Second Phase: Law and Ethics
The mediatisation of the application of Sharia in some Muslim countries and the campaigns against Muslim customs (such as veiling, diet, burial law), and Sharia in some European and American regions, has brought the subject of law and ethics in Muslim societies to the forefront of political debates. Death sentences by stoning against women in 21st century Iran and anti-burqa campaigns in Western Europe along with the outlawing of Sharia laws in the USA, have covered the tabloids, prompting more discourses on Islamic laws and values.
The topic of law and ethics in the Muslim world goes beyond Iranian and American twenty-first century legislation or European media sensationalism: it encompasses three continents over more than a millennium. No field perhaps other than law can better convey the diversity of this vast region. Law in each Muslim country has been influenced by ancient pre-Islamic traditions, religious creed and colonial and contemporary European legal codes. Within the nineteenth-century Ottoman, Persian and Mughal empires, there existed multiple legal systems for ruling the extensive territories and various communities. Since the dismantlement of these empires and the appearance of dozens of independent Muslim states, we can hardly speak of legal uniformity within the Muslim world. Thus, the idea of a single Islamic law is quite reductive.
Tracing the historical processes and roots of the current legal codes in Muslim majority states might lead to different conclusions and perception of Sharia and laws implemented in various Asian and African countries. In many Muslim countries different codes of law have been accommodated, including European laws. By studying the application of law in the various Muslim countries, one can see that sharia is neither applied consistently nor is it applied in every region. Colonial rule has had a strong impact on the Muslim world and European laws have been one of its legacies. Many of the books presented in this catalogue demonstrate that European laws are still enforced in present Muslim majority countries . Some countries such as Turkey have deliberately overridden the Islamic laws implemented in the country until the 1920s by opting for a secular system and adopting European legal codes such as the Swiss Civil Code, the Italian Penal Code and the German Commercial Code. Indonesia maintained the law implemented by the Dutch before independence and did not adopt an official religion thereafter. Islamic law was not discarded but was integrated within a secular legal system where laws could be modified according to socio-political circumstances. The Indonesian government allowed such changes between 1999 and 2002 after Suharto’s three-decade-long presidency ended. Other Muslim-majority countries where European laws have pre-eminence over Islamic or local laws are the ex-Soviet Central Asian states and Azerbaijan. In Tajikistan for example, where Islamic voices are strong, European legislations still prevail and the state is committed to secularism. Few Muslim countries, such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Mauritania apply Sharia law in the strict sense; however even then the interpretation of Sharia is different between all these four countries.
Interest in Sharia has not just been triggered by anti-Islamic rhetoric, but also by new economic imperatives such as Islamic finance. The global Islamic financial assets have more than doubled since 2007 to surpass $1.7 trillion (see World Islamic Report in the attachments). This is the consequence of the growing demand for the pool of sharia-compliant assets such Islamic bonds (or sukuk) issued not only by Muslim countries, but also by the UK (as announced by the Prime Minister David Cameron in 2013).
Islamic finance follows a certain moral code which proscribes usury. This compliance substantiates the fact that ethics plays an important role in the formulation of law. Most people expect the law to uphold the moral codes of their society. However, ethics itself can be problematic when it is defined by different groups and entities. In theory, “the only function of law is to respect and protect our ethical freedom.” The legislations inherited by most societies today sometimes eclipse the ethical purposes of the law in order to accommodate the authority of a government, a state religion or an ideology. Hence, one phase was dedicated to the twin subjects of ethics and law, as ethics is one of the vocations of law.
Legal codes in general are expected to be governed by Ethics and are intended to enforce the ethical standards of a society. Law, however, has evolved into a complicated system with a corpus and body of rules and regulations. Ethics on the other hand can be translated as a philosophy or a world view. Every society has ethical norms on which social rules are based. The sociological dimension of ethics is translated in Law. The domestic dimension of ethics is configured in the family and is based on morality. The amalgamation of these moral standards are theorised and expressed in the form of Ethics. Hence, it is very important to understand the social customs and ethical norms of each Muslim society before observing their local laws.