Shariah Law: Terrorising or Modernising?

The parameters for such a discussion are blurred due to the aforementioned current context, but it is hoped that objectivity will triumph above misconceived notions and political persuasions. A fusion of linguistic and technical terminology allows for recognition of modernity as anything newly accepted, and manifests itself through political, economic and scientific development.Modernity of course is a very fluid and relative term, and the peripheries of the notion may change from time to time.

Who defines modernity and its limits is the question still to be addressed by European scholarship. European modernity is in continuous evolution, not having any set consistency, standard or criteria. However, the Islamic definition of modernity is very different in both make-up and stature. Islamic Law seeks to ensure the protection of one’s life, honour, property, intellect, religion and the constructive development of humanity – whilst pursuing the ‘progressive’ attainment of modernity. This must be noted in light of contemporary markings of ‘modernity’; from the economic exploitation of poor nations to the corrosion of social values within contemporary and supposedly civil or place to place. Modernity may influence societies in a diverse range of ways, and under various socio-economic circumstances, the effects of modernity may transpire in a variety of forms. Today, however, it is fairly accurate to conclude that no one has a monopoly on modernity; one man’s modernity may be another’s barbarity.
We may note that Muslims governed parts of Spain with Shariah law for more than seven centuries (711-1492 CE). This law produced such peace and tranquillity among the population that they were able to achieve high levels of academic excellence and scientific advancement, and it was this very same advancement, which was subsequently translated into Latin for European learning by scholars such as Gerard of Cremona, Michael Scot, Robert of Ketton and Adelard of Bath. Europeans were, at that time, so unacquainted with these sciences that Robert of Ketton, when writing the preface for his translation of the Arabic text, ‘Composition of Alchemy’, stated that

‘Since what Alchymia is, and what its composition is, your Latin world does not yet know, I will explain in the present book’.

Works on all scientific fields were translated in the schools of Toledo and then subsequently passed on to European countries. Professor Thomas Arnold confirmed this by asserting that ‘Muslim Spain had written one of the brightest pages in the history of medieval Europe. Her influence had passed through Provence into the other countries of Europe, bringing into birth a new poetry and new culture, and it was from her that the Christian scholars received what of Greek Philosophy and science they had to stimulate their mental activity up to the time of the renaissance.’4 It would thus be of great benefit to British society if some of its politicians and journalists were to drop the attitude that is well spotted by Maria Rosa Menocal, a prominent scholar of medieval European literature, who stated that:
‘Westerners – Europeans – have great difficulty in considering the possibility that they are in some way seriously indebted to the Arab world…’.

How Shariah law enabled the Spanish Muslims, Jews and Christian to produce this result was also appreciated by some of the most prominent European thinkers. Adam Smith, the 18th Century founder of modern economics whose picture is printed on the current £20 note, was exceedingly inspired by the Islamic method of governing. He proclaimed that ‘…the empire of the Caliphs seems to have been the first state under which the world enjoyed that degree of tranquility which the cultivation of the sciences requires. It was under the protection of those generous and magnificent princes, that the ancient philosophy and astronomy of the Greeks were restored and established in the East; that tranquility, which their mild, just and religious government diffused over their vast empire, revived the curiosity of mankind, to inquire into the connecting principles of nature.’