Sharia Law and Muslim Morality

Mosque, 26639710_sTo people raised in the Judeo-Christian tradition, the punishments called for in Sharia law are shocking. And even more shocking is the widespread approval of those punishments by Muslims around the world.

The punishment for adultery is stoning people to death, typically by burying the offenders in sand up to their necks and then having others throw large stones at their unprotected heads.

The punishment for theft and robbery is severe whipping or cutting off offenders’ hands.

The punishment for rejecting the Muslim faith is execution.

Although many people believe such penalties are supported only by Muslim extremists, a 2013 Pew survey of Muslims in seven countries found that in four of the countries well above 50% said they approved of all three penalties.

The Pew survey constructed regional as well as national profiles: specifically, Southern-Eastern Europe, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, Middle East-North Africa, and Sub-Saharan Africa. One such profile concerned opinions about the morality of seven specific behaviors—homosexuality, sex outside marriage, abortion, euthanasia, suicide, prostitution, and drinking alcohol. A large majority in every region endorsed the view that all of these behaviors are morally wrong. In most cases the percentages were in the high 70s, 80s, and 90s. (Out of a total of forty-two scores, only seven were in the 60s.)

The survey also sampled opinion in thirty-eight countries as to whether Sharia should be made the official law of their countries. In twenty-five of the countries more than 50% of the respondents said that it should. The highest numbers were in Malaysia (86%), Afghanistan (99%), Pakistan (84%), Bangladesh (82%), Iraq (91%), Palestinian Territory (89%), Morocco (83%), and Niger (86%).

The views of Americans on such moral issues stand in stark contrast to the dominant views in Muslim countries. Whereas Muslims condemn the specified behaviors, many Americans, in some cases a strong majority, find them morally acceptable. A 2013 Gallup poll revealed the following approval statistics: homosexuality (58%), sex outside marriage (66%), abortion (42%), euthanasia (52%), and suicide (19%).

Another poll found that 39% of Americans favor legalizing prostitution.  And the vast majority of Americans believe there is nothing immoral about drinking alcohol.

All these differences between Sharia law and the American moral perspective are so great that they tend to obscure an important fact:

A century ago the American moral perspective was identical to the modern Muslim perspective on all but one of the behaviors mentioned above—homosexuality, sex outside marriage, abortion, euthanasia, suicide, and prostitution. The only exception is drinking alcohol, though even on that issue there was sufficient support to pass Prohibition legislation in 1920. (Of course, the American moral view has never supported such harsh punishments as stoning or amputation.)

What should we conclude from these facts? That even as we shrink from the violence of Sharia’s punishments and the intolerance of denying individuals the right to follow their conscience in matters of religion, we must admit that it is not Muslims but Christians who have changed their moral beliefs. That change is most evident in the considerable difference in moral attitudes between younger and older Americans.

Those who support the change in America would say there is no shame in changing one’s moral perspective. This is true when the change is based on clear evidence that the earlier perspective was mistaken. Unfortunately, the change that occurred in American values was capricious. It was based on the unthinking embrace of a shallow moral perspective that had become embedded in mass culture. At the center of that perspective are the foolish notions that everyone creates his or her own reality, that there are no objective standards of right and wrong, and that whatever an individual feels like doing is good and moral because he or she feels like doing it.

Should we continue to oppose Sharia law’s extreme punishments and the movement to incorporate Sharia law into our legal system? Absolutely. (See this related essay.)  But we should avoid cavalierly dismissing all Muslim moral views in the process. Instead, we should evaluate those views fairly, understanding that in some cases they reflect not only the teachings of Islam but the traditional teachings of Christianity, as well.

Copyright © 2014 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved