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Vocabulary of Islam
Index of articles on Islam

Sharia (Arabic: شريعة; also Sharī'ah, Shari'a, Shariah or Syariah) is the Arabic word for Islamic law, also known as the Law of Allah. It shows one of many ways that humanity strives to harmonize and maintain internal and external belief systems in an holistic approach to life. Islam classically draws no distinction between religious, and secular life. Hence Sharia covers not only religious rituals, but also many aspects of day-to-day life, politics, economics, banking, business or contract law, and social issues. Secularist or liberal movements within Islam, however, approach Shariah differently from this orthodox view of Islamic law.


The term Shariah is derived from the verb 'shara'a', according to Hans Wehr Arabic to English Dictionary and connects to the idea of "spiritual law" (5:48) and "system of divine law; way of belief and practice" (45:18) in the Qur'an. The word Shariah, is defined as “the path leading to the water” (i.e. a way to the very source of life and means the way Muslims are to live). In the early years of Islamic development the word Shariah was not used, as other terms such as fiqh (jurisprudence), deen (faith), and ilm (knowledge) were more prevalent. The schools of jurisprudence, fiqh, developed as a system in the mid eighth century C.E. and Shariah became identified more narrowly with law, rather than with deen (faith).


The Arabic word fiqh means knowledge, understanding and comprehension. It refers to the legal rulings of the Muslim scholars, based on their knowledge of the Shariah; and as such is the third source of rulings. The science of fiqh started in the second century after Hijrah, when the Islamic state expanded and faced several issues that were not explicitly covered in the Qur'an and Sunnah of the Prophet (saas). Rulings based on the unanimity of Muslim scholars and direct analogies are binding. The four Sunni schools of thought, Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi'i and Hanbali, are identical in approximately 75 percent of their legal conclusions. Variances in the remaining questions are traceable to methodological differences in understanding or authentication of the primary textual evidence. Differing viewpoints sometimes exist even within a single school of thought.

Shariah has certain laws that are regarded as divinely ordained, concrete and timeless for all relevant situations (for example, the ban against drinking liquor as an intoxicant). It also has certain laws that are extracted based on principles established by Islamic lawyers and judges (Mujtahid). The Shariah as interpreted by Islamic lawmakers is believed by Muslims to be merely a human approximation of the true Shariah, which is understood as the divine and eternal correct path.

In deriving Shariah law, Islamic lawmakers are not, therefore, actually creating divinely correct or incorrect actions beyond question, but rather attempting to interpret divine principles. Hence Shariah in general is considered divine, but a lawyer's or judge's extraction or opinion on a given matter is not—though the process and intention to refer to Allah's law is divinely sanctioned. An Islamic lawyer or judge's attempts to rule according to Shariah can be described as “ruling by Shariah,” but not beyond question.

For Sunni Muslims, the primary sources of Islamic law are the Qur'an, the Hadith or directions of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), the unanimity of the companions of Prophet Muhammad on a certain issue (ijma), and Qiyas (drawing analogy from the essence of divine principles). Qiyas, various forms of reasoning (including by analogy), are used by the law scholars (Mujtahidun) to deal with situations where the sources provided no concrete rules. The consensus of the community or people, public interest, and others were also accepted as secondary sources where the first four primary sources allow.

In Imami-Shi'i law, the sources of law (usul al-fiqh) are the Qur'an, anecdotes of the Prophet's practices and those of the 12 Imams, and the intellect (aql). The practices called Shariah today, however, also have roots in local customs (Al-urf).

Islamic jurisprudence is called fiqh and is divided into two parts: the study of the sources and methodology (usul al-fiqh, roots of the law) and the practical rules (furu' al-fiqh, branches of the law).

History and Background

The authority of Shariah is drawn from two primary sources, as well as two secondary sources. The first major source is the specific guidance in the Qur'an, and the second source is the Sunnah, literally the “Way,” as in the way that Prophet Muhammad lived his life (the compilation of all that Muhammad said, did or approved of is called the Hadith).

A lesser source of authority is Qiyas, which is the extension by analogy of existing Shariah law to new situations. Finally, Shariah law can be based on ijma, or consensus. Justification for this final approach is drawn from the Hadith where Muhammad states, "My nation cannot agree on an error." The role of ulema, i.e. scholars, is critical, since they are the ones who study the Islamic law and therefore have authority to represent it. Shariah has largely been codified by the schools of Islamic Jurisprudence (fiqh).

The comprehensive nature of Shariah law is due to the belief that the law must provide all that is necessary for a person's spiritual and physical well-being. All possible actions of a Muslim are divided (in principle) into five categories: obligatory, meritorious, permissible, reprehensible, and forbidden. Fundamental to the obligations of every Muslim are the Five Pillars of Islam.

Sections of Shariah law

There are five rulings of Shariah for all daily actions of Muslims: prescribed, recommended, permissible, disliked and unlawful. The distinctions between the five categories lie in whether their performance and nonperformance is rewarded, not rewarded, punished or not punished. The prescribed (fard) is also referred to as obligatory (wajib), mandatory (muhattam) and required (lazim). It is divided into two categories: Personally obligatory (fard al-'ayn), which is required from every individual Muslim (e.g. salah and zakah); and communally obligatory (fard al- kifaya), which if performed by some Muslims is not required from others (e.g., funeral prayers). The recommended (mandub) is also referred to as Sunnah, preferable (mustahabb), meritorious (fadila), and desirable (marghub fih). Examples are night vigil (tahajjud) prayers, and remembrance of Allah (zikr). The performance and nonperformance of the permissible/ allowed (mubah) is neither rewarded nor punished. Nonperformance of both the disliked (makruh) and the unlawful/prohibited (haram) is rewarded. Performance of the unlawful is punished, but that of the disliked is not punished.

Sharia law is divided into two main sections:

  1. The acts of worship, or al-ibadat, these include:
    1. Ritual Purification
    2. Prayers
    3. Fasts
    4. Charities
    5. Pilgrimage to Mecca
  2. Human interaction, or al-mu'amalat, which includes:
    1. Financial transactions
    2. Endowments
    3. Laws of inheritance
    4. Marriage, divorce, and child care
    5. Foods and drinks (including ritual slaughtering and hunting)
    6. Penal punishments
    7. Warfare and peace
    8. Judicial matters (including witnesses and forms of evidence)

Contemporary Practice of Shariah Law

There is tremendous variance in the interpretation and implementation of Islamic law in Muslim societies today. Some believe that colonialism, which often replaced religious laws with secular ones, has caused this variance. More recently, liberal movements within Islam have questioned the relevance and applicability of Shariah from a variety of perspectives. As a result, several of the countries with the largest Muslim populations, including Indonesia, Bangladesh and India, have largely secular constitutions and laws, with only a few Islamic provisions in family law. Turkey has a constitution that is strongly secular.

Likewise, most countries of the Middle East and North Africa maintain a dual system of secular courts and religious courts, in which the religious courts mainly regulate marriage and inheritance. Saudi Arabia and Iran maintain religious courts for all aspects of jurisprudence. Shariah is also used in Sudan, Libya and for a time in modern Afghanistan. Some states in northern Nigeria have reintroduced Shariah courts. In practice the new Shariah courts in Nigeria have most often meant the re-introduction of relatively harsh punishments without respecting the much tougher rules of evidence and testimony. The punishments include amputation of one/both hand(s) for theft and stoning for adultery. But overall the implementation of the Shariah law is meant to create a just society where the law and people live in harmony. Many Western views consider the punishments described above as harsh, but Islamic scholars argue that if implemented properly, these punishments will serve as a deterrent to crime. Alternatively it has been argued that Muhammad would not run courts in such a manner nor introduce overly harsh punishments into societies rich enough to afford prisons and rehabilitation and cohesive enough to prevent accused criminals from being killed by outraged victims and communities.

An unusual secular-state example was the proposal for a Shariah arbitration court to be established in Ontario, Canada. That province's 1991 arbitration court law allows disputes to be settled in alternative courts to avoid congestion and delay in the court system. The court would handle disputes between Muslim complainants. Its critics feared that the misogyny inherent in Shariah could possibly influence the Canadian justice system, but its proponents said those who do not wish to go by the court's rulings are not forced to attend it. Moreover, these Shariah courts in Canada are only orthodox in a limited way as they respect the priority of Canadian civil law. Anybody not satisfied with a ruling from the Shariah court can appeal to a civil court. As such, this Shariah court would be only a very pale version of Shariah.

Dietary laws

When eating meat, Shariah dictates that Muslims may only eat from meat that has been slaughtered in the name of God and meets stringent dietary requirements. Such meat is called halāl or "lawful" (acceptable). Islamic law prohibits a Muslim from eating pork, and meat that has been slaughtered in other than the name of God. Most juridicial opinions also hold monkey, dog, cat, carnivores and several other types of animal as being prohibited, or harām. For the meat of an animal to be halāl it must be one of the declared halāl species, it must generally be slaughtered by a Muslim, and it may not be killed by excessively cruel or painful means. The traditional means of slaughter is by quickly cutting the jugular veins at the neck, resulting in quick blood loss; a state of shock and unconsciousness is induced, and death soon follows through cardiac arrest.

Although the Qur'an does not specifically address whether the animal should be slaughtered by a Muslim or not, the clear injunction that the name of Allah must be mentioned at the time of slaughtering seems to indicate that it would be performed by a Muslim. Some Muslims regard kosher meat as acceptable citing (Al-Ma'ida 5: "The food of those who have received the Scripture is lawful for you.") However, other Muslims regard this as no longer applicable in modern times [1], insisting that Muslims should not eat kosher meat because of concerns about the techniques and words used in kosher slaughter, and because of the possibility of money spent on it ultimately going to finance Israel. Jurists disagree on the exact circumstances required for meat slaughtered by Christians to be halāl.

The role of women under Shariah

Islam does not prohibit women from working, but emphasizes the importance of housekeeping and caring for the families of both parents. In theory, Islamic law allows spouses to divorce at will by saying, "I divorce you" three times in public. In practice, divorce is more involved than this and there may be separate state proceedings to follow as well. Usually, the divorced wife keeps her dowry from when she was married, if there was one, and is given child support until the age of weaning, at which point the child may be returned to its father if it is deemed to be best.

In the past, women were generally not allowed to be clergy or religious scholars. The emergence of knowledgeable Muslim women scholars and the acceptance of their opinions have begun to change this antiquated practice.

Some debatable interpretations of Islamic law have been used to support the position that women may not have prominent jobs, and thus are forbidden from working in the government. This has been a view in many Muslim nations in the last century, despite the example of Muhammad's wife Aisha, who both took part in politics and was a major authority on Hadith.

Several non-Shari Muslim countries have had female heads of government or state: Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan, Megawati Sukarnoputri in Indonesia, Tansu Ciller in Turkey and Khaleda Zia in Bangladesh. Muslim women also hold important positions in governments or in corporations.

Muslims are told they may not marry pagans (mushrikeen "مشركئن") of either sex (Q2:221, Q60:10). The Arabic word "مشركئن" in this verse is sometimes translated incorrectly to be 'unbelieving women.' The literal translation of the word mushrikeen is pagan and was specifically revealed to distinguish between the new community of Muslims under the leadership of Muhammad and the Meccans who had not yet accepted Islam or Muhammad. A Muslim man may marry a Christian or Jewish woman, referred to as the People of the Book (Q5:5); traditionally, however, Muslim woman are strongly discouraged from marrying a non-Muslim man because the woman must obey her husband and a non-Muslim husband could conceivably demand that his wife abandon Islam. If the man chooses to convert to Islam then marriage would be viewed more favorably.

Dress code

The Qur'an also places a dress code upon its followers. For women and men, it emphasizes modesty. In the Qur'an the man is addressed first in 24:30: "Say to the believing men that they lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for greater purity for them..." Then the women are addressed in the very next verse of that same chapter: "And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and guard their private parts and not to display their adornment [interpreted as the hair and body-shape] except that which ordinarily appears thereof [interpreted as the face and hands] and to draw their head covers over their chests and not to display their adornment except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands fathers, their sons."

All those in whose presence a woman is not obliged to practice the dress code are known to be mahrams. When performing prayer, there is a more relaxed dress code for men who might be working and dressed more for their jobs than prayer in a mosque. Under those circumstances, at prayer time the man is only required to be covered from his naval to his knees.

Turkey, a predominantly Muslim country, has laws against these dress codes in schools and work places. After the declaration of the Republic in 1923, as part of revolutions brought by Ataturk, a modern dress code was encouraged. It is against the law to wear a headscarf while attending public school in Turkey, as well as France, where the rule has caused significant public controversy.

Some view Islamic women as being oppressed by the men in their communities because of the required dress codes. However, in more moderate nations, where these dress codes are not obligatory, there are still many Muslim women who practice it, where most of them choose to follow it because they believe it is the will of Allah. One of the garments some women wear is the hijab, derived from the Arabic word hajaba which means to hide from sight or view or to conceal. Hijab also means to cover the head as well as the body.

Domestic justice

There is considerable controversy on whether or not authorization for a husband to physically beat his disobedient wife is given in the Qur'an. One view is based on the belief that the revelation of the Qur'an is situational, meaning that the verses were revealed during, just before or just after specific situations to which the revelation refers. Based upon this first position, some believe that the beating of women was reduced through this revelation from the horrific beatings that Arab women had suffered prior to the advent of Islam, to a more humane approach. It is important to fully read Sura 4:34 entitled "Nisa" or "The Women." One should not take part of the verse and use it to justify one's own misconduct. This verse neither permits violence nor condones it. It guides one to ways to handle [a] delicate family situation with care and wisdom. The word 'beating' is used in the verse, but it does not mean 'physical abuse.' The Prophet explained it as dharban ghayra mubarrih, which means “a light tap that leaves no mark.” He further said that [the] face must be avoided. Some scholars are of the view that it is no more than a light touch by siwak (smaller then ones baby finger) or a toothbrush.

Another view is that of the logical or progressive direction of the verse. The Arabic word daraba not only means to hit, strike or beat, daraba also means to put distance or greater distance between. So first the man takes the position of admonisher, away from the wife who is being admonished. Next, the man moves away from the wife by leaving her bed. This is a progressive movement away from the unity of the couple. It is a step-by-step movement further and further away, so the logic is that daraba in this case means a greater distance and not necessarily to hit, strike or beat the wife.

Another view follows this process, first verbal admonishment, and secondly a period of refraining from intimate relations. Finally, if the husband deems the situation appropriate, he may hit her:

Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in [the husband's] absence what Allah would have them guard. As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them [first], [Next], refuse to share their beds, [And last] beat them [lightly]; but if they return to obedience, seek not against them Means [of annoyance]: For Allah is Most High, great (above you all). (Qur'an 4]]: 34 English translation: Yusuf Ali)

The Arabic verse uses idribu¯hunna (from the root daraba ضرب), whose commonest meaning in Arabic has been rendered as "beat," "hit," "scourge," or "strike." Besides this verse, other meanings for daraba used in the Qur'an (though not with a human direct object) include 'to travel,' 'to make a simile,' 'to cover,' 'to separate,' and 'to go abroad,' among others. For this reason—particularly in recent years (e.g. Ahmed Ali, Edip Yuksel)—some consider "hit" to be a misinterpretation, and believe it should be translated as "admonish them, and leave them alone in the sleeping-places and separate from them." Certain modern translations of the Qur'an in the English language accept the commoner translation of "beat" but tone down the wording with bracketed additions. Whatever idribu¯hunna is meant to convey in the Qur'an—and multiple, complementary meanings are quite common in Islam's holy book—the verb is directed not at a single husband but to the community as a whole.

Several Hadith urge strongly against beating one's wife, such as: "How does anyone of you beat his wife as he beats the stallion camel and then embrace (sleep with) her?” (Al-Bukhari, English Translation, vol. 8, Hadith 68, 42-43).

"I went to the Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) and asked him: What do you say (command) about our wives? He replied: Give them food what you have for yourself, and clothe them by which you clothe yourself, and do not beat them, and do not revile them.” (Sunan Abu-Dawud, Book 11, Marriage (Kitab Al-Nikah) 2139).

However, some suggest that these Hadith were later abrogated, noting that in the Farewell Pilgrimage, he said: “Fear Allah concerning women! Verily you have taken them on the security of Allah, and intercourse with them has been made lawful unto you by words of Allah. You too have right over them, and that they should not allow anyone to sit on your bed whom you do not like. But if they do that, you can chastise them but not severely. Their rights upon you are that you should provide them with food and clothing in a fitting manner. (Narrated in Sahih Muslim, on the authority of Jabir.)” [2]

Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, head of the European Council for Fatwa and Research, says that:

"If the husband senses that feelings of disobedience and rebelliousness are rising against him in his wife, he should try his best to rectify her attitude by kind words, gentle persuasion and reasoning with her. If this is not helpful, he should sleep apart from her, trying to awaken her agreeable feminine nature so that serenity may be restored, and she may respond to him in a harmonious fashion. If this approach fails, it is permissible for him to beat her lightly with his hands, avoiding her face and other sensitive parts. In no case should he resort to using a stick or any other instrument that might cause pain and injury. Rather, this 'beating' should be of the kind the Prophet (peace be on him) once mentioned to a disobedient maid-servant, when he said 'If it were not for the fear of retaliation on the Day of Resurrection, I would have beaten you with this miswak (tooth-cleaning twig)' [as reported by Ibn Majah, by Ibn Hibban in his Sahih, and by Ibn Sa`d in his Tabaqat].[3]

"Honor killings" are, in the Western world, often erroneously identified as part of Islamic teaching, though they are in fact a cultural practice which is neither exclusive to, nor universal within, the Islamic world. Such killings take place within the Muslim communities around the Mediterranean as well as in the Punjab, India, [4] non-Muslim parts of West Africa, and in Central America; while in Indonesia, the world's largest Islamic country, the status of the practice is unknown.

There is more cultural influence in honor killings then religious basis. Some have viewed honor killings as a logical extension of traditional Islamic gender practices, the natural consequence of a system that enforces sex-segregation through veiling and female seclusion and harshly punishes violations of these boundaries. Others have argued that honor killings are the antithesis of Islamic morality. This latter view is essentially correct from the perspective of Qur’an, prophetic traditions (Hadith), and Islamic legal thought. However, certain elements of traditional sexual ethics do contribute to the climate of intense scrutiny of female conduct that finds one extreme expression in honor crimes.

Though the Qur’an commands both men (24:30) and women (24:31) to “cast down their gazes” and to “protect their chastity,” it specifically regulates only women’s dress (24:31; 33:59). Yet it is a long stretch from these commands, which have the declared intention of protecting women from harassment (33:59), to the legal rules that allow men, especially husbands, to impose seclusion on women, forbid them from leaving the home, and limit their access even to other relatives. These rules for seclusion were never strictly observed by more than an elite minority, and are not generally enforced today. But the basic perspective they embody – that the separation of men and women is to be enforced by keeping women apart from men, and that women who violate these boundaries are suspect – remains influential.


Male circumcision involves the removal of the foreskin and is customary in most Muslim communities. It is performed at different ages in different cultures.

Female circumcision is not part of mainstream Islam on an international scale, but is performed by Muslims and non-Muslims alike across East Africa and the Nile Valley, as well as parts of the Arabian peninsula and Southeast Asia. In both areas, the custom predates Islam. Many African Muslims believe that female circumcision is required by Islam, but a large number of Muslims believe this practice has no basis in Islam. Nevertheless it is justified on religious grounds both by Muslims and Christians who practice it, mostly in parts of Africa.

The Egyptian-born president of the European Council on Fatwa and Research, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, emphasizes that this is not a religious obligation, but expresses his personal preference for removal of the prepuce of the clitoris, called clitoridotomy (Fatwa on

The use of the term 'circumcision' is highly confusing, as the practice ranges from a mild superficial act that does not reduce any physiological function (the 'real' circumcision) to various forms of partial or even complete removal of female genital organs. In certain countries, this is accompanied by reducing the genital opening. These forms are, because of their brutal nature, also referred to as female genital mutilation (FGM). This term is most often used in official publications of the United Nations and World Health Organization.

Muslim apostates

In some interpretations of an Islamic state, conversion by Muslims to other religions is forbidden and is termed apostasy. In Muslim theology, apostasy resembles the crime of treason, the betrayal of one's own country. Penalties may include ostracism or even execution if they live or have lived in an "Islamic State" and are deemed enemies of the state. By analogy, in the age of nation states, a person who commits treason (turning state's secrets to a foreign power, or spies for a foreign power, etc) is subject to severe penalty—historically, death. By contrast, a person who lives in a Western country such as the United States (or even many Muslim countries) will suffer no significant penalty for converting to another religion.

In addressing the issue of apostasy it is important to keep in mind the time, circumstances, and the conditions that existed at the time of a particular ruling or judgment. First there does not exist anywhere in the world today a truly Islamic State. If no truly Islamic State or government exists, there is no application of Shariah law. However, this does not justify individuals taking it upon themselves to kill people if they apostatize from Islam. If this were to happen, such reckless action would only lead to a vicious circle of murder and homicide, in which case a great deal of innocent people would be injured.

In Qur'an Sura 2:256 is the statement: "There is no compulsion in religion, for the right way is clearly from the wrong way. Whoever therefore rejects the forces of evil and believes in God, he has taken hold of a support most unfailing, which shall never give way, for God is All Hearing and Knowing."

This is an alternate belief heard within Islam: That religious freedom and the absence of compulsion in religion requires that individuals be allowed adopt a religion or to convert to another religion without legal penalty. One group promoting this belief is Sisters in Islam (SIS), "a group of Muslim professional women committed to promoting the rights of women within the framework of Islam." They claim that the death penalty is not an appropriate response to apostasy.

Muslims who support the death penalty for apostasy use as their foundation a Hadith (a saying attributed to Muhammad) in which he said: "Kill whoever changes his religion." But this is a weak and highly questionable Hadith because it was only transmitted from Muhammad by one individual and it was not confirmed by a second person. According to Islamic law, this is insufficient confirmation to impose the death penalty. The Hadith is so generally worded that it would require the death penalty for a Christian or Jew who converted to Islam. This is obviously not the prophet's intent. The Hadith is in need of further specification, which has not been documented. Many scholars interpret this passage as referring only to instances of high treason. (e.g. declaring war on Islam, Muhammad, God, etc.) There is no historical record that indicates that Muhammad or any of his companions ever sentenced anyone to death for apostasy. A number of Islamic scholars from past centuries, Ibrahim al-Naka'I, Sufyan al-Thawri, Shams al-Din al-Sarakhsi, Abul Walid al-Baji and Ibn Taymiyyah, have all held that apostasy is a serious sin, but not one that requires the death penalty. In modern times, Mahmud Shaltut, Sheikh of al-Azhar, and Dr. Mohammed Sayed Tantawi have concurred.

Some people claim that Muslims who convert to Christianity can be at risk. See any of the works of Ibn Warraq, who claims to be an outspoken former Muslim. (However, it is important to note that none of Ibn Warraq's personal claims can be checked or confirmed, since he uses a pseudonym.) A well-known example of a Muslim "apostate" undergoing persecution is that of Salman Rushdie, whose novel The Satanic Verses prompted Khomeini to issue a ''Fatwa'' (religious opinion) for his execution. Even though some suspect that Khomeini issued this fatwa more because of the lampooning of Khomeini himself; it could be argued that Khomeini's motivation for issuing the fatwa is irrelevant, as Rushdie's apostasy was the formal ground for the imposition of the death sentence.

Freedom of Speech

The modern concept of freedom of speech on political and religious issues can trace its genesis through fourteenth-century Arabia and the European Enlightenment of the 1700s.

When it comes to freedom of expression and criticism, Islam not only adopts it among its principles, but calls for more than just ‘freedom,’ making it an obligation to say, express, and criticize whatever relates to the interest of the community, general morals and public ethics, regardless of the consequences that might befall one as a result.

Enjoin (people) for Al-Ma’ruf—(Islamic Monotheism and all that is good), and forbid (people) from Al-Munkar (i.e. disbelief in the Oneness of Allah, polytheism of all kinds and all that is evil and bad), and bear with patience whatever befalls you. Verily! These are some of the important commandments ordered by Allah with no exemption. (Surat Luqman 17)

In practice, denial of freedom of speech by Muslims it is not restricted to extremists. In Egypt, public authorities went so far as to try to annul, without his consent, the marriage of Prof. Nasr Abu Zayd when he got in conflict with an orthodox Islamic cleric from the Al-Azhar University in Cairo. The cleric had condemned Abu Zayd's reading of the Qur'an and labeled him an apostate (seen as a non-believer and consequently not permitted to marry or stay married to a Muslim woman). Abu Zayd fled to the Netherlands, where he is now a professor at the University of Leiden.

The rationale behind the very first Quranic verse that allowed fighting and Jihad in Islam was in defense of protecting freedom of belief and speech. It says: “Permission to fight is given to those (i.e. believers against disbelievers), who are fighting them, (and) because they (believers) have been wronged…” (Surat Al-Hajj 39). The verse that follows says: “…For had it not been that Allah checks one set of people by means of another, monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, wherein the Name of Allah is mentioned much would surely have been pulled down…” (Surat Al-Hajj 40)

Renowned Islamic scholar Dr. Fathi Osman said, "The main goal of God's message to humankind is the attainment of justice in all of its fairness. This justice, the foundation of Islam, cannot be achieved unless human rights are secured for every individual and group in a Muslim state. The member of such a state must be free to choose just rulers, to observe these rules as they practice their authority, and to stand firm against any injustice from them. Primary among human rights are the rights to believe, to express one's beliefs and to assemble to defend one's group's beliefs.

Freedom of thought and belief is repeatedly emphasized in the Quran: "There shall be no coercion in matters of faith" (2:256) "And had your Lord so willed, all those who live on earth would have attained to faith—all of them, do you then think that you could compel people to believe?" (10:99) "Said (Noah): O my people - what do you think? If [it be true that] I am taking my stand on a clear evidence from my Lord…to which you have remained blind, can we force it on you even though it is hateful to you?" (11:28) "And so (O Prophet) exhort them; your task is only to exhort; you cannot compel" (88:21-22).

A guarantee of freedom of information is required in principle by Islam and should be formulated in detail and sanctioned. Facts must be displayed by anyone who holds them, and Islamic authorities have greater responsibility than ordinary individuals in this respect, "to bear witness to the truth for the sake of God, even though it be against their own selves."

Islam cannot ignore the reality that in some cases freedom of expression and information may be restricted temporarily or partially to maintain other human rights or public interests. Privacy and justifiable security requirements, especially in time of war, have to be considered. According to Islamic legal principles, a line should be drawn, in practicing the right of expressing one's views, between criticizing an ordinary man and criticizing one who occupies a public office, especially a high office. Freedom of expression has a broader range, in the latter case than in the former, especially with regard to public activities and to behavior in personal life that may affect the practice of public authority. The ethical values and legal principles of Islam which secure privacy and forbid spying or any violation of personal rights should be observed.

A groundless allegation cannot be tolerated:

“…if any iniquitous person comes to you with a tale, use your discernment lest you hurt people unwittingly, and afterward be filled with remorse for what you have done." (100:6)

In Shariah, calumniation, libel and slander or any other offense of that kind are forbidden and punishable. However, the right of self-defense may justify some permissiveness in this respect:

"God does not like any evil to be mentioned openly, unless it be by him/her who has been wronged…" (4:149) "yet indeed as for any who defend themselves after having been wronged—no blame whatever attaches to them; blame attaches but to those who oppress (other) people and behave outrageously on earth, offending against all right…but withal, if one is patient in adversity and forgives—this is indeed something to set one's heart upon" (42:41-43).


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