At a time when efforts to ban sharia law have been tabled in some two dozen states, it would be interesting to know what precisely their sponsors are hoping to prohibit — because their target has a 1,400-year history that extends deep into the realms of faith.
When the Quran was first enunciated to the Arabs, the word sharia conveyed the idea of a direct path to water — a route of considerable importance to a desert people — and Islamic scholars would always think of it as a spiritual concept. A 14th-century Syrian jurist named Ibn Qayyim set out the vision well:
It is the absolute cure for all ills. … It is life and nutrition, the medicine, the light, the cure and the safeguard. Every good in this life is derived from it and achieved through it, and every deficiency in existence results from its dissipation. … If God wished to destroy the world and dissolve existence, He would void whatever remains of its injunctions. For the sharia … is the pillar of existence and the key to success in this world and the Hereafter.
As befits so awesome a phenomenon, the science of studying law — jurisprudence, or fiqh — came to be considered a duty akin to prayer. No aspect of creation fell outside its scope, and jurists pronounced on questions from the lawfulness of logic to the legal meaning of the moon. They hypothesized fantastically unfortunate dilemmas: what Muslims should do on a desert island, for example, if they ever found themselves pining away alongside a dead shipmate, a pig and a flask of wine (clue: avoid the pork and alcohol until desperate). [Read more…]