Sharia’s attributes

February 28, 2014

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SALVATION and grace cannot be regarded as the monopoly of any one faith, any one sect or any one people. No one can achieve it merely because he (or she) is a member of any particular religion or fiqh, because God’s infinite beneficence is open to all who do good deeds.

This attribute is summed up in the Quran in two words — Rahman and Raheem — that envelop the entire universe.

None can claim that the Almighty will be partial to them. Islam frankly recognises that amongst the Muslims (and non-Muslims) there are both persons of deep and sincere faith as well as persons whose faith does not go beyond lip service.

While the interpretations of Sharia vary from one culture to another, in its strictest definition it is the infallible law of God, as opposed to human interpretation of the divine law. There are two primary sources of Sharia: the precepts of Quranic verses and the examples set by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

The introduction of Sharia is a long-standing goal for Islamic movements globally. But attempts to impose Sharia have been accompanied by controversy, violence and even warfare.

The differences between Sharia and secular laws have led to an ongoing controversy about whether the two are compatible.

To recognise what Sharia means we must understand that religion has been a continuous unbroken movement in human history in the quest of a good life and that all great religions owe their inspiration to the same divine source.

Hence the founders and prophets, as also their places of worship, deserve our highest respect and tolerance and appreciation of other faiths is a duty enjoined on all men, in particular Muslims.

But many Muslims have forgotten this significant truth and have tended to adopt a narrow-minded attitude towards other religions. Some historians, poets, scholars and divines have even extolled Muslim rulers and men in power who showed intolerance in religious matters which was quite clearly repugnant to the real teachings of Islam.

It is therefore necessary to remind the Muslims of their heritage and have them reaffirm their faith in the high tradition of tolerance.

There is a good deal of misunderstanding on the issue amongst the Muslims due either to ignorance or the intolerance shown by some Muslim rulers, or indeed the ill-advised attempts of some non-Muslim scholars to present Islam in an aggressively unsympathetic light.

Islam starts with the postulate that all religions derive their original inspiration from God and there can be no basic contradiction in it.

The Holy Quran declares (21:25) “And we have not sent any messenger before thee but have given them the inspiration that there is no God but I, therefore, worship Me.”

Undoubtedly there are doctrinal and incidental differences in methods of worship, but these can be traced to different periods of history or different places and environments. Also, we must consider later accretions made by priests and divines to preserve their power and authority or rulers who wanted to reinforce orthodoxy to guard what they felt was the special identity of their religion.

The Quran, on the other hand, has taken the view that all messengers of God have preached basically the same message, stressed the same values and truths, that the deen (spirit of religion) is the same while the Sharia (the way of realising it) may differ.

Nothing can be more foolish than to ignore the unity underlying different faiths and start quibbling over the methods prescribed for the practice of the faiths.

The differences among religions are marginal and only in the details while their commonality has greater significance. If God had willed to create a world in which all humans were alike in every way they would have followed the same religion, spoken the same language and evolved an identical pattern of culture and conduct. But He did not do so.

The messengers of God emerged out of the community for whose guidance they were sent and spoke the same language. Interestingly, few who belonged to the rich or the ruling class identified with common men.

To win over followers, messengers did not rely on the power of armies or offer material temptations. They relied, instead, on the power of love, service and sacrifice. Yet mankind stands divided. According to the Quran there is one link that can reunite humanity — devotion to God.

God’s time is cosmic time and He is very patient and forbearing. He gives men the grace of time so that they may return to the right path. If they fail to do so, His laws bring about their undoing and replacement by others more amenable to receiving His grace and guidance.

The writer is a freelance contributor with an interest in religion.