While many challenges to human rights and democracy can be identified, none is more pervasive than the attempts by Islamists to introduce Sharia law in otherwise democratic and secular societies. Countering and neutralizing this threat is as urgent now as defeating Communism was decades ago. Thus, identifying and opposing introduction and enforcement Sharia is a main topic for the International Sakharov Committee in its defense of human rights and democracy.
Much has been said about the specific human rights flaws of Sharia, but probably Saudi Arabia made the point clearer than anyone else when in 1948 it refused to vote for he Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as described by Human Rights Watch:
[T]he kingdom was one of only a handful of countries […] that did not vote for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights when it was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948. Saudi Arabia’s stated reservations to the Universal Declaration were that its call for freedom of religion violated the precepts of Islam […]
That opinion is firmly based upon classical reading of Islam and Sharia, for example in Reliance of the Traveller, probably the most widely accepted Sharia manual in Sunni Islam. In article o8.1, it details the absolute prohibition of freedom of religion in these words:
When a person who has reached puberty and is sane voluntarily apostatizes from Islam, he deserves to be killed.
More generally, the attempts we are witnessing to introduce and enforce Sharia in otherwise democratic and secular societies constitute a clear violation of principles of self-determination, democracy and human rights, as elaborated upon by the European Court of Human Rights in its 2003 judgment concerning the Turkish Refah Party:
82. A theocratic State could not be a democratic State, as could be seen from Turkish history during the Ottoman period, among other examples. The Government mentioned a number of instances of incompatibility between the main rules of sharia and the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Convention.
123. The Court concurs in the Chamber’s view that sharia is incompatible with the fundamental principles of democracy, as set forth in the Convention:
“72. Like the Constitutional Court, the Court considers that sharia, which faithfully reflects the dogmas and divine rules laid down by religion, is stable and invariable. Principles such as pluralism in the political sphere or the constant evolution of public freedoms have no place in it. The Court notes that, when read together, the offending statements, which contain explicit references to the introduction of sharia, are difficult to reconcile with the fundamental principles of democracy, as conceived in the Convention taken as a whole. It is difficult to declare one’s respect for democracy and human rights while at the same time supporting a regime based on sharia, which clearly diverges from Convention values, particularly with regard to its criminal law and criminal procedure, its rules on the legal status of women and the way it intervenes in all spheres of private and public life in accordance with religious precepts.
While it may evasively be argued that Sharia is not clearly codified and can be interpreted in many ways, that does not improve the situation, for unclear law is at odds with fundamental Rule of Law principles, leading to arbitrary application of the law and legal uncertainty for citizens living under such law.
Other problems with Sharia are that it constitutes a religiously sanctioned Apartheid-like system, which grants Muslims higher status and more rights than non-Muslims (termed “dhimmis“), it is a “gender Apartheid” system granting men higher status and more rights than women. Further, Sharia prohibits non-Muslims from holding positions in command over Muslims, and that it prohibits man-made law, which sets it at odds with fundamental democratic principles.
These issues could possibly be resolved by Islamic reform movements, but that has not taken place yet. Until a reformed, modernized Sharia compatible with fundamental freedoms and human rights has been devised, the only sane response to Sharia is “No”.