The burden of history
The draconian injunctions of the Jews of yore have distorted Islamic laws today. Murad Ali Baig writes.india Updated: Oct 21, 2012 21:49 IST
On October 9, Malala Yusufzai, 14, was shot by the Taliban for promoting education among girls. On September 9, the US ambassador to Libya was killed by extremists protesting against a film that allegedly insulted the Prophet.
Such acts of crime are not allowed in the Koran or Hadis, the most-sacred sources of Islamic law. Both say little on blasphemy, heresy or sacrilege, issues that seem to upset Muslims today. Naturally, very few dare to question the scriptural authority when Muslim clerics themselves pronounce the death sentences. But such actions are against the wishes of the Prophet who said: "… anyone who sets another… even an ant… on fire commits the greatest sin and is destined to the fires of Hell".
The Koran does not contain a legal code and most of the legal injunctions were to regularise pre-Islamic tribal customs. After the death of Muhammad in 632 CE, the Islamic polity changed fundamentally: the civil and religious order expanded beyond Arabia to create a huge Arab-Islamic imperial caliphate.
As Islam became an urban movement, it became difficult for the caliphs to administer their complex, multi-cultural realms without mosques, centres of learning, bureaucracies and other institutions essential for governance. Islamic law had to evolve continuously with changing social and economic pressures during the period of the Ummayids, Abbasids, the Caliphs of Cordoba, the Seljuks and Turks and finally during the years of decline after the rise of the European nations.
The main source of Islamic authority was the Koran and Hadis but many new laws were derived from the Jewish Torah, which was later included in the 104 holy books of Islam. One of its five books is the Book of Leviticus that covers Jewish law.
This book, belonging to an era when small bands of Jews were oppressed, lists all 'The Lord's' laws that are harsh and has many prohibitions concerning circumcision, food, suppression of women and lists draconian punishments like death by stoning, burning, strangulation and beheading for a long list of offences, including adultery, worshipping other gods, blasphemy, witchcraft, homosexuality, bestiality, etc.
By contrast to Yahweh, the angry god of the Jews, the Allah of Muhammad was a merciful god. Some scholars believe that many Jews who had converted to the triumphant Islam were probably responsible for fusing Jewish laws into the evolving Islamic tradition after the 10th century.
This may explain why the laws of the Prophet and the laws of the later Islamic clerics are different. Muhammad had, for instance, prescribed 100 lashes for a woman who committed adultery, which was much milder than stoning her to death as was the later practice.
Similarly, the Jewish laws of that time regarding blasphemy, heresy and apostasy, not found in the Koran, are now pronounced even by small town clerics. The bigoted mullahs do not also seem to understand that these ancient laws can be misused by the enemies of Islam to cause death and disturbance.
It is now necessary to educate the Muslims, who memorise the Koran in Arabic (a language they do not understand) making them vulnerable to bigots who give their own distorted interpretations. For peace, leading Islamic scholars must use the media to explain the words of the Prophet and not the draconian injunctions of a repressive outdated law.
Murad Ali Baig is the author of 80 Questions To Understand India: History, Mythology And Religion
The views expressed by the author are personal