Mythical Sharia Strikes Again

Read it and weep — and you will want to weep. In Bangladesh a 14-year-old girl named Hena was raped by a 40-year-old man, Mahbub, who is described in a report as her “relative.” [Thanks to John Hinderaker for highlighting this story.] Apparently — the report is not clear on how this happened — the matter was brought to the attention of the sharia authorities in her village of Shariatpur. You’d think this was a good thing … except, in Islam, rape cannot be proved absent four witnesses — i.e., it’s virtually impossible to establish that what happened happened. That’s a dangerous thing for the victim — deadly dangerous in this instance — because if she has had sexual relations outside marriage but cannot prove she has been raped, she is deemed to have committed a grave sin. In Hena’s case, the sharia authorities ordered that she be given 100 lashes. The young girl never made it through 80; she fell unconscious and died from the whipping.

When I catalogue the horrors of sharia, I frequently hear in response that I am oversimplifying it, that I am relying on incorrect interpretations (oddly said to be inaccurate because they construe Islamic doctrine “too literally”), or that I fail to appreciate the richness and nuances of sharia jurisprudence that have made it possible for moderate Muslims to evolve away from the law’s harshness. Some even claim sharia is not a concrete body of law, just a set of  aspirational guidelines — as if Sakineh Ashtiani, the woman sentenced by an Iranian court to death by stoning, will merely be having advice, rather than rocks, thrown at her.

These criticisms miss the point. I don’t purport to have apodictic knowledge of what the “true” Islam holds — or even to know whether there is a single true Islam (as I’ve said a number of times, I doubt that there is). But that’s irrelevant. It should by now be undeniable that there is an interpretation of sharia that affirms all its atrocious elements, and that this interpretation is not a fringe construction. It is mainstream and backed by very influential scholars who know a hell of a lot more about Islam than we in the West do. That makes it extremely unlikely that this interpretation will be marginalized any time soon. There is no agreed-upon hierarchical authority in Islam that can authoritatively pronounce that various beliefs and practices are heretical. The closest thing Muslims have is the faculty at al-Azhar University in Egypt, and it is a big part of the problem. Whether this fundamentalist interpretation is accepted by only 20 or 30 percent of Muslims — or whether, as I believe, the percentage is higher, perhaps much higher — that still makes it the belief system of almost half a billion people worldwide. That’s not a fringe.

Sharia is not a myth or an invention of overwrought Islamophobes. It is very real. And that some Saudi-endowed Georgetown prof will inevitably come up with some elegant explanation of how the village authorities got it wrong will have absolutely zero influence over the way sharia is understood in Shariatpur. Nor will not make this tormented 14-year-old girl any less dead.

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