When the lines between religion and law get blurred

The first line of the Huffington Post article: Whose Sharia is it? says it all: ‘It has been a lousy month for Islamic law’.  Between the horrific abduction of Nigerian girls, and  new laws in Brunei which are thinly veiled anti-gay laws, the religion of Islam is taking a beating in the Western Press. In fact, both these events have been condoned both those who support it because of a claim of Islamic faith, as if that covers the abhorrent nature of it. In both cases the lines between religion/faith and law have been blurred to the point where one is no longer distinguishable from the other.  As the author points out, ‘The pretense that these laws are straightforward implementations of God’s will not only serves to justify these otherwise unjustifiable rules but also feeds the demonization and dehumanization of Muslims.’

As if the first two stories were not enough, another story came to light regarding a woman in Sudan being beaten and condemned for marrying a Christian man. The irony? She is Christian, but since her father (who abandoned her as a baby) is Muslim, she is Muslim and therefore subject to the archaic rules of apostasy and sexual relations. Again, religion is used as law in a way that perverts justice.

So what is the common thread through all this?  The author of this article comes to this conclusion, ‘My “what’s the use?” phase shifted into the simmering anger phase once I began to think about why exactly this version of Islamic law holds sway. It’s patriarchy straight down the line.’ She goes on to write, ‘At the moment, though, I am less interested in insisting on the nuance and variability of traditional Islamic law and more on critiquing its powerful patriarchal presuppositions…Islamic law is only part of the picture. And yet it is a key piece of the picture. Rethinking Islamic law without questioning its basic presumptions about male dominance will not take us nearly far enough. Whose sharia is this? It is certainly not mine. I cannot believe that it is God’s.’

Muslim theologian Jerusha Lamptey, states in his article linked to this one, ‘It is similar with shariah and Islamic law. The majority of Islamic laws do not derive directly from the Qur’an, which primarily contains generalized ethical content. Most Islamic laws instead come from the work of Islamic jurists over the past 1,400 years. These jurists, in the past and today, have debated, upheld, modified, and introduced diverse laws. They have tried—with varying degrees of success—to align those laws with the principles of shariah. What they have never done is agree upon a fixed set of specific laws.’

How do we prevent the lines between religion and law from being blurred? In the USA, the rhetoric claims that church and state are separate. However, anyone critically looking at the situation can see foreshadowing of similar blurred lines. How much should religion inform law? Or law inform religion? We can learn much from what is happening around the world in religion. But the real question is can we avoid falling into the same traps?

2 thoughts on “When the lines between religion and law get blurred

  1. When thinking the question of a line between the law and religion, a much more basic question needs to be touched: What’s the origin of laws? From my courses of civil laws, there is a definition to the laws: the bottom line of human morality. So that they are a set of morality standards which define guilt. No matter how clearly people define their laws, they are still part of the morality. Unfortunately, morality is closely related to the point of view people think about their social order and what they believe their world should be. Every people in this world believes something no matter could be labelled as a religion or not. Thus, the law system is base upon the good standard that people believe, it for sure would be affected by the religion of the people creating the law. Will that be possible to draw a solid line between law and religion? I would say that it is possible but not applicable. My perception of the problem behind the news is that law is way more than religiously radical. That means the line between the law and religion has been moved too much to be acceptable.

  2. Those individuals who are applying the Sharia law remind me of the Pharisees in the Bible. They knew the laws word for word, but fail to apply the spirit of the law. In other words, it was the glaring fault in them as they were careful about the minor matters and careless about the fundamentals (Mat. 23:23) and yet broke the very laws they thought they were defending.

    In regards to the division of church and state, I subscribe to the belief that Luther had of the state. Luther viewed the state as being responsible to restrain evil. Christians belong to both kingdoms, the church and the state, and have responsibilities to each. In addition, Luther believed that Christians relate to the first kingdom, the church, by faith, and to the second kingdom, the state, by reason. Like Luther, I feel that if there are Christians serving in the government, they should use Christian principles in government only inasmuch as the principles can also be justified by reason. Even a prudent but evil ruler is to be preferred to an imprudent but virtuous ruler, since the latter may bring ruin to the state while the former at least may resist evil.

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