People living in the Western world generally accept the concept of a true separation of the institutions of church and state. Hundreds of years of Western tradition have demonstrated the wisdom of keeping these institutions separated and the danger that ensues when the ecclesiastical and civil institutions are melded into one.
That is not the case with Muslims, especially in other countries. A recent Pew Research poll found that 99 percent of Muslims in Afghanistan, 91 percent of Muslims in Iraq and 84 percent in Pakistan favor making sharia the official law of their country. 
A foundational practice of Islam is the implementation of sharia into the legal structure. The term sharia is derived from the verb shara’a. Sharia is a system of divine law, belief, or practice that is based upon Muslim legal interpretation. It applies to economics, politics, and society. Most Muslims distinguish between figh (which deals with the details of Islam) and sharia (which refers to the principles behind those details). Ideally, both should be in harmony with each other.
Sometimes the world has been able to see how extreme the interpretation of sharia can be. Muslims have been put to death when they have been accused of adultery or homosexuality. They have been put to death for leaving the religion of Islam. And these are not isolated examples.
A number of years ago, Pew research asked Muslims very specific questions about how far they would implement sharia law. The survey found that 89 percent of Muslims in Pakistan, 85 percent of Muslims in Afghanistan, and 84 percent of Muslims in Egypt favor stoning as a punishment for adultery. The survey also found that 86 percent of Muslims in Egypt and 82 percent of Muslims in Jordan favor the death penalty for any Muslim who leaves the religion of Islam.
Jews and Christians Under Sharia Law
It should not be surprising that Christians are persecuted in Muslim countries. Each year, the organization Open Doors publishes its World Watch List that identifies where Christians are persecuted. Over the last few years, nine of the top ten countries that that practice extreme persecution of Christians is Muslim countries.
Treating Jews and Christians under sharia law is justified in the Qur’an. For example, the Qur’an talks about “people of the book.” Sura 9:29 says, “Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Prophet, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the jizyah with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.”
The “people of the book” (Ahl al-Kitab) refers to Jews and Christians. Islamic law refers to them as dhimmis. They have protected status and were to live as “protected people: (Ahl al-dhimma). But they had to live as second-class citizens in a Muslim state.
Muhammad made a distinction between infidels, who were pagans and polytheists, and the “people of the book,” who had received revelations from the prophets (Moses, Jesus). The latter group is protected in one sense because they have received these revelations. But they are also guilty because (according to Islam) they have distorted these teachings and rejected the teaching of Muhammad. Although this status was originally given only to the “people of the book,” it was later extended to other religions (Sikhs, Zoroastrians, etc.).
Because of their guilt, Islamic teaching stipulates that Jews and Christians may live in a Muslim country, but not as equals to other Muslims. Usually, this means that they may not participate in the government. They may practice their religion, but with many restrictions. For example, they were not allowed to have any external manifestations of worship (procession with the cross, ringing bells).
These restrictions are another part of the verse that requires the dhimmis must “feel themselves subdued.” In the past, they has meant: (1) that they could not prevent a fellow Christian from converting to Islam, (2) that they could not erect a cross on their church building, and (3) that they must dress in a certain way that would identify them as Jews or Christians.
Finally, they must pay the jizya, which is the poll tax required from every dhimmi. In earlier times, this was a major source of income for the Muslim government from dhimmi who paid both the personal tax and the land tax.
The Qur’an teaches (2:256) that, “there is no compulsion in religion.” But is that really so? It depends on your definition of compulsion. A closer look at Islamic law demonstrates a veiled threat that many believe in tantamount to compulsion. For example, Muhammad instructed his followers to invite non-Muslims to accept Islam before waging war against them. If they refused, warfare would follow or second-class status. They would be inferiors in the Muslim social order and pay the jizya as required in Sura 9:29. If they pay it, they may live, but if they refuse to pay it, warfare will ensue.
Christians Treatment Within Islam
After its rapid expansion in the seventh-century, Islam developed a practice of allowing Jews and Christian to live within their society but with many restrictions. The Pact of Umar set forth twenty-eight limitations on their rights and practices. For example, Christians:
- “shall not build, in our cities build, in our cities or in their neighborhood, new monasteries, churches, convents, or monks’ cells, nor shall we repair, by day or by night, such of them as fall in ruins or are situated in the quarters of the Muslims.”
- “shall not manifest our religion publicly nor convert anyone to it.”
- “shall not prevent any of our kin from entering Islam if they wish it.”
- “shall not display our crosses or our books in the roads or markets of the Muslims” and “shall only use clappers in our churches very softly.”
- “shall not raise our voices in our church services or in the presence of Muslims nor shall we raise our voices when following our dead.”
In modern times, the application of dimmitude varies from country to country. In many Muslim countries today, non-Muslims must pay the jizya and must wear a wide cloth belt, known as the zunnar to identify them. Sometimes they must keep to the side of the street. And they are never greeted with the traditional Muslim greeting “as-Salamu ‘alaykum’ (which means “Peace be with you”).
In many cases, non-Muslims are persecuted and killed. A number of excellent books document the way in which Christians have been persecuted in Muslim countries. For example, between 1905 and 1918, Ottoman Turks killed over two million Armenian Christians. Since Muslims came to power in Sudan and declared jihad on Christians, there have been more than three million killed.
Sharia Law and Apostates
It is difficult for a Muslim to leave the faith of Islam. A Muslim is considered part of a larger community of Muslim believers. He or she is a member of the umma, which is an Arabic word meaning community or nation.
When a Muslim decides to leave the faith, there are repercussions in the family and community. The family is embarrassed and will even lose respect within the Muslim community. The mosque feels it has failed in its duty and lost a member to ignorance and idolatry.
The Qur’an teaches that an apostate Muslim faces the wrath of Allah (Sura 47:25-28). Sharia law in many countries treats apostasy as the unforgivable sin and therefore punishable by death. Often, they are referred to as kafir, which is the Arabic word for the unbeliever. It applies to those who reject the teachings of Islam and the Qur’an.
Many Muslim countries have laws against apostasy. Islam teaches that once you are a Muslim, you are always a Muslim. Leaving the Muslim faith can have harsh consequences, including death.
Sharia Law and Women
There is great confusion about the status of women within Islam. Some Muslim leaders claim that Islam actually liberates women. One Muslim women’s advocate actually said that the “Islamic religion has given women more rights than any other religion has, and has guaranteed her honour and pride.” That might surprise the women who lived under the rule of the Taliban in Afghanistan or who live under Sharia law in many Muslims countries today.
While it is true that many Muslims no doubt do respect and honor women, it is not true that those ideas can be found in the Qur’an. Here are just a few passages that illustrate the way women are to be treated.
- According to the Qur’an women are considered inferior to men: “Men have authority over women because God has made the one superior to the other” (Sura 4:34).
- The Qur’an restricts a woman’s testimony in court. Her testimony is worth half as much as that of a man (Sura 2:282).
- The Qur’an teaches that a son’s inheritance should be twice that of a daughter’s: “Allah thus directs you as regards your children’s inheritance; to the male, a portion equal to that of two females” (Sura 4:11).
- Islam sanctions polygamy (with up to four wives) as well as sex with slave women: “If we fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, marry women of your choice, two or three or four; but if we fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly with them, then only one, or a captive that your hand possess, that will be more suitable, to prevent you from doing injustice” (Sura 4:3)
- Wives are subject to their husbands. If wives are disloyal or disobedient, the Qur’an sets forth their punishment. The husband is first to admonish them, then not sleep with them, and third to beat them lightly. Essentially, wives are subject to the control of their husbands (Sura 2:223; 4:34).
Sharia Law and Polygamy
In Arabia before the time of Muhammad, polygamy was common. A man could have as many wives as he could support. The Qur’an instructed a man to have two, three, or four wives. However, Muhammad had a special revelation that allowed him to have more than four wives. The Qur’an also taught that he could marry prisoners of war, daughters of uncles and aunts, and any believing woman (Sura 33:50).
Even though the Qur’an allows for polygamy, many nations prohibit multiple wives. Turkey, for example, banned polygamy in 1926. Islamic law allows a Muslim man to marry a non-Muslim woman. However, a Muslim woman may only marry a Muslim man.
There is also the concept of Mut’a which has developed in Islam that allows a Muslim man to take a temporary “wife” for a sexual relationship. This may be done when he is in military service, although it has also been abused in justifying prostitution in which a Muslim man takes a prostitute as a temporary “wife” for the night.
Sharia Law and Rights of Women
Sometimes women participate in public prayer in mosques, other times they do not. A formal prayer in public in the mosque is a public demonstration of a Muslim’s faith. But women’s participation varies according to the culture and time period.
The formal times of prayer are attended by the men. If women are allowed to attend, they are segregated and wear their veils.
The veiling and seclusion of women have been part of the Muslim culture since the beginnings of Islam. In the Qur’an, Muhammad commands his wives and daughters to draw veils around them. This has been applied to all Muslim women. The veil would allow them to be recognized but not molested (Sura 33:59).
The Qur’an teaches that women must “lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what must ordinarily appear thereof: that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers” (Sura 24:31).
The veils actually do more than just cover the face and body of women. The veil establishes the significant distinction between men and women. The veil separates women from men and from public life.
Women cover themselves in different ways and in different cultures, ranging from burkas to scarves. Sometimes the command for women to cover themselves has had tragic consequences. In March 2002, fifteen girls died in a fire in Saudi Arabia. Since there were no men in the school, the girls took off their Islamic garb for the lesson. When a fire broke out in the building, they tried to escape but were stopped by the Saudi religious police, (known as the Muttawa). They would not allow them to leave the building because they were not veiled. They apparently reasoned that death for the girls was preferable to the risk of subjecting men in the vicinity to impure thoughts.
Islamic law states that a “husband may forbid his wife to leave the home.” It also states, “a woman may not leave the city without her husband or a member of her unmarriageable kin accompanying her, unless the journey is obligatory, like the hajj. It is unlawful for her to travel otherwise, and unlawful for her husband to allow her to.”
These laws were practiced in Afghanistan under the Taliban and are observed in countries like Saudi Arabia. In that country, women cannot drive nor can they leave their home without being accompanied by a male family member. Amnesty International reports that women in Saudi Arabia “who walk unaccompanied or are in the company of a man who is neither their husband nor close relative, are at risk of arrest on suspicion of prostitution” or other moral offenses.
Divorce is relatively easy in Islam. All a husband needs to do is say to his wife, “I divorce you.” The divorce is final at that moment. The Qur’an does, however, provide a mechanism for resolving disputes: “If a wife fears cruelty or desertion on her husband’s part, there is no blame on them if they arrange an amicable settlement between themselves; and such settlements is best” (Sura 4:128).
The Qur’an also instructs men to follow a waiting period to make sure their divorced wife is not pregnant: “if you divorce your wives, divorce them at the end of their waiting period” (Sura 65:1). In reality, though, a woman can be put out of the house in minutes and divorced.
One passage in the Qur’an seems to provide justification for child marriage. The following verses say, “the same shall apply to those who have not yet menstruated” (Sura 65:4). So the passage seems to consider the possibility that a man may be married to a girl who has not even reached adolescence.
Child marriages were common in the Arab peninsula during the time in which the Qur’an was written. One of Muhammad’s wives was a child bride of six and he apparently consummated the marriage when she was nine years old.
Such marriages are still common in some Muslim countries today. It is estimated that half the teenage girls in some countries (such as Afghanistan) are married. Iranian girls can get married when they are as young as nine with parental permission, or thirteen without consent.
We have already noted that a woman’s testimony in a court of law is equal to half of a man’s testimony. When it comes to an accusation of rape, there must be four adult males of “impeccable” character in order to confirm a woman’s accusation of rape. In fact, they must see the act itself (e.g., must witness the penetration).
This stringent requirement was based upon the incident in Muhammad’s life involving Aisha who was accused of infidelity. Muhammad proclaimed her innocence, and at the same time instituted this legal requirement for sexual sins. Muhammad asked, “Why did they not produce four witnesses? Since they produce not witnesses, they verily are liars in the sight of Allah” (Sura 24:13).
Because of this legal requirement, it is nearly impossible to prove rape in Muslim countries governed by Sharia law. Essentially, men can commit rape with impunity. Unless she can produce four credible male witnesses, the perpetrator goes free.
But the injustice doesn’t end there. Often the rape victim’s charge of rape is used in court as an admission of adultery. So, while the rapist goes free, often she is incarcerated. It has been estimated that in Pakistan as many as 75 percent of the women in prison are there because they were victims of rape.
Sharia Law and the Constitution
Sharia law is very different in many respects from the laws established through the U.S. Constitution and the laws established through English Common law. In an attempt to prevent sharia law from being implemented in America, a number of state legislatures (Alabama, Arizona, Kansas, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Dakota, and Tennessee) have such bans on sharia law. Voters in other states have approved a ban that has been struck down by a federal appeals court.
Although opponents argue that these sharia law bans are unnecessary, various studies have found significant cases of sharia law being allowed in U.S. court. One report with the title, “Shariah Law and the American State Courts” found 50 significant cases of Sharia law in U.S. courts just from their small sample of appellate published cases. When they looked at state courts, they found an additional 15 cases in the trial courts and 12 more in the appellate courts. Judges are making decisions deferring to Sharia law even when those decisions conflict with the U.S. Constitution and the various state constitutions.
How should we respond to the increased use of Sharia law in America? One simple way to explain your concern to legislators, family, friends, and neighbors are to remember the numbers 1-8-14. These three numbers stand for the three amendments to the U.S. Constitution that prevent the use of Sharia law.
The First Amendment says that there should be no establishment of religion. Sharia law is based on one religion’s interpretation of rights. The First Amendment prohibits the establishment of any national religion (including Islam).
The Eighth Amendment prohibits “cruel and unusual punishment.” Most Americans would consider the penalties handed down under Sharia law to be cruel and unusual.
The Fourteenth Amendment guarantees each citizen equal protection under the Constitution. Sharia law does not treat men and women equally, nor does it treat Muslims and non-Muslims equally. This also violates the Constitution.
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 Michael Lipka, “Muslims and Islam: Key Findings in the U.S. and Around the World,” Pew Research, 9 August, 2017, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/08/09/muslims-and-islam-key-findings-in-the-u-s-and-around-the-world/
 “Beliefs About Sharia,” Pew Research Center, 30 April 2013, http://www.pewforum.org/2013/04/30/the-worlds-muslims-religion-politics-society-beliefs-about-sharia/
 Open Doors, “Christian Persecution-World Watch List – 2017, https://www.opendoorsusa.org/christian-persecution/world-watch-list/
 Umdat al-Salik (Reliance of the Traveller), o11.3-5.
 Paul Marshall, Their Blood Cries Out: The Worldwide Tragedy of Modern Christians Who Are Dying for their Faith (Dallas: Word, 1997) and Emir Fethi Caner and H. Edward Pruit, The Costly Call: Modern-Day Stories of Muslims Who Found Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2005).
 Nawal El-Saadawi, quoted in The Ideal Muslimah: The True Islamic Personality of the Muslim Woman as Defined in the Qur’an and Sunnah, http://www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/humanrelations/womeninislam/idealmuslimah/.
 “Umdat al-Salik, (manual of Islamic law), m 10.4
 Ibid., m 10.3
 Amnesty International, “Saudi Arabia: End Secrecy End Suffering: Women,” http://www.amnesty.org/ailib/intcam/saudi/briefing/4.html.
 Lisa Beyer, “The Women of Islam,” Time, 25 Nov. 2001.
 Sisters in Islam, “Rape, Zina, and Incest,” 6 April 2000, http://www.muslimtents.com/sistersinislam/resources/sdefini.htm.
 Shariah law and the American State Courts, Center for Security Policy, 5 January2015. https://www.centerforsecuritypolicy.org/2015/01/05/shariah-in-american-courts-the-expanding-incursion-of-islamic-law-in-the-u-s-legal-system/.