Why should it surprise us that the transitional government in Libya is calling for Sharia Law? After all, Libya is 97 percent Muslim, Islam is a law-based religion, and Sharia is Islamic law. This is not exactly rocket science.
The rebels who killed Gaddafi were not exclaiming, “Long live the West!” They were shouting, “Allahu Akbar! Allah is great!” And this is hardly a new development. Islam entered Libya in the 7th century, the same century that Islam was birthed, and Gaddafi was not hated by his people because of his Muslim faith or his desire to see Libya become an exemplary Islamic nation. He was hated because of his destructive tyranny.
Yet commentators in the West continue to marvel that the Arab Spring is turning into a Sharia Fall. Why?
A recent headline on FoxNews.com announced, “Democracy on the Rocks in Egypt,” followed by this blurb: “Leader of radical Islamic group looks to instate Shariah law in post-Mubarak Egypt, where Christians, Muslims and its army continue to clash.” (More accurately, the last clause should have said, “where Muslims continue to kill Christians.”)
This is news? This is an unexpected development? And who says that, in the Islamic mind, democracy and Sharia Law are incompatible?
Just because these countries are calling for democratic elections does not mean they are casting off their religion, and just because they are breaking free from oppressive regimes does not mean they consider Islam to be oppressive, even in its fundamentalist form.
It is true that many of the young people revolting in these countries have access to the West and its ideals on a scale unimaginable to previous generations, and it is true that they are saying “enough is enough” to the corrupt despots who have ruled them for so long. But we make a serious error when we downplay the nature and depth of their Islamic faith, not to mention the fact that Libya and Egypt (as well as Tunisia) are African not European, while the other Arab countries in turmoil are Middle Eastern, not American. The cultural and ideological divide can hardly be exaggerated, let alone the religious divide.
In Islamic countries, there is no such thing as “the separation of mosque and state.” Put another way, “The heart of Islamic teaching is that religion is not just a part of life, but life is a tiny part of religion. Thus everything in life is dominated by this religion. As such, Islam is a system. It is a socio-political, socio-religious, socio-economical, educational, legislative, judicial, and militaristic system garbed in religious terminology” (Answering-Islam.org).
In keeping with this mentality, the Sharia-Law.com website simply states, “Islamic law is about the Muslim religion, society, family and individual aspects of behavioral regulations. Also known as the Muslim law or Sharia.” (The word sharia in Arabic means “way” or “path.”) Sharia Law, then, is the comprehensive code of conduct, life, governance and religion for the committed Muslim, based on the teachings of the Quran and the example of Muhammad. And this means a different way of life.
To give this further context, many Americans are shocked to learn that fundamentalist Muslims commonly view our country as “the Great Satan.” On the one hand, our strong support of Israel causes us to be branded as the enemy. On the other hand, our worldliness and sensuality also cause us to be hated and despised by many in the Muslim world. By Islamic moral standards, the USA is the Great Satan and Europe is America’s closest ally in exporting godlessness.
This USA Today article, dating back to December 3, 1997, is worth quoting at length, as reporter Jack Kelley described an evening he spent with Islamic radicals in Egypt:
“As the night wears on, the militants grow more angry and more expressive. They turn their attention to the immorality of Westerners, whom they regularly refer to as ‘infidels.’ They cite figures on the divorce rate in the United States. They point to crime and drug use. They talk about America’s preoccupation with sex. ‘You will never find these things where true Islam exists,’ argues Ziad Ali, 34. ‘Islam is the only answer, not Christianity, not Judaism, not Buddha. Without it, America is going to hell.'"
“He points to a young Muslim woman outside the window below who is fully clothed from head to toe and even wearing gloves. Islamic practices vary from country to country but the norm is that women should cover their hair and bodies. . . . ‘That is how a woman must dress, not the way they dress in America, in Britain,’ Ali says. ‘In America, your women dress like harlots. They have no dignity. We want to change that here in Egypt so our harlots don’t go to hell.’”
This mentality is still common in countries like Libya and Egypt, both African nations with a long Islamic history, and both countries with a reemerging fundamentalist element. And that means the reemergence of Sharia Law. This really is no surprise.
Michael Brown holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University. He is the author of 25 books, includingLine of Fire. Follow him at AskDrBrown on Facebook or @drmichaellbrown on Twitter.