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Let Us Codify Shariah Laws

User ID: 361663
United States
01/31/2008 01:05 AM
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Let Us Codify Shariah Laws
The judicial system has often been criticized at home and abroad for its failure to administer justice, largely due to inadequate legal procedures, red tape and rigid interpretation of Shariah law by some of the appointed judges.

Many legal experts have pointed out that the problem with the current system is both qualitative and quantitative. Courts are overburdened, and there is an acute shortage of judges; therefore, courts may take years to rule on simple cases of divorce or family disputes. Furthermore, bureaucracy and red tape create further delays.

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah announced a major project to reform the judicial system, and SR7 billion has been allocated to upgrade courts and to train judges in an attempt to reform the entire judiciary. Planned changes include establishing special criminal courts and family courts along with courts for issues related to traffic, the economy, business and sports.

The Ministry of Justice has defined the new jobs that will be available with the start of the specialized courts this year. The ministry will also provide legal training to guarantee more qualified judges and lawyers.

However, Muslim scholars believe that more drastic measures need to be taken to achieve successful reforms.

“To reform the judiciary, we need to reform the Shariah colleges first and upgrade the level of these institutions,” said Dr. Tarek Al-Suwaidan, a prominent Muslim scholar. “There should be a more advanced curriculum, and the teaching standards should be enhanced.”

The reason behind the poor quality of education in these very important institutions is the poor academic standard of their students. The students who enroll in these colleges are the ones who graduate from school with poor or average grades; therefore, they are not usually the brightest. Furthermore, their studies are mostly confined to subjects related to Islamic jurisprudence.

Al-Suwaidan urged the creation of well-rounded Muslim scholars and judges familiar with international law and educated on aspects of modern-day needs and concerns. Students who join Shariah colleges should have a bachelor’s degree in business, law or other specialized fields to make them more knowledgeable and guarantee a higher standard of qualification. Shariah law graduates should be well-versed in current commercial laws and be familiar with cyberspace crime, copyright violations or labor issues.

The inadequacy of current judges and their narrow breadth of knowledge have created many grievances and denied both nationals and expatriates their right to fair trials and legal representation in the Kingdom.

When the Prophet (peace be upon him) spoke more than 1,400 years ago, he tailored his words to the people of that time and addressed the issues of those days in terms understandable to much simpler people in much simpler times. In a world made smaller by transportation and telecommunications networks and a world of great cities and global commerce, it is incumbent upon the keepers of Shariah law to ensure the relevance of its interpretation in the daily lives of the millions of adherents to Islam today.

For judges to ignore such advancements either through ignorance or tunnel vision is to jeopardize the relevance of Shariah law in a modern world — an attitude that draws the derision of the world when a young rape victim, already sentenced to prison and corporal punishment, has her sentence increased because she spoke to a newspaper. What message is sent to the people of this Kingdom and the world, for that matter, when a gang of rapists gets sentences of a few years because of “mitigating” circumstances?

The Qatif rape case received public and international condemnation, and there was strong public pressure demanding her acquittal. However, the Saudi judiciary refused to alter its sentence until Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah finally intervened to save the poor victim from the brutal sentence.

What do we tell our own people or the world, for that matter, about how we value the rights of women when her brothers can order her divorce because they don’t approve of the husband their late father chose? The brothers’ contention was that she had shamed her tribe, but we as a people should be ashamed of a legal system where such a case could be initiated, where a family could be broken up and a mother and her children could be forced to live in a shelter. We should support our leaders in their efforts to reform such a system.

How can we take pride in a system that denies a mother’s petitions to gain custody of a child from her abusive husband that becomes moot after the man beats his child to death?

The National Society for Human Rights recently published a report that strongly criticized the judicial system for failing to serve justice. The report outlined many human rights violations, among them rampant discrimination against women, essentially sanctioning domestic violence, awful conditions in Saudi prisons, and the maltreatment of non-Saudis in the Kingdom. The report also railed against the actions of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice in its dealings with law-abiding citizens.

“We need to establish civic courts administered by judges who have graduated from law colleges with degrees obtained from abroad,” said Kamel Ahmad Al-Shamsi, a Saudi legal expert. “We need to use the expertise of other, more advanced Arab countries in civic law and sign contracts with cadres who can serve as consultants and judges.”

It is unfortunate that these views are not shared by many of the Saudi judges who insist that students should learn through apprenticeships and with scholars who can trace their learning to Islam’s roots — not from qualified law professors. This is the reason behind the lack of a globally accepted qualification of a Shariah scholar and the absence of globally accepted standards for Shariah rules. Shariah rules continue to be subject to different interpretations from different Muslim scholars who are reluctant to codify Shariah laws, and there is a lack of consensus on many issues that are of major concern to Muslims today.

Some Shariah experts say it may take more than a decade to train more scholars, and even the optimistic ones do not expect a new generation of qualified scholars for at least five years. However, Muslim scholars cannot afford to lag behind and miss the global opportunities for progress and development, they must contribute toward the advancement of their societies. Any misstep could lead our people back to an impoverished past instead of a prosperous future.

The rest of the world will not stop and give us a decade to figure it out. Our indecision and acquiescence on such matters just improve the chances for other nations to better the lives of their people at our expense.

Sheikh Nizam Yaquby, one of the most respected Shariah scholars, recently told reporters that it is essential to train more scholars for Islamic bank supervision to keep up with the global demand. He said: “There are roughly 50 to 60 scholars in the world qualified to advise banks on Islamic law, and as many as ten times more are required to serve in the Middle East alone.” The London-based Chartered Institute of Management Accountants said: “The rapid growth of Islamic banking had fueled a need for Muslim financial experts. However, scholars must be experts in Islamic law and Islamic banking and, at the same time, have a thorough knowledge of conventional laws and banking systems, which requires a high standard of English.”

Reforming the legal system and training more judges will not be easy; however, it should continue to be a government priority. It is essential for our scholars to be globally connected with the needs and concerns of the international Muslim community. The codification of the Shariah law is, therefore, necessary. Moreover, it is essential not only to outline the rights and duties of citizens and expatriates alike but also to define the responsibilities and limits of all religious officials.

No one should be above the law — not judges, not members of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, not the wealthy, not religious scholars. Our country will prosper only when our citizens and our guest workers are guaranteed the protection of the law. Future generations will be able to contribute and compete with the rest of the world only if they are assured the implementation of justice for all — and all can only mean everybody.

— Samar Fatany is a Saudi radio journalist. She can be reached at [email protected].

[link to www.arabnews.com]
Anonymous Coward
User ID: 336627
United States
01/31/2008 01:08 AM
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Re: Let Us Codify Shariah Laws
sounds like fun but only if we can repeal when ever it conflicts with my modern lifestyle and doesn't make me feel good.
Anonymous Coward
User ID: 365308
United States
01/31/2008 06:03 AM
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Re: Let Us Codify Shariah Laws
Any law that is not in your interest and serving you,