Sunday, February 15, 2009

pakistan imposes sharia, twenty-nine years after it imposed sharia

according to the guardian, the pakistani government will impose islamic law in a portion of the country to "placate extremists." the story caused a small splash on memeorandum, with bloggers breathlessly claiming that pakistan had "surrendered" or writing that "the cancer of Sharia Law has infected the body of Pakistan."

i'm no fan of any religious-based legal code, but it's worth pointing out that pakistan has had "sharia" in its legal system since at least 1980. the guardian article isn't all that clear what exactly the change will be to the courts in malakand. all it says is that: "Religious experts, known as a qazi, will sit in the court, alongside a regular judge, to ensure that the rulings are in compliance with Islam." but isn't that what the existing federal shariat court of pakistan does? maybe they're creating a local equivalent to the federal sharia court? the article doesn't say. indeed, the article doesn't give any indication that there was sharia before the change.

actually, the real problem is the concept of "sharia" is badly understood in the west. to a lot of westerners, the word is a shorthand for the oppressive taliban version of sharia. a lot of countries have elements of sharia in their legal system, often limited to certain areas, like family law or contracts. there's also several different schools of sharia (four for sunni islam and one major one for shia islam), each with its own rules. the bottom line is that sharia is a lot more complicated than the scary stereotype that triggers these kinds of freakouts.