- What is the dialogue "Sharia" about?
The children are confronted with how distorted their notions of Islam and its practices are. They explore several themes that they have no concrete idea about, such as Sharia.
Sharia (Arab. ‘the way’ or ‘the path’ to the water or source) is an Arabic term for Islamic law. It is the body of principles revealed by God (Allah) and contained in the Koran, the Hadith (the collections of statements, deeds, and opinions of the Prophet Mohammed and the first followers of Islam) and the legal traditions and Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh). Sharia addresses all the significant problems of human life, from family law, sexuality, and social issues, through to trade and politics. In Sunni Islam, there are four basic schools of law (madh’hab): Hanafi, Hanbali, Maliki and Shafi´i. In Shia Islam Jafari is the dominant school. Sharia covers some controversial issues (e.g. apostasy from Islam). However, it is above all a question of its interpretation, which, as in the case of other religious texts, can be moderate and modern or, conversely, literal, fundamentalist, and even militant.
Islam as a way of spiritual life
The essence of Islam is expressed by its very name: ‘Islam’ means ‘surrender (to God)’ or ‘submission (to God)’. This term thus alludes to a life in harmony with the will of the supreme God. A devoted and obedient man is a ‘Muslim’. Surrendering to God brings peace and salvation. Both these meanings are expressed in the word ‘salám’ (perhaps more familiar to us from the greeting ‘As-Salámu Alaykum’, or ‘peace be with you’), which according to Arabic grammar is related to the words ‘Islam’ and ‘Muslim’. In Islam then, it is not just a matter of one’s own salvation through obedience to God, but of creating and extending the space of obedience to God, and by doing so, the space of peace and serenity.
Muslims regard a life lived in obedience to God and in harmony with God’s will as something perfectly natural. God determined man’s way of life from the very first man, Adam, and then engaged with people through his prophets. Of course, despite all the prophets, like Abraham (Arab. Ibráhím), Moses (Músá), David (Dáúd), John the Baptist (Yahyá), or Jesus (Ísá), people confused God’s will, and so God, through the Angel Gabriel (Djibril), spoke to the pious Mohammed (around 570-632), who is regarded as the last of the prophets and their culmination, that is, the ‘Seal of the prophets’. Based on these revelations the people were given the Koran, the definitive and everlasting word of God, and this word people cannot corrupt.
Just as Islam exists from the creation, many Muslims also believe that all people were born in submission to God and thus as Muslims. And just as mankind corrupted the truth faith, some of those born are not raised by their parents in conformity with God’s will. It is obvious from this understanding that God’s will surrounds man in every area of life, throughout his whole life, and for a Muslim there is no separate, independent sphere outside ‘religion’. Everything that a Muslim does is worship and in every area of his life he is God’s servant. Similarly, it is hard for a community of Muslims to make a distinction between Islam and, for example, politics. The entire life of the individual and the society should be ‘surrendered’ to ‘Islam’.
Even in a life of submission to God a Muslim must make decisions. The correct path is revealed to him by Sharia, the body of principles made known by God. Sharia constitutes an elaborate system of legal-religious and ethical norms that cover the entire life of a Muslim from birth until death. It thus sets out the norms of human behaviour, from family law, sexuality and trade, through to criminal law, where some punishments are very harsh, although they are not always applied, or applied in every Muslim country). The rules of Sharia derive from the Koran and the traditions shaped by Mohammed’s statements and deeds. From these two sources there has emerged a third: analyses by Islamic legal scholars. Individual scholars, however, give different interpretations of certain principles, and not just according to which of the four main Islamic schools of law they belong to (madh’hab), but also depending, for instance, on the culture they come from (for example, there are big differences between Muslims from Bosnia and Muslims from Afghanistan). Therefore, it is customary for scholars to discuss these things with each other. At present, a big issue for them is the question of the degree to which traditional rules which conflict with the general concept of human rights accepted in the world today should be strictly adhered to. This relates especially to freedom of religion (and the possibility of a Muslim converting to another religion), the punishments laid out for some crimes, and the position of women.
A Muslim’s relationship to God is defined by five incumbent duties, the so-called pillars of faith. Daily duties are the profession of the faith and prayer. Profession of the faith (Shahada) is not just contained in the prayers (Arab. salát), but man is considered to be Muslim on the basis of the profession of faith, which should also be his basic stance in life. It reads: ‘I profess that there is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet.’ The other three pillars comprise charity (zakát), giving to the poor at least once a year, fasting (sawm), abstaining from food between sunrise and sunset throughout the lunar month of Ramadan, and the pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj), which every Muslim man and women is supposed to make at least once in their lifetime. Alongside these five pillars of faith, however, there are many other rules that apply to the devout life of a Muslim, such as rules relating to food (they are not allowed to consume impure foods or alcohol) – food must be halal (just as Jews eat kosher food). Among these pillars some Muslims also include jihad: the struggle on behalf of Islam, a struggle both at the personal and the collective level. Jihad can be interpreted in various ways: as a personal striving for obedience and piety, as work for the Muslim community, as the dissemination of the teachings of Islam, or as an armed struggle in defence of Islam.
Mosques form the centres of local Muslim communities. While a Muslim can perform most prayers at suitable place outside the mosque as long as certain obligations are fulfilled, prayers at noon on Friday should be performed together. In the mosque the direction of prayer, facing the city of Mecca, is marked out, as is often the place from which the Imam (the figure who leads the prayer) preaches. Mosques are usually decorated with carpets and quotations in calligraphy from the Koran. Out of respect shoes are removed upon entering the mosque. Women pray separately from men, which is similar to the practice of Jews at synagogue and in some Christian churches.
Prayers are accompanied by gestures and movements and are said in Arabic. These form an important bond between Muslims in every part of the world, who together comprise a very varied and diverse whole. There are more than 1.2 billion Muslims in the world today, around one-third of which are Shiites. Their separation from the majority Sunni Muslims dates back to a time shortly after the death of Mohammed, when Muslims were unable to agree on who was Mohammed’s rightful successor. Each side interprets the same piece of text in the Koran somewhat differently, and they are also distinguished from each other by a number of other minor differences and distinct interpretations.
Islam in the Contemporary World
The ways of life of individual Muslims diverse and varied, and so are the societies in which Muslims make up the majority and where Islam is more or less predominant. These societies differ from each other in many ways: in the degree and extent to which Sharia is asserted as the norm that regulates the lives of every member of society, in terms of the given historical type of Islam which members adhere to and which the ruling strata of society propagates, and (often primarily) according to the local culture connected with Islamic law and the way of life. In different countries we thus find different customs (e.g. different types of dress, with Muslim women veiling themselves in different ways) or specific ceremonies (e.g. the practice of female circumcision). Although Muslim authorities see to the maintenance of social norms in these societies, this need not always mean that all these customs and ceremonies have their roots in Islam. The legitimacy of certain conduct or customs according to Islam is the subject of lively discussion among Muslims themselves (e.g. many Muslim authorities condemned the Taliban’s demolition of the Buddha statues in Afghanistan, and some Muslim authorities condemned the fatwa issued against the writer Salman Rushdie).
The rapid progress that has occurred in many Muslim countries in recent decades has generated some insecurity among individuals, and conflicts in society. Amidst rapidly changing conditions, some Muslims feel threatened by Western culture and try to anchor their lives with an uncompromising (fundamentalist) interpretation of Islam. They thus re-introduce the ideal of having a ‘true’ Muslim government (caliphate), the objective of which would be a return to the true beginnings and the attainment of peace and serenity in the sense of everything and everyone being subordinate to Islam. Such endeavours cause tension in Muslim societies and can even lead to violent conflicts, the effects of which have been felt in non-Muslim countries (in the United States, the United Kingdom, Spain, and elsewhere) in the form of international terrorism. The vast majority of Muslims, of course, distance themselves from violence and terrorism. However, alongside a fundamentalist tendency, it also possible to witness a growing interest in a more popular and less strict (and for some Muslims unacceptably slack) form of Islam, inspired by the tradition of Islamic mysticism – Sufism.
The conflicts in Muslim societies which have spilled over into the Western world, and the unprecedented rate of migration from Muslim countries, have produced varied responses in the West and have given rise to efforts to solve the question of how to create the right conditions in which a non-Muslim majority and a Muslim minority can live side by side. Some answers to this question have reflected an attempt to limit the place of Muslims in the public space and instead to regulate and control the life of their community. Owing to such efforts, for example, the erection of a mosque tends to be surrounded by controversy, problems accompany permitting the existence of Muslim organisations, public authorities show distrust towards representatives of the Muslim community, and Muslims have limited access to the rights enjoyed by other religious communities, and so on.
Conversely, other approaches to the question are based on the conviction that accommodation is what can best contain the threat of the emergence and spread of radical views, and these approaches consider steps like the public participation of Muslims, overt demonstrations of the positive acceptance of the Muslim community by representatives of society, and the attempt to raise the level of understanding in society as the behaviours which will be most successful in the long term. For this reason these approaches try to involve Muslims in the events of society and create space for their communities where they can assume responsibility for themselves. An example of this approach (to which we also give preference) is the Netherlands, which opened up the path to establishing an Islamic university where future Imams would be able to study. This decision reflects the idea of enabling Dutch Muslims to have religious leaders who have studied and lived in the same country as them and thus do not come from a radically different way of life. The hope is that these Imams will help Dutch Muslims to connect their conception of Islam with the way of life of Dutch society. However, the accommodating approach of Dutch officials instigated a wave of opposition to Muslims in public opinion, which had political and even criminal consequences.
Disputes over the different approaches to Muslim minorities in Western countries most often become apparent in relation to the question of permitting the construction of a mosque, as these structures serve as a symbol of the legitimate right of Muslims to enter the public space and thus be visible, fully-fledged participants in the life of society. However, some segments of Western societies are disturbed by the idea of granting legitimacy to the presence of Islam in the Western world in this way, because it violates their traditional image of the public space as culturally Christian. Alongside these symbolic reasons, mosques are also rejected because they are viewed as centres of a form of activity directed against society. However, there seems to be no factual grounds for these fears.
Islam in the Czech Republic
The Czech Republic is also a contributor to the variety of Muslim societies in the world. There are probably just over ten thousand people living in the Czech Republic who call themselves Muslims. Many of them were born in countries whose societies are in the majority Islamic, but their own relationships to cultural and spiritual traditions vary. Some try to adhere to the rules of Islam and the cultural practices of Muslims as much as is possible while living in a country that in the majority is not Muslim: at home or at the workplace they create conditions for daily prayers; buy foods that are halal (permitted under Sharia); in public they dress in a manner that reflects their submission to God and their relationship to their spouse; they fast in the month of Ramadan; they take part in common prayers at a mosque, and so on. Others honour the moral rather than the ritual requirements of Islam, and yet others abandon any visible form of spiritual life in the secular environment of Czech society. More than one thousand of them find their way to common prayers on Friday and at celebrations of holidays. In the mosques and Islamic centres they are joined by almost four hundred Muslims who were born in the Czech Republic and who converted to Islam. The majority of these people are women, in particular those who have married Muslim men. The number of Muslims in the country is growing slowly but steadily.
The natural centres of the spiritual life of Czech Muslims are the mosques and Islamic centres in the country, mainly in Prague and Brno. There is also an officially-recognised meeting place in Teplice, and Czech Muslims also gather in smaller numbers in several other towns. Meeting places (some of them are so modest that they are not usually referred to as mosques) are used not just as places of common prayer but also places to gather, for teaching, and for lectures. Like elsewhere, in this country the existence of recognised places for Czech Muslims has an important symbolic meaning – that their communities, while small, are a legitimate part of society. It is presumably this symbolic role of mosques which brought a portion of the Czech public to protest against the construction of mosques in the second half of the 1990s (mainly in Brno), and in fact twice prevented the construction of a mosque in Teplice. Like in the West, in this country some politicians are more open to the construction of mosques than others. On the part of Muslims, an accommodating stance is found at the Prague Islamic Centre, at the mosque in Prague, and at the mosque in Brno, where Muslims are interested in contact with the non-Muslim majority and have made an effort to open the doors of their spaces to the majority, acquaint them with Islamic views, and provide them with information.
The community of Czech Muslims is represented before the state and the public by the Office of Muslim Communities (UMO), registered with the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic in 2004 as a religious organisation. It publishes the periodical The Voice of Muslim Religious Communities. The largest Muslim centres are run under the Islamic Foundation in Prague and the Islamic Foundation in Brno (their website can be found at http://islamweb.cz; the mosque in Brno has its own website at http://mesita.cz). The sermons of the Prague Imam Emir Omic (originally from Bosnia) can be found at http://www.minber.cz. Alongside the UMO and the foundations, there are a number of smaller Muslim associations, such as the General Union of Muslim Students (founded in 1991 online at http://svazmuslim.cz) and the Muslim Union, which seems to have been less active in recent years.
In a documentary by Anna Juránková and Jakub Kořínek, ‘Islám po česku’ [Islam Czech Style] (Czech Television, 2007), Pavlína (age 28) says that she suddenly felt that she had to ‘change her life’. Through Islam she felt that ‘everything began to be perfectly clear, whether this meant conception, hygiene, family relations, social relations...’ Pavlína concludes her list by saying that ‘Islam encompasses simply everything’. She says that ‘being a Muslim in a non-Muslim country isn’t hard, but it is complicated ... a person has no Muslim family here, that is, parents also of the faith who support what their child is doing’. She complains that some Muslims find that ‘their parents see it as something temporary, spawned by fantasy, something that will pass, that will go away in time...’.
Several Muslims living in the Czech Republic appear in the documentary film ‘Muslimové přicházejí’ [The Muslims Are Coming] (Václav Křístek, Czech Television, 1998). Mr. Ibrahim Shata says: ‘I came to the Czech Republic as a Palestinian student. I studied at agricultural school. I didn’t complete my studies. I met my wife, who is Czech, we married in 1991, we had children, and in 1991 I started my own business.’
Mr. Zaidan K. Muhsin settled in the Czech Republic in a similar way. ‘I come from Iraq, from Baghdad to be precise’, he says, ‘and because I was an opponent of Saddam Hussein and was against the war with Iran I had to flee. I stayed in Syria for about a year and a couple of months, and then I got a scholarship for the Czech Republic.’ Mr. Muhsin wants to spend the rest of his life in the Czech Republic, so he has applied for Czech citizenship.
Alena, who also appears in this documentary, is Czech and was drawn to Islam by her second husband, who is also her biggest role model: ‘Every day I see with my own eyes what Islam is’, she says, ‘because Islam is a way of life and in my husband I see that he truly lives that way of life, and I want to live it, too’. In the documentary Alena remembers back to the time when she was not yet a Muslim: ‘It was difficult at the start, because before that I was used to going out to be with people, drink alcohol, go to the disco, dance, fool around... But now I understand that that’s not where the meaning of life is found. The meaning of life lies mainly in human relations, when people can rely on each other absolutely’. She values in her husband that he does not drink or smoke and that he is very reliable. People close to Alena had various reactions to the change in her life. Her two children were raised to appreciate a person’s right to make their own free decisions, and so they found it easy to respect their mother’s decision. ‘But my mother was against me becoming a Muslim’, she goes on. ‘She thinks that I’ve become somewhat sad... But really it is just the sense of discipline and responsibility towards life, which is greater than it is for other people’, she reflects.
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Mendel, M. & Ostřanský, B., Rataj, T. (2007). Islám v srdci Evropy. Praha: Academia.
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Vznešený Korán - komentářem a rejstříkem opatřený překlad významu (2007). Praha: AMS Trading. Komentář: ´Abdulláh Jusuf ´Ali.
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