Mustafa Abdel Jalil, Libya’s interim leader, declared Sunday that post-Gaddafi Libya will be run as an Islamic state with legislation based on sharia law.
According to The Washington Post reporter Mary Beth Sheridan, Jalil said to a crowd in Benghazi, “’We are an Islamic state,’ and pledged to get rid of regulations that didn’t conform to Islamic law.”
— “The interest [on loans] will be ruled out,” in accordance with Islamic prohibition on charging interest.
Sharia law, as Post religion reporter Michelle Boorstein wrote in 2010, in recent months has become “shorthand for extremism” among critics of Islam in the United States. For Muslims, it is a code of conduct for daily life, similar to Jewish law, but concern over its role in politics have shadowed the Arab Spring.
As revolt and revolution has unfolded throughout the Arab world, secular Arabs and many in the West have voiced concerned about the role of religion in politics in the new Middle East. Violence against the Coptic minority in Egypt has fueled concern that the new Egypt will be less tolerant than under Mubarak. Each development, from a vote for a moderate Islamic party in Tunisia to Libya with Jalil’s call for sharia law, gives new details on how the newly liberated majority Muslims nations will choose to rule themselves.
Writer and religion scholar Reza Aslan, author of No God but God: The Origins, Evolution and Future of Islam, told On Faith in April that debates over Islam’s role are befitting of majority religious states, provided protection for religious minorities and ensuring the rule of law. His analysis of Islam’s role in Egypt has application beyond Egypt’s borders:
Just as Christianity, the faith of some 70 percent of the U.S. population, influences American norms, values and laws (think gay marriage, abortion, etc.), so will Islam influence the norms, values and laws of Egypt. As long as the rights and freedoms of minorities are preserved and protected, and the rule of law made sacrosanct, Egypt will likely move along the same secularizing trajectory as all democratic societies, including America, that have created space for religious conservatives to compete with secular liberals in the marketplace of ideas.
For the new Middle East, the details matter. Will religious minorities be protected? Will Egypt’s long-standing peace agreement with Israel hold? Will women lose --or gain--rights? Which parts of Sharia law will be codified — and whose interpretation will reign?
“Sharia in Arabic means ‘way’ or ‘path.’ Muslims agree that sharia is God’s law, but there is little consensus on the particulars. To some, sharia is a set of rules that are codified and unchanging. To others, it’s a collection of religious principles that shift over time.
“Daisy Khan, [wife of controversial former Park 51 project leader Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf] said the couple believe the word ‘sharia’ primarily refers to several broad principles called ‘maqasid sharia,’ which include the protection of life, property and religion, among others. These principles are believed to be the foundation of the faith.
“Others say ‘sharia’ refers to the specific words of the Koran (Muslims’ holy book of God’s revelation passed orally to the prophet Muhammad) as well as all the hadith, which are the actions and statements attributed to Muhammad that have been passed down, analyzed, interpreted (and sometimes tossed out) over the for centuries.
“Many of the harshest, most controversial writings are in the hadith, such as those giving lower status to non-Muslims and mandates to stone adulterers (including a much-publicized stoning this month in Afghanistan, meted out by the Taliban). Muslims have debated their accuracy for centuries.”