Mythical Sharia – Or Not

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 2 months ago

From Sharia is Coming!, I outlined or posed a question concerning the nature of those who advocate Sharia law.  You can read it (or re-read it) for yourself, but more important at the moment is what happened afterward.  Steven Metz made the following statement in response (in the comments section): “Should we worry about the creeping influence of the Boy Scout laws? More people follow that in the United States than sharia.”

Note well.  Steven Metz is a professor at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.  And note full well.  He is comparing Boy Scout law with Sharia law.  This Boy Scout law – compared to this sharia law.  It’s all just hysterical rantings, this idea that those who advocate sharia law actually want it to be mandatory.  Next, consider Andrew McCarthy at NRO’s Corner.

Read it and weep — and you will want to weep. In Bangladesh a 14-year-old girl named Hena was raped by a 40-year-old man, Mahbub, who is described in a report as her “relative.” [Thanks to John Hinderaker for highlighting this story.] Apparently — the report is not clear on how this happened — the matter was brought to the attention of the sharia authorities in her village of Shariatpur. You’d think this was a good thing … except, in Islam, rape cannot be proved absent four witnesses — i.e., it’s virtually impossible to establish that what happened happened. That’s a dangerous thing for the victim — deadly dangerous in this instance — because if she has had sexual relations outside marriage but cannot prove she has been raped, she is deemed to have committed a grave sin. In Hena’s case, the sharia authorities ordered that she be given 100 lashes. The young girl never made it through 80; she fell unconscious and died from the whipping.

When I catalogue the horrors of sharia, I frequently hear in response that I am oversimplifying it, that I am relying on incorrect interpretations (oddly said to be inaccurate because they construe Islamic doctrine “too literally”), or that I fail to appreciate the richness and nuances of sharia jurisprudence that have made it possible for moderate Muslims to evolve away from the law’s harshness. Some even claim sharia is not a concrete body of law, just a set of  aspirational guidelines — as if Sakineh Ashtiani, the woman sentenced by an Iranian court to death by stoning, will merely be having advice, rather than rocks, thrown at her.

These criticisms miss the point. I don’t purport to have apodictic knowledge of what the “true” Islam holds — or even to know whether there is a single true Islam (as I’ve said a number of times, I doubt that there is). But that’s irrelevant. It should by now be undeniable that there is an interpretation of sharia that affirms all its atrocious elements, and that this interpretation is not a fringe construction. It is mainstream and backed by very influential scholars who know a hell of a lot more about Islam than we in the West do. That makes it extremely unlikely that this interpretation will be marginalized any time soon. There is no agreed-upon hierarchical authority in Islam that can authoritatively pronounce that various beliefs and practices are heretical.

Stop.  This last point is extremely important.  Now consider a point I made directly to Steven Metz at the Small Wars Journal after he said the following:

Claiming that all of Islam wants to “impose” its faith on others is not “being clear,” its being fantastic and ideological. There is a fringe in Islam who claims to want this (just as there is in Christianity). But claiming this is some inherent element of Islam is just nonsense. I don’t know any nicer way to put it.

And my response (a bit dry, but necessary).

Definitions are indispensable. When you say “impose its faith,” let’s delineate between voting your conscience and promulgating your faith by the power of force or violence. Laws are by their very definition legislated morality. A law against theft is society’s way of saying that it is morally wrong to steal and we won’t tolerate it. Our society has as its basis a system of laws that itself has a basis, just as all nation-states do. I assume that you are not arguing against a vote of conscience and representative government, so it makes sense to jump to the next possibility.

Now to the use of force or violence to promulgate a faith. Again, for the sake of argument, let’s define Christianity nominally as something like the following: adherence to the basic Trinitarian creeds (Nicene and Chalcedonian), with the soteriological skeleton filled out by a later creed such as Trent (for Roman Catholics, maybe plus Vatican I and II, or maybe not) or the Westminster Confession of Faith (for Protestants). The point is that one defining characteristic of Christianity is that it has throughout history been creedal and confessional. We aren’t left to wonder what Christianity teaches. It is all put forward for us is clear terms, with the fundamentals similar in all sects or denominations, and agreed to by the councils in church history.

I am trained in religion / theology at the graduate level. I am extremely well read, and fairly well-travelled in these circles. I know of not a single group of people who meet the nominal definition of Christianity we have given above that either believes or claims to believe that they have the authority or right to promulgate the faith through violence or force. It would be directly contrary to the very nature of Christianity. I could line up the Biblical data for a week, but it would save time simply to trust me on this point. If you feel that you have contrary examples, then I would like to correspond off line to ascertain just who these people are and what exactly they might believe. It would be interesting.

Now. With Islam it just isn’t that clear. Islam is not now and has never been creedal and confessional. It is loosely coupled and very diverse. A search of history for such creeds yields no fruit like the history of Christianity (if it did I would gladly spent much time in study). I am not making a value judgment here, simply an observation. The point of this observation is that when answering the question “What does Islam believe?” we have reversion only to (a) original source literature, and (b) its interpretation and application today (plus the history that can be determined to be accurate).

Here is what we know. We know that there is a large group of Muslims worldwide who do not believe that they have the right to hurt of kill you or your family in order to promulgate their faith, and they are quite happy with this hermeneutic. How large this group is is unknown. It might be the vast majority of all Muslims, or it may not be quite that big. We also know that based on the original source literature (quotes which I can line up a long time for you) there are ideas and quotes that are apparently amenable to a hermeneutic which interprets them to give Muslims the right and duty to promulgate their faith by violence and force. As best as I can tell, both hermeneutics live side by side every day in Muslim countries, with some aspects of each rubbing off on the other, and with this also being a source of controversy and tension in these countries.

So what I have said now is that their are competing hermeneutics within Islam, and that creedalism and confessionalism has not been and is not now a defining characteristic of Islam. These things present problems for us, as you can well imagine. To understand what Islam believes, you cannot refer to a confession. There is none. You can read the source literature and you can listen to its professed adherents as they speak.

The professed adherents who are of the Salafist / Wahhabist stripes, based on indisputable evidence, believe the later hermeneutic discussed above (and can point to numerous citations in the original source literature). While I understand that it is unfashionable to be religious in academia, and fashionable to make moral equivalency arguments comparing all religions to each other, it just isn’t correct. There is no sect or denomination of Christianity comparable to the Salafists or Wahhabists. It doesn’t help your argument to make the comparison.

This goes directly to the hearts of what McCarthy is saying.  Now that you have finished the dry part, let’s get to the basics – and I will make value judgments this time.  I believe that many parts of the Qu’ran are inherently contradictory.  Some Muslims deal with this problem by aligning themselves with the more or less non-violent hermeneutic, and simply ignore the logical problems.  In the words of Professor Alvin Plantinga, their “noetic structure” contains deeply rooted, logically problematic propositions, but they don’t know it (or have simply accepted it).  Others in Islam deal with this problem by choosing the violent hermeneutic, and the fundamental problem is that Islam is not now nor has it ever been a creedal religion (nor does it lend itself to such rigorous systematization).

McCarthy’s point is both well taken and important.  Continuing with his thoughts:

The closest thing Muslims have is the faculty at al-Azhar University in Egypt, and it is a big part of the problem. Whether this fundamentalist interpretation is accepted by only 20 or 30 percent of Muslims — or whether, as I believe, the percentage is higher, perhaps much higher — that still makes it the belief system of almost half a billion people worldwide. That’s not a fringe.

Sharia is not a myth or an invention of overwrought Islamophobes. It is very real. And that some Saudi-endowed Georgetown prof will inevitably come up with some elegant explanation of how the village authorities got it wrong will have absolutely zero influence over the way sharia is understood in Shariatpur. Nor will not make this tormented 14-year-old girl any less dead.

Just so.  Fundamentalist Islam, if it represents 20% – 30%, isn’t a “fringe element.”  This represents a whole lot of people, and the problem isn’t made any better by supposed “scholars” at the U.S. Army War College who think that Boy Scout law and Sharia law represent the same threat.  Dr. Metz is just shouting uneducated nonsense, but he has a willing audience among a very important element in our armed forces.  I am in fact as worried about that as I am either Sharia law or Boy Scout law.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks


  1. On February 11, 2011 at 9:35 am, davod said:

    Maybe I need to study the issue further. However, what is wrong with Boy Scout Law, and, other than as a throw-away-line, how does Boy Scout Law fit into the argument about Sharia?

  2. On February 11, 2011 at 12:40 pm, TS Alfabet said:

    Excellent piece, Herschel.

    It is truly shocking to think that someone in Metz’s position could make a comparison between Boy Scout Law and Sharia Law.

    Further, it is mind-blowing to think that America has *still* not been able to even discuss Wahhabist Islam as a dire threat and something that all of us– conservatives, liberals, tree-huggers– can agree is a repugnant view. We have Hollywood wasting its time in its own “epic” battle against christians who have a moral objection to homosexuality but are strangely silent about the Wahhabists of the world who are hanging and stoning them. Not to mention the genital mutilation of women, virtual imprisonment. The cultural elites in this country love to mock the caricature of keeping women “barefoot and in the kitchen” but won’t say a word when it comes to genital mutilation, stonings for being raped and a host of other misogynistic practices.

    We are truly, truly in trouble here, folks. We can’t even talk about the enemy, let alone figure out how to fight the enemy. Can you imagine someone at the War College making the argument in 1938 that the Nazis were just a fringe group that didn’t represent most Germans’ thinking? A hell of a lot of misery and death can come from fringe groups that inculcate their thinking to society as a whole.

    The saddest thing about all of this is that prompt action now, when the Islamo-Nazis are in their vulnerable stage– to carry through the analogy– would prevent so much later pain. But we will have none of it. We are determined not to see until another 9-11 hits us and then we are forced to fight for our lives in the same brutal way that we did in WWII.

  3. On February 12, 2011 at 4:15 am, scott s. said:

    Interesting reading. I guess I am not alone in having very hard time coming to grips with exactly what “Islam” means. I can read history of Arabia/Egypt-North Africa/Ottoman Empire and reach some opinions based not on religion at all, just interpreting how the history went. but then I wanted to understand how Islam came to Borneo (Indonesia/Malaysia/Brunei) and found that I couldn’t make heads or tails of it. The whole concept Sufi-ism I can’t get my hands around. It seems entirely alien to me at least.

  4. On February 21, 2011 at 5:51 pm, Lynn said:

    Haven’t these illusory islamists been waging war to establish the supremacy of islamic law in like 10 different countries?

    1. Khomeinism in Iran – waged a war to establish islamic full law only 30 years ago, now has territorial control . . .
    2. Taliban in Afghanistan – waged a war to establish full islamic law in Afghanistan only 20 years ago and is currently waging war against more moderate muslims in Pakistan; now has partial territorial control in both Afghanistan and NW Pakistan. . .
    3. Al Shaba in Somalia -currently waging a war to establish islamic law – now controls most of the country . . .
    4. islamist regime in Sudan committing genocide against non-muslim peoples(animists and Christians) in order to extend arab islamist control under shariah . . .
    5. islamists in Algeria – waged a war to establish islamic law 20 years ago, currently in abeyance
    6. islamists in Grozny, Chechnya – currently imposing islamic law – now control most of the country through agreement/truce with Russia in exchange for peace/cooperation.
    7. MILF and Abu Sayyef in Phillipines -seeking to establish an autonomous islamic state governed by shariah

    Other islamist hot spots . . . Nigeria, Gaza, Lebanon, Thailand, Egypt, Iraq, Kashmir. . . . They certainly make a big splash for such a non-existent threat.

  5. On February 28, 2011 at 4:14 pm, Donald Sensing said:

    The comparison with the Boy Scout law might be apt if and only if Boy Scouts were intent on making the BS Law the supreme law of the land for everyone under pain of death or harsh, corporal punishment.

    But, since the Boy Scout Law is founded on Christian precepts, that seems hardly likely.

  6. On February 28, 2011 at 4:17 pm, Herschel Smith said:

    Or perhaps if the Boy Scouts enacted legislation where apostates to Boy Scout law were executed. But I guess that’s what you said Don …


  7. On September 12, 2013 at 2:06 pm, AM said:

    Dr. Metz is not an expert on Islam in any form, he holds a BA in Philosophy, an MA in International Studies, and a Ph.D. in Political Science. So his opinion on Islam is like asking a Math Professor what he thinks about the sonnets of Shakespeare. You’ll get an opinion, but you should probably ask an English Professor for an informed opinion. Saying that his opinion on Islam is infecting the minds of senior officers is like saying David Duke infected the minds of his fellow congressmen.

  8. On September 12, 2013 at 2:32 pm, Herschel Smith said:

    I would reverse the assertion. First, his opinions are indicative of the state of affairs of the armed forces at the moment, the Army more than the Marines. The war college has been like this for a while, and Leavenworth isn’t far behind.

    Second, a secondary assertion is in fact that people listen to him. His degrees are irrelevant. He teaches ignorant young folks at the Army war college. And I do mean ignorant young folks. The fact that you and I are dismissive of him isn’t the point. Thus, I disagree with your analogy with David Duke. The main point is that the Army would be willing to give such ridiculous screed a home and welcome audience.

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You are currently reading "Mythical Sharia – Or Not", entry #6277 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Islamists,Religion and was published February 10th, 2011 by Herschel Smith.

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