Critique of Islamic Law and Nature of Man

QUESTION: Critique of Islamic Law – Nature of Man


Lord Acton coined the now famous phrase “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”1 Underlying this wise saying is the biblical notion that the sinful tendencies of humans are such that left to ourselves, we are not to be trusted with too much power. Thus in Western nations power is distributed among various facets of government. In the United States, for example, there are three branches of government: the Executive, the Legislative, and the Judicial. The division of power permits checks and balances on political power.

Islam stands in contrast both to the biblical revelation of human sinfulness and the importance of a division of powers. Malise Ruthven observes, “It is pessimism about human nature (a by-product, arguably, of the Christian doctrine of original sin) that leads to the liberal perception that all power corrupts, and that constitutional limitations must be placed on its exercise.”2 Yet Ruthven writes, “[B]ecause the Islamist model is predicated on the belief in government by morally impeccable individuals who can be counted on to resist temptation, it does not generate institutions capable of functioning autonomously by means of structural checks and balances. Political institutions function only as a result of the virtue of those who run them, but virtue can become widespread only if society is already Islamic.”3

The result is that nations with a predominately Muslim population tend toward dictatorships or monarchies and in consequence lack personal freedom. In their report Freedom in the World 2003, Freedom House lists forty-eight nations that receive a rating of “Not Free.” Of these, twenty-five in total have largely Islamic populations, and of the nine worst rated countries, six are Islamic (Iraq, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, and Turkmenistan.)4 Throughout the report, the authors insist that these facts “should not suggest some kind of inexorable link between Islam and tyranny.” A few paragraphs later they again make clear that the lack of democratic reform in “large swaths of the world populated by Muslim majorities” is not “directly related to religious beliefs as such.”5

Yet, even a casual look at Freedom House’s own “Map of Freedom,” which highlights the world’s freest nations, reveals the link between freedom and worldview.6 The nations that have the highest regard for basic human rights and the rule of law are those countries that have come under the influence of Christianity. In light of this, it seems that Freedom House is merely attempting to explain away the obvious conclusion that worldviews really do matter.

Critique of Islamic Law – Individual Freedom
In contrast to a Biblical Christian view of the nature of man, the Muslim community cannot find a similar basis for individual freedom within its religion. On the one hand, Mawdudi, a prominent Pakistani Muslim scholar, states, “[A]ll non-Muslims will have the freedom of conscience, opinion, expression, and association as the one enjoyed by Muslims themselves, subject to the same limitations as are imposed by law on Muslims.”7 However, Samuel Shahid writes, “Mawdudi’s views are not accepted by most Islamic schools of law, especially in regard to freedom of expression like criticism of Islam and the government. Even in a country like Pakistan, the homeland of Mawdudi, it is illegal to criticize the government or the head of state. Many political prisoners are confined to jails in Pakistan and most other Islamic countries. Through the course of history, except in rare cases, not even Muslims have been given freedom to criticize Islam without being persecuted or sentenced to death. It is far less likely for a Zimmi [Christian or Jew] to get away with criticizing Islam.”8

The idea of freedom of expression is not part of Muslim legal tradition. Historically, Muslim countries operating under Shari’ah law and Muslim legal scholarship have allowed Muslim men a certain amount of freedom, but restricted the freedoms of women and non-Muslims.

In Saudi Arabia, for instance, churches are prohibited from being built. Christians must worship in the privacy of their own homes and refrain from even praying out loud, so that faithful Muslims can remain untainted by Christianity. In Algeria, a law passed in 2005 pronounces any means of enticing a Muslim to another religion criminal, including even producing, storing, or distributing “printed documents or audio-visual formats or any other format or means which seeks to shake the faith of a Muslim.”9 If convicted, the offender could be imprisoned for two to five years and fined as much as $14,000 (US). According to Arabic News reports, the new law “is an attempt to withstand the Christianizing campaign which had witnessed notable activity recently.”10


Rendered with permission from the book, Understanding the Times: The Collision of Today’s Competing Worldviews (Rev. 2nd ed), David Noebel, Summit Press, 2006. Compliments of John Stonestreet, David Noebel, and the Christian Worldview Ministry at Summit Ministries. All rights reserved in the original.

1 Lord Acton’s letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton (1887). See John Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, 13th and centennial ed. (Boston, MA: Little Brown and Company 1955), 335. 2 Malise Ruthven, 89–90.
3 Ibid., 90.
4 See Freedom House’s 12-page report, “Freedom in the World 2003” at
5 Ibid., 5.
6 To view Freedom House’s “Map of Freedom 2001,” go to¬world/2001/map2001.pdf.
7 Samuel Shahid, Rights of Non-Muslims in an Islamic State,
8 Ibid.
9 Ibid.

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