This essay will be looking at the Shariah and how it is applied and how it affects the lives of Muslims living in a British, non-Muslim culture. In Islam Shariah is the name for the Islamic law, which applies to all aspects of the life of a Muslim. The Shariah includes all aspects of life from the daily activities, worship, criminal law and everything else. It is compulsory by every Muslim and by all Muslim nations to put into practice the Islamic Shariah and make it the source of all law and legislation. In Arabic, Shariah means “the clear, well-trodden path to water.” (www.bbc.co.uk). In Islam is it used to refer to the matters of religion that Allah has passed down for His servants, water is vital to all human life so the clarity and uprightness of Shariah is the means of life for the soul and the mind. (www.ourisalmonline.com)
Over one and half million people living in Britain are Muslims. The Muslim community in Britain is mostly Asian, people who have immigrated are from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and East Africa; also there is a minority of Muslims from Cyprus, Turkey, the Middle East (Saudi Arabia), Africa, Malaysia and Indonesia who are also permanently settled here in Britain for employment and business.
Psychologically a person would judge her/himself by her/his ideals whereas one tends to judge others by their practices and this is also true of interaction between cultural groups. Muslims living in Britain, for example would judge the majority group, the British as a homogeneous group referring to it as “the other”. This emphasises the characteristics and behaviour, which are most different from their own, they will tend to judge more in their view of the Islamic ideal. It is the same for the British who will judge the characteristics of Muslims in view of their own ideal based upon a conception of what is typically British. (Roald 2001, 119)
The family is the central to the whole scheme of social life as seen by Islam; therefore it must be preserved and strengthened at all costs. This concern is due to a number of laws laid down by Islam, for example like those regarding the relationship between the sexes and their intermingling, punishments for extra-marital sex, dress and many other related things. Unlike the structure of English families, the family structure of the Muslim family is very different, it includes well defined rights and obligations and the Muslim parents are enjoined in the Quran to meet their family obligations with kindness and justice.
The Quran asks the children to love and respect their parents; mothers in particular as the most worthy of respect, help and love. Due to this particular nature of Islam as a total way of life and the role of the family life, the younger generation of Muslims in Britain are often in a state of confusion and conflict in meeting the religious and the family duty on one hand and on the other trying to gain total acceptance within the English communities in which they study, work in which they are surrounded in.
Some British cultures believe that Islam is a new religion brought by Prophet Muhammad (blessings of Allah and peace be upon him). They say that He was the Founder of Islam and that at times it is referred to as Mohammadanism. Islam stresses upon the fact that it is not a new religion and that Prophet Muhammad (blessings of Allah and peace be upon him) did not bring a new faith. Islam says that he was the last of the Prophets, which included Abraham, Moses and Jesus and that He only renewed what they had preached. He cannot be called the Founder of Islam and Islam can defiantly not be called Mohammadanism. (Al-Attas 1978, 21)
Islamic life is based on two foundations, which is belief and action. The fundamental beliefs that Islam teaches are the belief in One God (Allah), in all the Prophets of Allah last of all was Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), the belief in the Quran; and in the Day of Resurrection, the Day of Judgement and the life after death. Muslims also must believe in the angels, as the servants of Allah who bring His message to the Prophets and obey and implement His commands. Belief in the Oneness of Allah is the foundation of Islam; Allah is One, Unique, the All Powerful, the Sustainer and Nourisher of the entire world; in Whose hands are the life and death of all creatures. Every Muslim is required as an important part of his faith is to believe and respect all the Prophets of Allah. Denial of one is the denial of all.
Islam is based on five pillars; these are the basic and formal structure of worship, which enables a Muslim to transform his entire life into an act of worship. The first pillar is the declaration of faith, which is known as the Shahadah, the second pillar is prayer, to pray five times a day (this is known as Salah). The third pillar is the welfare due to the needy (Zakah), the fourth is to fast during the month of Ramadan (Sawm) and the final pillar is to go at least once in a life time on the pilgrimage to Makka (Hajj) if one can afford to and is fit in health wise. (Basic Principals of Islam, 5)
The Shariah is in the Holy Quran and the life example of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is embodied in the Sunnah and this is where the law is revealed by Allah for the Muslims. The Islamic Law is not made by Muslims. The law is interpreted by Muslim scholars but once it is derived from the Quran or the Sunnah it can never not even by a simple comma be changed. The Western mass media have tended to present a distorted and biased view of the Islamic Law and have associated it with the particular Muslim countries in relation to singular dramatic events such as the event on September 11th. The Shariah is explained in K.J. Murad’s article “the Shari’ah is not merely a collection of do’s and don’ts, or just a set of criminal laws prescribing punishments for certain crimes.
The Shari’ah literally means a clear path. It is the path that man, in Islam must walk as he toils and strives to reach his Creator. It is the yearning deep within to seek the Lord and the Master that the Shari’ah translates into steps, concrete and measured, on the pathways of life. The Shari’ah is the fulfilment of the total man – inner and outer, individual and corporate – as he strives to live by the will of his One and only God. (Ahsan and McDermott 1993, p29). The Shariah consists of things which are expressly prohibited (haram) for example eating any food derived from the pig, consuming alcohol, gambling, interest and adultery are specifically forbidden.
There are certain Muslim practices in which people who are involved in various relationships with Muslims require a certain amount of information. These are related to various aspects such food, dress, sex, marriage, family, public worship etc. It is necessary not only to have the full information on the Islamic Law but the relations and attitudes on these matters. It is also vital to understand and respect the norms and values which belong to a culture different from the Western but in no way less civilised or inferior. Islam develops a framework of life where this world and the other world are fused together and has joined it into a whole. This world, this place is not something to be run away from, there is only a very short stay here for where the human beings placed on this earth are being examined, tested, purified and developed by the Almighty Allah. Man must stay within his or her limits and is allowed to use all the good things which are available on this earth.
Nothing created can be made unlawful without authority from the Creator, there can be no ignorance, superstition, traditions and customs. In the British culture ignorance and superstition has increased a lot. There is ignorance between friends, families, business companies over authority, hierarchical needs. There is ignorance between friends over clothes, money, and fashion tastes and if they belong and are member of a social “group”. Various forms of supersitiions have embedded in peoples minds over time in Britain for example if you break a mirror you will have bad luck for seven years, walking underneath a ladder brings a person bad luck, Friday the 13th etc.
Traditions and customs are more compulsory in the Asian community especially in places such as Pakistan but they still remain in the British culture but it is not as strong. Traditions and customs of a Pakistani family based in Pakistan tend to have more arranged marriages and allow their child only to get married to someone whom is of the same language and background. Whereas now in Britain it has become common for Muslims from different countries and backgrounds to get married and it is more of a free choice. Islam also urges that the needs and the desires of the body are not caused by evil within the person. All of them which is food, drink, sleep and sex should be satisfied only within the limitations set by Allah, once they are satisfied in violation of the limits set by the Almighty do they then become evil. (Lewis 1994, 111)
According to Islam all foods are lawful and consumable unless it is stated in the Quran or the Sunnah otherwise. All varieties of fish and all kinds of vegetables are allowed in Islam, it is only the variety of meat, which Islam discriminates between certain animals. Pig in all forms and carnivorous animals whether slaughtered ritually or not is specifically forbidden. According to the Islamic law, the animal should be killed in such a way that blood flows out, usually by a very sharp knife penetrating the inner part of the animal’s neck and the name of Allah should be said upon it while it is being killed. Muslim communities in Britain has set up their own system of supplying ‘halaal’ meat through shops run by Muslims.
Nowadays supermarkets such as Safeways also supply halaal meat. The ‘Kosher’ meat of the Jews is can also be eaten by Muslims, as the Jewish religion slaughter their animals in a very similar way also mentioning the name of God over them. Other foods sold in supermarkets which is either prepared or unprepared, Muslims need to read the list of ingredients very carefully whenever he or she intend to buy any food. The main problem in Britain unfortunately is giving the information about the ingredients in certain products as it is not legally binding. (www.youngmuslims.ca)
In Islam it does not mention at all in the Quran or the Hadith of which dress a Muslim male or a Muslim female should wear. It has given broad outlines to all Muslims that they should cover their bodies properly and with decency.the minimum part of the body that should be covered by the man is from his navel to his knees and for a woman, she should be covered from head to toe leaving only the face and the hands. The main problem in the British culture between Muslims and non-Muslims is the competition between each other in fashion and taste to impress the opposite sex. Non-Muslims would and are able to go to extreme measures especially the female sex to make themselves more attractive by wearing fitted and revealing outfits. This has an influence on the Muslim females as they are in conflict in meeting religious obligations on one hand and gaining total acceptance with the host community.
It has been realised that there is a Muslim Community in Britain, which believes in Islam. The Muslim child in Britain is likely to speak his native language (Urdu, Pashto, Bengali, Punjabi or Gujarati in most cases) at home, Arabic in prayers and English at school. In spiritual, religious and educational matters the Islamic religion gives man and woman equal rights making no differentiation between their opportunities in education and learning. The Prophet Muhammad (May Allah bring peace upon him) said “Pursuit of learning is a duty for every Muslim man and women without distinction between, since learning is venerated in Islam and its pursuit obligatory.” (Islamic Education and Single Sex Schools 1975, p12). Although Islam allows the equal rights to men and women but these rights are not necessarily those which will help them to follow the same roles and fulfil the same functions as society.
The Holy Quran emphasises the womanly duties set upon them such the role of a wife and the motherly role. It is a lot of responsibility and it takes up a lot of the time of the women. In the hands of the women is the care of her family’s social, religious and moral welfare whereas the male of the house, expectations from him are the fatherly roles and to be a husband, and also he is expected to accept the responsibility for providing the means by which the family may survive.
According to Islam, there is a specific sex individuality in man and woman which they must preserve and cherish because it is this individuality which gives them honour and dignity and enables them to fulfil in an effective manner their specific role in society. In the Hadith it clearly shows that the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) “strongly disapproved of either sex imitating the behaviour of the other n their dress and manners”. (Islamic Education and Single Sex Schools 1975, p13). Sex relationships outside marriage are clearly forbidden; an even intimate or sensual conversation between members of the opposite sex is disapproved of.
This leads on to the point which is causing great concern to many Muslim parents in Britain today. These fears are similar to many of the Christian parents whom have gone through and still also do, in the face of growing permissiveness within this society. Some Muslim parents have even been prepared to keep their daughters at home in order to avoid conflict between the religious methods which confronts them when they reach secondary school age. The girls are not allowed to enter the free society of males other than close relations.
This means that no Muslim girl ought to go a mixed secondary school. Also it must not be forgotten that a young unmarried Muslim male also needs a great deal of guidance. In the Times Educational Supplement there was an article saying that “in and out of school life teenage girls were subjected to strong sexual pressures of various kinds. There is a constant drive towards early dating, their contemporaries expect it, commercial world exploits it. For many girls the single sex school was almost the only place where they could value others and be valued by them as persons with social intellectual and temperamental qualities to be enjoyed and fulfilled ‘quite apart from the accident of sex'”. (Islamic Education and Single Sex Schools 1975, p17).
A Muslim child faces a very distressing conflict situation with respect to the many and varied roles he is required to play. For a Muslim child, the parents, with their Islamic, ethnic and village background; the family, the peer group within and outside the home, the mass media, the school environment, the teacher, the text book and society in general all combine together to put upon him very confusing and conflicting demands. What the child needs is a very high degree of sympathy and understanding from his home and his school. Given moral support from the family, guidance from the mosque and religious tolerance and respect from teachers and community workers, the young Muslim can learn to fulfil the rights and obligations upon him or her within the British society.
In modern times, forces such as “Western-style nationalism, tribalism and linguistic affinities, as well as the different ways in which various parts of the Islamic world have experienced the modern world and such forces as colonialism, secular nationalism, racialism and Western lay humanism have caused a significant variation in the manner and degree of attachment of many Muslims to Islam”. (Nasr 1997, p78).
There are Muslims in this world who never miss their daily prayers and live as much as they can by the Shariah, who consider their manner and attitude of following Islam to be the only manner. Yet again in contrast in the modern world there are also others who do not follow by the laws and still consider themselves as being defiantly Muslims. Also there are even who do not do anything specifically Islamic yet call themselves Muslims and would protest if called anything else. (Eaton 1997, 89), (www.usc.edu)
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Basic Principals of Islam, Albirr Foundations U.K.
Eaton, G (1997) Islam and the Destiny of Man, The Islamic Text Society
Islamic Education and Single Sex Schools
Lewis, P (1994) Islamic Britain, I.B. Tauris
Nasar, S (1987) Traditional Islam un the Modern World, Suhail Academy Lahore Pakistan
Roald, A (2001) Women in Islam, London and New York