Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A Guideline on Conducting Survey for Shari'a Implementation

I always want to do a survey on how Indonesian people perceive the implementation of Shari’a as a part of positive laws. Many surveys have been done on this issue. The problem is, either the questions are too general or only deal with the “famous” provisions of Islamic law.

By general, I mean that the question only asks whether a person accepts the implementation of Shari’a without knowing whether he would agree entirely with any kind of implementation or only to a certain degree.

By famous, I mean that the question only deals with classical provisions that are well known by many people such as hand cutting for thievery, stoning for adultery, etc.

I believe that this kind of survey cannot be used to know precisely whether the respondent fully understand his answer, that he gives his responses based on a good understanding of Shari’a and not just because he doesn’t want to be considered as a religious blasphemer.

In this article, I will provide certain guidelines of questions that can be considered when we are doing the above survey. First, do not start by asking the general question. Rather the survey must start with questions on specific provisions of Islamic law without any reference that such provision of law is a part of Islamic law.

The first set of questions should deal with slavery issues. Here we test whether the respondent would agree with the legality of slavery and whether they perceive slavery as a bad thing. Classical Islamic law permits slavery for more than a thousand of years. If people disagree with such notion, their belief on the supremacy of Islamic law should be questionable.

The second set of questions deal with economic issues. In this part we ask the respondents on whether they would agree to lend money to other people without any interest at all time, even for business purposes. And then we ask them whether they perceive bank interest as something bad, or just business as usual.

Classical Islamic laws stipulate that bank interest should be prohibited because it resembles "riba," that the sin of charging "riba" is equal to killing a person or having incest relationship with your own mother. Interestingly, for such type of sin, no criminal punishment is available (making me to believe that in terms of economic matters, Islamic law is pro capitalism).

Third, we deal with family law issues. The questions should be, among others, whether they agree that divorce rights should stay exclusively with the husband and that courts should not interfere at all (so husbands can divorce their wives as they wish) and whether husbands can do polygamy without requiring any approval from his first wife.

Here I primarily want to see how women respondents will react. The above provisions are parts of classical Islamic law which is not even implemented under Indonesian Islamic law. Yet, if we are staying with the tradition we should go with the old ones, unless you want to say that Islamic law is not eternal and its provisions can be changed in accordance with the relevant situation.

Fourth, we go with the criminal law issues, we can ask the usual famous questions with some twists. We should ask whether respondents would agree that any murderer can be released from punishment as long as he pay a decent amount of compensation to the victim’s family.

If they say yes, we can ask them whether they would agree that a thief can also be forgiven if he pay additional compensation to his victims along with returning the stolen goods. Such concept does not exist in classical Islamic law.
 
What I want to test here is whether people would agree that Islamic criminal law is good for the rich but not for the poor since the poor has no money to pay their way out from punishment, whether they will perceive this as a fair law or not. 

Finally, we ask them about procedural law issues. Would they agree that a woman’s value of testimony will only be considered half of a man? Would they agree that non Muslims cannot testify in a case and if there are no Muslim witnesses for an important case, what would they do?

Would they agree that any witnesses must satisfy the strict requirement of Islamic law, meaning that such witness is close to a perfect human being, e.g. consistently maintain 5 times prayer a day and any other type of worshiping activities, never lie, maintain body cleanliness all the time, nice to other people, etc.  

All these questions test the respondents believe on whether the above requirements (which no longer work in actual practice due to their inefficiencies) should be accepted as a part of positive law.

The final goal of these questions is to test the respondents consistency, especially when we close the survey with this question: would you agree that Indonesia should implement Islamic law in entirety because it is God’s law?

If they still say yes in the end, we should see whether they accept everything from the beginning or whether they agree to certain parts only. If they only accept certain parts, we can ask them whether they truly believe that Islamic law is perfect and thus should be implemented without any further questions.

Once we go with these kind of questions, I doubt that the number of people who vote for complete Shari’a implementation would be many. But this is still a prediction.

So, is there anyone who want to try conducting this survey and find out the real answer?

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Thursday, June 07, 2012

Do Eternal Holy Laws Exist?

The title of this article is the main question generated by people who believe that there are certain laws which are derived from God or basic moral principles. Thus, these laws would have a holy status and will be perfect and remain unchanged for eternity.
  
Unfortunately for them, the answer is no. There is no such thing as a holy law and there is no record that a law can be applied without any changes within the past 2,000 years. Law is a social fact and is always evolving. That’s the reality.  

By social fact, I mean that the basic validity of the law is solely determined by social acceptance, namely that the people within a territory, including their legal officials, accept from their internal point of view that a norm has valid authoritative power as a law.

How can we know that such acceptance exists? First, we can see such acceptance from how legal officials (such as judges) express the normative aspect of such rules within their opinions/statements. For example, they say that judges ought to adhere to certain norms in deciding cases, that it is the right thing to do, etc.

Second, we can also see the acceptance of such norm through critical evaluation, meaning that judges who accept such rules criticize others, even themselves, for failing to conform to the norm. Not only do deviations from the norm produce criticism, but such criticism is deemed to be legitimate and made with good reason.

Based on the above standards, no holy law would exist simply because it is holy or derived from the sky. All “holy” laws receive their holiness status because people treat them as such. And if people cease to treat them as a holy law, such law would also cease to become holy -- and lose its authoritativeness.

This understanding is very important. In any part of this world, we can say that no laws receive their authoritative status automatically. In modern world, there is certain exhaustive process (ultimately through democracy) that must be done before certain norm can be regarded as a law and enforced by the state/legal officials.

This might include election of officials by the people, promulgation of the laws by the legislators via voting process, and enforcement of the laws by legal officials (including interpretation of the laws by judges). It is a complex yet necessary process since laws affect how people behave in their day-to-day life.

However, there is also a twist here. Since law is a social practice, people who believe that certain laws should be treated as holy may gain power through the democratic process. I do not know and cannot predict whether they might ever win, at least in Indonesia, but that should always be taken into our consideration whenever we go to the general election. 

Next on eternally unchanged laws: if they do exist, there would be no need for interpretation. There would be no exception to the law unless the law says that it can be exempted. More importantly, it will also contradict the practices that have been done by various legal officials and scholars in implementing the law for centuries.

There are two examples of this: first, the classical Islamic laws on slavery. Some people claim that slavery is entirely prohibited by Islamic law. This is mistaken. Various archaic sources indicate clearly that slavery was a usual practice even hundreds of years after the birth of Islam. You can have sex with your slaves and you are not permitted to release them if your debts exceed your assets.

Islamic law encourages people to free their slaves, but it does not say that slavery is a prohibited action that will send the owners to hell. Surely if we say that the law should be unchanged, this practice of slavery should also stay provided that you treat your slaves nicely.

Second is the law on divorce. In classical Islamic law, men can divorce their wives directly without any interference from the court. Yet, Indonesian Islamic law limits such absolute right. A divorce by men will only be valid when the religious court has decided so. Interestingly, the Indonesian Islamic scholars use the sources from Shia schools to back up their opinion.

The two issues above are just small samples of an even bigger discrepancy between theory and practice. This is a deep theoretical challenge upon those who believe that the law should be applied as it is for eternity. If you accept that the law is perfect, how can you justify any changes to such law? 

In short, making the claim for an eternal law is easy, but when you face the actual cases in real life, you will soon realize that such law is merely an illusion.

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