… The “law of equity” is the Quran’s primary principle, revealed here: the law must be applied equally to all — man or woman, free or not. This passage also reveals another important principle: punishment must be proportionate to the crime. Yet another principle revealed is that compassion and forgiveness are always preferable to harsh physical punishment.
Human life is sacrosanct, as eloquently revealed in Al-Maidah: “If anyone kills a person unless in retribution for murder or spreading corruption in the land — it is as if he kills all humanity.” (5:32) Capital punishment is a last resort in exceptional cases.
Sardar criticises the blind application of sharia as accumulated over the centuries after the death of the Prophet, as it has led in some cases to the very opposite of Quranic principles: capital punishment for apostasy, but recall: “There is no compulsion in religion.” (2:256) Recently, some countries reinstituted stoning for adultery (nowhere mentioned in the Quran), and made hudud (extreme) punishments the norm, whereas the Quran would avoid almost all capital punishment. Life is precious.
Sharia should be a problem-solving methodology requiring reinterpreting the Quran and life of Muhammad with fresh eyes, distinguishing between legal enactments subject to change and universal moral injunctions. Sardar points out that colonial regimes actually encouraged the petrification of sharia and then limited it to personal and family matters.
The murder passage also shows how Islam inevitably deals with economics, which, whether we like it or not, are infused with moral issues. The murder of a family’s breadwinner is not only a family tragedy, but a severe economic blow. Compensation in this situation could well be preferable to lopping off the offender’s head.
Following the discourse on murder, the next passage in Al-Baqara abruptly switches to deal with inheritance and charity. Sardar argues this abrupt change of topic is not, in fact, so abrupt, that the two topics are very much related, linked via economics. Just punishment leads to a discourse on just distribution — of inheritance (for the family) and charity (for society as a whole). He points out two more principles implicit here: women have a right to inheritance and by corollary property (a radical proposition in seventh century Arabia), and individual rights must be considered in a social context, adjusted to guard against need.
This social principle accounts for the different shares in inheritance which so obsess Western critics, with the men (sole breadwinners at the time) getting more than the women. But those critics may just have a point, infers Sardar. By implication, in a society where both men and women work, sharing financial burdens equally, a son and daughter should get equal shares in any inheritance.
And where there is poverty, everyone who is not living in penury has a social obligation, including in their wills, to provide for the poor. “Balance and equity apply across the whole range of human life. The insights and lessons of spiritual discipline apply to and operate in all the mundane aspects of our human nature and daily life” … //
… Islam inevitably deals with politics, too. That Islam is a religion of peace has been amply demonstrated by the MB’s patient endurance of injustice over the years, which has finally borne fruit. Their participation through the FJP in the legislative and presidential elections, gaining their mandate from the people in democratic elections, is also in accord with the revelations of the Quran about governance. “God grants rule to whomsoever He wills” (2:247), but “Put your trust in those who are worthy of such trust.” (4:58) Rulers must govern via shura (consultation), which means the people must not just passively follow their leaders, but active understanding and holding leaders to account.
At the same time, “The head of state is not a deputy of God; he cannot be, as he does not have the attributes of God. Rather, he is a representative of the people who have chosen him; and like everyone else he is responsible to God for his actions, including the exercise of authority,” argues Sardar. And “while some aspects of a country’s law may be based on, or draw from Divine injunctions, not all law is Divine… The Prophet did not declare that the Quran was his constitution, but framed the Constitution of Medina through a process of consultation, involving negotiations, contested arguments and the inclusion of both Muslims and non-Muslims.”
So Morsi’s rally-to-the-Quran cry, like the “sword verse”, must be taken in context, in this case, the breathtaking elections, which required MB supporters to stare down the nay-sayers and their powerful backers. No one disputes that Egypt’s new constitution will be agreed “through a process of consultation and the inclusion of both Muslims and non-Muslims”.
And don’t expect another prophet. In other words, it’s up to us from now on to take responsibility for resolving our moral and ethical dilemmas, both as individuals and as a society. No need to return to a seventh century lifestyle, but we can use the Quran not so much as a constitution, but as the inspiration for a present day constitution imbued with Quranic moral principles. As the Justice and Development Party showed in Turkey, it is possible to work within the rules that the imperialists have set up and still make a go of it.
These two British writers, Ramadan and Sardar, might both be thinking: True, the British didn’t really encourage too much education of the masses in either Egypt or India, and they nurtured sectarianism and other evils, but it’s time to move on. Let’s thank them for waking us Muslims up to the challenges of the modern world, and at least leaving us with an electoral system and a functioning economy.
And don’t just sit back and wait for heaven on earth. “God does not change the condition of a people unless they first change their conditions themselves.” (13:11) Each generation must draw lessons from history and move forward by adjusting to change.
Morality doesn’t end with the Quran; rather, it begins with the Quran. We must not just think in terms of adapting ourselves to an inherently unjust world order, but to transform it. We must read the Quran, insists Sardar, as a “way to think and learn about how to make peace, justice and equity triumphant”. (full text).