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Radical Islam's Rules: The Worldwide Spread Of Sharia

WASHINGTON, DC -- The Center for Religious Freedom at Freedom House announces the publication of a new book: Radical Islam's Rules: The Worldwide Spread of Extreme Shari'a Law (Rowman and Littlefield). The book describes the impact on human rights and democracy when states adopt a starkly repressive version of Islamic law or extreme Shari'a. Propagated largely by the regimes of Saudi Arabia and Iran, extreme Shari'a rule has spread over the last quarter century to a number of regionally influential countries in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.

The book is edited by Senior Fellow Paul Marshall, and contains a foreword by James Woolsey and policy recommendations by the Director of the Center for Religious Freedom, Nina Shea. The book is composed principally of eight country studies written by both Muslim and non-Muslim human rights experts. Radical Islam's Rules details the situation in:

  • Saudi Arabia and Iran, where totalitarian versions of Shari' a are well entrenched;
  • Sudan, Nigeria and Pakistan, where such laws have been introduced recently or partially and are still contested;
  • Indonesia and Malaysia, in which they have been successfully resisted; and
  • Afghanistan, where Shari'a was recently incorporated into the new constitution, but where the effect on the governance of the country remains unclear.

The study analyzes the new use of extreme Shari'a by the state as a form of governance, distinct from its religious application as the right "path." Extreme Shari'a is seen as distinct from traditional practices in many Muslim societies that combine Islamic principles with local and customary law and other legal traditions, including Western ones. In the countries examined, Shari'a government has not come into force through national elections, but typically from efforts of a small group influential in the current government power structure.

Radical Islam's Rules documents effects of extreme Shari'a on human rights that are far more serious than the punishments of amputation and stoning that receive most international critical analysis. In practice, the status of women, the criminal code, religious freedom, the judicial system, educational systems, and the economy are all expected to conform to a purported seventh century model. However, the greatest danger of these laws is to democratic principles and systems themselves. Since their advocates assert they are divine, the laws cannot be debated or subordinated by man-made constitutions, legislative limits, or popular referenda.

Radical Islam's Rules shows that in the countries surveyed, state imposition of extreme Shari'a is characterized by:

  • a lack of due process, stemming from vague and haphazard laws, untrained judges, and extrajudicial enforcement;
  • cruel and unusual punishments, such as amputation, the removal of eyes, stoning, and crucifixion;
  • the denial of equal rights under law to women, who are reduced to second-class status in marriage, divorce, and inheritance, and are denied full civil and political rights, equal education and employment opportunities, and equal treatment under the law. Rape and other forms of sexual exploitation often go unpunished due to rules of evidence that give women's legal testimony less weight than men's;
  • the denial of equal rights under law to non-Muslims, making them second class citizens and worse, nonpersons without legal protection, sometimes even from extra judicial killing. Non-Muslims are denied full civil and political rights, particularly regarding religious freedom, and are discriminated against in state education and employment and under rules of evidence;
  • the state enforcement of blasphemy or apostasy laws that can carry the death penalty against Muslims who are not part of the dominant group, who dissent from the state-imposed version of Islam, or who criticize the government's policies;
  • weak or non-existent democratically elected legislatures, whose power is negated by un-elected religious authorities officially responsible for voiding laws that they deem to be inconsistent with Shari'a; and denial of religious freedom to individuals, particularly those who are Muslim, through blasphemy and apostasy laws that punish dissent and debate.

Despite its threat to democracy and American interests, the state use of extreme Shari'a is little understood by American policymakers. With the Middle East now experiencing democratic ferment, understanding the relation of religion and law is more urgent than ever. The book proposes policy incentives for governments to find alternatives to extreme Shari'a.

Radical Islam's Rules: The Worldwide Spread of Extreme Shari'a Law (Rowman and Littlefield, 2005), 226 pp., $27.95.

Editor Paul Marshall is Senior Fellow at Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom and the best selling and award winning author and editor of twenty books on religion and politics. His has contributed to the Wall St. Journal, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, and many other publications. His work has been translated into Arabic, Chinese, Russian, German, Japanese, Portuguese, Korean, Norwegian, Dutch, Spanish, and Malay. Contributors include Stephen Schwartz, Mehrangis Kar, Hamouda Bella, Maarten Barends, Peter Riddell, Nina Shea, and a study group of the Rand Corporation.

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