) release without paying anything; and (4) ransoming in exchange for money. These punishments also execute free speech-even repulsive speech-and freedom of religion or conscience.

Ultimately, censorship testifies to a lack of confidence in one's position and message. If the message of Islam were truly superior, one could trust in the power of truth.

For the supporting articles that analyze the Quran and the hadith, both of which orders death to critics, go to my own studies:

Insulting and Threatening Jesus and Muhammad

Insulting Muhammad: Free Speech and Death in Islam

Muhammad's (non)assassinations of (non)victims

Muhammad's Dead Poets Society

Is there any surprise as to why Muslim radicals violently protested the Danish cartoon drawings of the prophet? Will cultural sensitivity demand that unpleasant speech be suppressed? But the West must preserve its freedom of speech, even unpleasant speech.

9. Islam orders apostates to be harshly punished, including execution .

In Iran an academic was condemned to death for criticizing clerical rule in Iran. The rulers assert that he was insulting Muhammad and Shi'ite laws. He was charged with apostasy (leaving a religion).

This analysis tracks the application of apostasy laws around the world, citing many examples.

Apostates are those who leave a religion like Islam, such as Salman Rushdie, whether they become atheists or convert to another religion. They are supposed to be killed according to the Quran, the hadith, and later legal rulings.

This hadith, representing many others, says that some atheists were brought to Ali, Muhammad's son-in-law and cousin, and he burned them alive.

The news of this event reached Ibn Abbas [Muhammad's cousin and highly reliable transmitter of traditions] who said, "If I had been in his place, I would not have burnt them, as Allah's Messenger forbad it, saying, ‘Do no punish anybody with Allah's punishment (fire).' I would have killed them according to the statement of Allah Messenger, ‘Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him .'" (Bukhari, Apostates, no. 6922; online source)

Evidently, these atheists were once Muslims, but they no longer followed Muhammad's way. The Islam of Ali and Ibn Abbas, Muhammad's family, would not tolerate freedom of religion, so Ali burned them alive. Ibn Abbas would have beheaded them, since fire is the punishment of Allah.

See the previous point for the acts that entail leaving Islam according to Islamic law. Here are the articles that explain this Shariah law:

This is a short, but full article on apostasy, citing Quranic verses and hadith passages. This older but still accurate dictionary has a brief entry on apostasy. Scroll down to "Apostasy from Islam."

This mid-sized chapter on apostasy was written by an older generation Christian who knew Islam and Arabic thoroughly. It also analyzes some legal rulings in Islam on apostasy. This is a short section in an online book. It surveys the main ideas on apostasy. This short entry in the Index to Islam has a list of Quranic verses. This short article contrasts Islam's coercion of conscience with Christianity's freedom of conscience.

Conservative scholar Sayyid Maududi (d. 1979) in this booklet argues that Sura 9:11-12 refers to apostates and that they should be put to death (scroll down to "The Proof in the Quran for the Commandment to Execute Apostates").

This website has an overview of Islam on apostates. Apostates should be given time to repent, but if they refuse, they must be killed. Women apostates may be killed according to some schools of law, or she may be imprisoned and whipped.

Here are my own studies:

Islam Apologists Tell Partial Story

Apostasy in the Quran, Traditions, and Islamic Law

I have been involved in court cases that involve immigrants from Islamic countries, who switched religions and are due to be returned to their home country, unless the immigration judges grant them asylum. So far the US judges have understood the plight of the "apostates." But in the decades ahead, will informal but binding Islamic courts in the UK be permitted to adjudicate immigration laws, particularly on behalf of those seeking asylum from persecution in their home country for "apostasy"? Will Islamic courts in the UK understand these immigrants' / apostates' conundrum? Will the courts see the conflict of interests?

"Our proud, long-standing British laws may grant asylum and protection to so-called ‘apostates,' but religious matters are now internal to the Islamic community and courts. Let them deal with it. We must respect their culture and laws." 

Will this work?


Does the Archbishop of Canterbury really want any part of Shariah to creep into the British legal system? Islam must spread around the globe and cover every area of society. Does the Archbishop really believe that if the UK permits only benign rulings on dietary laws at first, then other parts of Shariah - like women's testimony in a law court and divorce and child custody - will not be adjudicated in Islamic courts, in the future? "Inevitable" is the Archbishop's word on Shariah and its harmless dietary laws.

In an interview on BBC Radio Four, the Archbishop mentions private Jewish courts. If they are allowed, then why not Islamic courts? The reply to this is simple. Is there any reputable Jewish group that has the express purpose of imposing its laws on all of society, of taking over all of society, around the globe? But that is Islam's stated goal. Plus, does Jewish law oppress women as Islamic law clearly does?

Isn't the best solution not to permit any part of Shariah in the UK and other countries around the world? Doesn't Shariah merely, really embody seventh-century archaic customs that must never be brought forward into today's world? Can't we reach the conclusion that multiculturalism amd cultural sensitivity, though positive in some respects, can be taken too far, to excess?

Isn't the following the best solution? Islam must reform, despite the current multiculturalism chic.

However, the legal hierarchy in Islamic nations (and presumably judges "in informal but binding" Islamic courts in the UK) will not reform because they understand the cost: many passages in the Quran and the hadith must be rejected. After all, the Quran came down directly from Allah through Gabriel, so says traditional theology. So how can Islam reform? But reform it must. It can start by rewriting classical fiqh (interpretations of law). Again, though, that would mean leaving behind the Quran and Muhammad's Sunnah (path or example). How can the legal hierarchy do this?

Since Islamic law cannot be reformed without doing serious damage to original and authentic Islam, a second plan must play out. Shariah must never spread around the world. At least that much is clear and achievable, unless the Archbishop of Canterbury has his way.

One last point, which I wish were not necessary.

In Islam, it's impossible to leave religion out of a discussion on laws for society. One tack that polemicists take in defending Shariah is to go directly to the Old Testament and its severe punishments. In reply, however, Christians honor and revere the Old Testament as inspired by God in its own era, and they can learn timeless truths from it, but they also believe that Jesus Christ has fulfilled this sacred text. Therefore, people no longer have to be stoned to death for a sin like adultery, for example. We do not treat sexual sins as crimes deserving prison, lashing, or execution. One of the reasons that we all sense that these Islamic punishments are excessive is that Christianity has filled the globe. New Testament Christianity, when properly understood and followed, offers humanity dignity and forgiveness.

James M. Arlandson can be reached at

Supplemental material: Can society improve without Shariah?

Another angle that promoters of Islamic law follow is to show the "horrible" life and crime rates in the US (and the whole West) because western freedoms do not work. Then the promoters assert that Shariah is the best solution, implying, of course, that western freedoms must be curtailed.

But does this belief account for all of the facts?

This line graph on a short page at the Bureau of Justice Statistics shows that violent crimes (e.g. homicide, rape, assaults, robbery) in America have decreased dramatically from 1994 to 2003.


The next line graph on another short page at the BJS also depicts a dramatic drop in property crime (burglary, theft, and car theft) from 1994, though the rate has leveled off since 2002.


But what is the point of placing these two line graphs in this article? To boast that America has reached sinless perfection and has no room for improvement? No. Maybe the crime rate will increase in the next decade (or go down). The point is this: though many factors contribute to a drop in crime rates (or their rise), it is possible to see a decrease without Islamic law. Shariah has nothing to do with the positive factors at work.

This means that Islamic law is therefore not needed to improve any society. Other, less brutal means can be followed in order to lower crime and enhance the quality of life.

This article is an update of an earlier one, which discusses mutilation for crimes like highway robbery, and it discusses jihad merged with religious law.