November 18, 2009
Ask many Muslims to describe how to fix the problems of society and they will say, "More sharia law." Ask many Christians living in those same societies, and they will answer, "Less sharia." From Iran to Gaza, from Indonesia to Pakistan, Islamists are working night and day to direct their nations according to what they see as the pure dictates of Islam and away from the corruptions of modern life.
For Christians living in Muslim-majority regions, sharia is always the wrong answer.
Sharia is Muslim law handed down after the death of Muhammad in the seventh century and solidified in its current form around the year 1000. "The root meaning of sharia is ‘way, path, road and highway,'" said Rev. Ane Mulder, former staff member with the Islam Open Doors International Study Center. "Its primary use was to designate the camel's path to the well, the path to life. It is from here that the specifically religious use emerged as the rule of law, the system of laws or even the totality of the prophet's message. This message guided the community of believers on the divine path towards the good life."
However, sharia, wherever it has been implemented, has displayed a dark side, both to Muslims and to religious minorities. Sharia allows for thieves to face the amputation of their hands, perceived adulterers to be stoned, apostates to be executed and the testimony of women to count far less than the testimony of men in court. In its extreme forms, such as in Saudi Arabia, women are covered from head to foot and are often forced to stay indoors, out of sight.
For Christians and other non-Muslim groups, sharia (or just a pro-sharia mindset) enshrines their permanent second-class status. In Pakistan, which began introducing various forms of sharia about 30 years ago, a law prohibiting blasphemy against Muhammad and Islam has been used by unscrupulous Muslims to harass, intimidate, attack, jail and even kill their Christian neighbors. According to the 2009 Open Doors World Watch List, seven of the 10 countries which are the worst persecutors of Christians are Muslim. They include Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan, Somalia, Maldives, Yemen and Uzbekistan.
Sharia's mindset is increasingly finding its way into the West. Five years ago in the Netherlands, a Muslim extremist shot and stabbed outspoken Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh on the street in Amsterdam for making films critical of Islam.
This fall, the United Nations General Assembly will vote on the Defamation of Religions Resolution, a measure backed by repressive Muslim governments as a tool to suppress religious minorities. "The protection of speech about religion is particularly important since persons of different faiths will inevitably hold divergent views on religious questions," said Hillary Clinton, the U.S. Secretary of State, about the resolution. "These differences should be met with tolerance, not with the suppression of discourse."
In Great Britain, the country's growing Muslim community now has government-sanctioned sharia courts. "The government has quietly sanctioned the powers for sharia judges to rule on cases ranging from divorce and financial disputes to those involving domestic violence," reports The Sunday Times. "Rulings issued by a network of five sharia courts are enforceable with the full power of the judicial system, through the county courts or High Court. Previously, the rulings of sharia courts in Britain could not be enforced, and depended on voluntary compliance among Muslims."
Meanwhile, the Islamist extremist group Islam4UK is holding rallies demanding that sharia be implemented across Great Britain.
Sharia has some prominent proponents in the West. Dalia Mogahed, executive director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, asserts that sharia is a positive force for female empowerment worldwide. "Muslim women don't regard sharia as impeding their rights," Mogahed told Christianity Today. "They may in fact see it as a road to progress." Mogahed, co-author of the book Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think, says sharia provides a check on male exploitation of women.
Yet some Muslims are beginning to express a contrary view.
When I spoke out against the Defamation of Religions Resolution in New York City last month, I met some unexpected allies. Baha'is, moderate Muslims and Jews stood with Christians to oppose restrictions on the freedoms of speech and religion — which, after all, are enshrined in the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
In Pakistan, which is experiencing turmoil as the government tries to crack down on the Taliban, increasing numbers of citizens are publicly opposing the blasphemy laws. "The law is wrong and must be done away with," said Hilda Saeed of the Women's Action Forum. "Pakistan has one of the poorest records when it comes to protecting minorities."
It appears that two trends concerning sharia are on a collision course: one that seeks more religious liberty and another that seeks less. The good news is that we need not frame the debate in terms of Islam against the West, because in some respects the discussion is occurring among Muslims themselves.
But there can be no question about which side Christians are on. The Bible is the basis for our belief and should direct our paths in all areas of our lives.
The spread of sharia is disconcerting and a threat to all believers. So please join with me in praying for the tens of thousands who worship our Lord living under the oppression of sharia law, especially Muslim Background Believers. Pray that Christians will stand strong in their faith despite intense persecution.
Dr. Carl Moeller, president and CEO of Open Doors USA, is a former singles pastor at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif. He works as an advocate for religious freedom around the globe.