Why Sharia is a problem for Western Democracy

This series is for Westerners who may not know much about Islam, but who wonder why it seems to lead members of its faith into violence against the West in numbers unseen among adherents of other faiths.

It turns out that the structure of Islam’s legal philosophy, shariah, is a driving force. The most obvious readings of Islamic law, the readings of the Koran and the other core writings of the faith that is most direct and literal, sets those who come to believe deeply in the faith on a collision course with secular democracies of the type that the West has built since the Enlightenment.

This series will explain why.

Why Sharia is in Conflict with Democracy

There are two features of shariah that work together to create the conflict with Western democracies.

The first is its emphasis that only Allah can righteously create laws that are binding on human beings. Devout Muslims describe this feature as a protection against tyranny, because it means that Allah forbids tyrants to impose new laws and obligations on the people – to include new taxes, but really laws of any kind.

This emphasis on forbidding “man-made law” means that the democratic process must be seen as fundamentally illegitimate, even tyrannical.

It is also blasphemous for human beings to elevate themselves above Allah, replacing Allah’s eternal and perfect law with laws created by human legislators for human purposes.


The second feature of shariah that creates the conflict with Western democracy is its universality.

That means shariah seeks to define your obligations in every part of human life. Indeed, it has to do so if in fact no human legislation is permitted. That it contains rules about how to dress and what to eat is well known.

Less well known is that it contains laws about everything else, including food safety. For example, what if a mouse should fall into butter, you are to cut around the mouse and eat the rest of the butter.

The universality means that every aspect of your life is controlled by the law, and the forbidding of “man-made” law means that additional food safety laws are forbidden.

Conflicts with Western Liberty and Democracy

All of human life is defined under shariah, and thus the liberty at the root of Western democratic systems disappears.

Instead of a protected space of liberty, everything about your life is defined for you in a way you cannot change.

Equality under the law is not one of the principles of shariah. Discrimination against women is institutionalized, such that women’s voice and role in society is strictly curtailed.

Religious liberty is strictly curtailed, available only to a few named faiths and only if they submit to rulership by Muslims.

Freedom of conscience is lost, as no one may convert to the faith that seems right to them unless it is Islam, and then never can they change their minds. Their children will never have the right to return to the old faith, or to change faiths themselves. Members of other religions not named by shariah may be put to death.

Sexual liberties are usually punished by death.

Freedom of expression, a fundamental freedom to Western states, is punishable by death if it is deemed blasphemous. It can be punished by whipping or prison even if it is merely deemed inappropriate.

Sharia and Jihad

The legal context for jihad, or struggle, comes from 164 different verses of the Koran that refer to war against non-Muslims.

The literal reading of these verses involves military expeditions, physical combat against enemies, and seizing their property to distribute among Muslims as spoils of war.

It is these verses, read literally, that license the kidnapping of non-Muslim women for use as slaves in the course of the jihad.

It is these verses, read literally, that commit devout Muslims to overthrowing any society that does not submit to rulership by shariah in the name of Islam.

Isn’t This Just “Radical” Islam?

There are Muslims in the West who do not follow shariah’s guidance on “man-made” law, and others who pick and choose the aspects of the universal law to obey.

Still others have crafted interpretations of shariah that allow them to make accommodations to allow themselves to live in Western democracies.

That does not mean that only radical Islam suggests the conflict with the West. The most obvious and literal readings of the Koran and the hadiths do.

Even among Muslims who have adopted esoteric readings to give themselves a means of accommodation with the West, in every generation there is the danger of a return to a fundamentalist, literal reading of the texts. That reading permanently and unalterably calls for war against societies like ours.

What Must We Do?

This is a conflict we must be honest about, first and foremost with ourselves.

We should also speak honestly about our concerns with Muslims abroad.

A return to fundamentalism in Islam is a permanent danger to the stability of their societies, but it represents a direct challenge to the survival of ours. We need to understand the challenge, and to defend philosophically as well as pragmatically the survival of our systems of constitutional liberty and human rights.

These are laws we think are valid and just. We have to take their side honestly and not allow ourselves to be silenced, nor to give up our traditional liberties out of fear of giving offense.


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