Monday, May 21, 2012

Sharia and Egypt: what it means, or may mean

Among other things it explains why sharia is not going away any time soon:

What is the Islamic sharia?
The term “Islamic sharia” has subtly different denotations and sharply different connotations in Egypt than it often does in the United States or Europe. There is a reason many scholars insist that defining it as “Islamic law” (as it is often described in non-Muslim countries) is sometimes overly narrow. Sharia includes large areas of personal conduct not generally covered by legal rules in many societies (such as the regulation of prayer or ritual purity). Not only does it blend private practice, ethics, and public law, but it also includes categories such as detestable (but not prohibited) or preferred (but not required) that make ethical but little legal sense. A vaguer but more accurate translation might be “the Islamic way of doing things.”
And that is the definition accepted by many who follow sharia. Such a translation makes clear why the Islamic sharia is hard to oppose. It is one thing to questionhudud punishments (for serious crimes) by claiming to wish to follow the spirit but not the letter of traditional understandings. It is something quite different to proclaim that one prefers to do things in a non-Islamic manner or that Islamic teachings have no relevance in public life. It would be as unexpected as U.S. politicians claiming they prefer the “un-American way.” Public opinion polls on the subject provoke the same response among the broader society.
Of course, the Islamic sharia is not merely the equivalent of a flag pin for a politician’s lapel; it has enormous practical and not simply symbolic content. But observers should not expect many calls to abandon the Islamic sharia in Egyptian political debates.
There is another terminological oddity that can shed some light on the connotations of the Islamic sharia: following Egyptian usage, I have been referring to “Islamic sharia,” a phrase that seems almost comically redundant in English, like referring to a “Jewish rabbi.” A non-Islamic sharia might seem to be something like a “Protestant pope.” But Egyptians will sometimes refer to other religious communities as sharias.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous10:09 pm

    nice posting.. thanks for sharing..