Thursday, 7 January 2010

World Court Elite & 'Islam' Vs Human Rights

On 12 November, 2009, I attended a talks held at Brunel University, London, UK, in the Newton Room of the Hamilton Building at the Uxbridge Campus. The paper was presented by Judge Awn Shawkat Al-Khasawneh, the previous vice president of the World Court (International Court of Justice).

His Excellency gave a thirty minute speech on Islamic Law's role in international courts: the application of international Islamic law (Siyar) in international courts and conflicts. His Excellency is not short of impressive credentials.

During the first five minutes of his lecture, Al-Khasawneh addressed the widely heard criticism that Islam sanctions harsh physical punishments. His argument in response was weak and somewhat disturbing to say the least:

Well, during the eighteenth century the British in India argued that such punishments were too lenient...”

In essence, Al-Khasawneh – an experienced and learned judge of the World Court - is using the under-developed (or lack of) human rights standards of three hundred years ago to address a modern day criticism. How can the standards of three hundred years ago be applied to present day human rights standards?

During this speech, he argued that Islamic law is not the same as Sharia. When it was time for questions and answers, a man asked what the difference was, given that he had been led to believe by the British media that Islamic law and Sharia are one and the same. After discussing the origins of Islamic law, and the Muftis of the previous centuries, in responding to the question Judge Al-Khasawneh concluded, both to himself as well as the audience, that "Islamic law and Sharia...they are pretty much the same thing". Thus, the audience had the benefit of witnessing the Judge of the World Court correct his own claim that Islamic law and Sharia are different.

However, the most disturbing part of the lecture was when Al-Khasawneh, in addressing a question on Islamic law, referred to stoning in Islam. His Excellency argued that in Baghdad, Iraq, there had been "only" three reported cases of stoning in the last one thousand years. He said this with a smile as if three stonings in a millenium amounted to nothing. The point for concern is that an educated judge of the World Court appears to think that 'only' three stonings in one city over the last thousand years is acceptable. Any human rights advocate would argue that one stoning is one too many. As a learned and experienced Judge, one would expect His Excellency to be well versed in his own religion in order to be able to handle such criticisms with intellectual responses. In my Masters Degree dissertation, I researched and then argued that stoning is not legitimately within the remit of Islamic punishments – it is not once mentioned in the Quran. Concerning the recorded practices of Prophet Mohammad of Islam (hadith), any testament on proving adultery requires four male witnesses, whose testimonies must not have any discrepancy, and must account in detail that actual sexual penetration took place. This is highly improbable to satisfy in that any one who engages in adultery would not do so in an environment where there is a chance that they would be seen by even one person, let alone four! The requirement is even harder to satisfy when each of the witnesses must submit a testimony that does not in any way differ from one another; should there be any discrepancies in their testimonies, the erring witnesses would, thus, be subject to eighty lashes of the whip on the charge of 'false accusation' (qadf) - who would take such a risk in volunteering to be a witness?

It beggars belief why Al-Khasawneh drew on an example pertaining to the 'limited' cases of stoning that took place in a city over a millenium, when he should be more aware of his religion's jurisprudence and penology. His flawed and fallible arguments served to further arm critics of Shari'a, and supporters of human rights, with more ammunition.

I left the talks with an overwhelming sense of concern that the international courts are in the hands of such minded judges. Therefore, what hope does the enforcement of international human right law in offending countries have; especially those countries who claim to rely on Islamic law when administering their harsh physical punishments and other violations of human rights?


  1. well,he minimizes the stoning and tries to wiggle around the sharia question.Also,I'm learning more how Islam,like Christianity,has been twisted by some people to justify things they do and to scare and control people.Once the distortions are cleared away,it's not the blood thirstyreligion that many people think it is.Quite the contrary,as I learn more of the "true" Islam

  2. you nicked my photo

  3. It is important that people see things for how they really are, and not part of the dust that has settled on its surface; I speak for myself too, as I am on a continuous path of education and improvement.

    Cynical Child - Thank you for providing an important picture in support of this post; it is instrumental in providing the news in my post. All credit of photography to you; you serve effectively in the pursuit of truth and justice.

  4. lol Mehrtash, it's just a photo, but thanks for giving me such credit:)

    I should give you credit for speaking out on this issue. I cannot say I was surprised when I heard the judge's words. I have gotten used to "surprises" like that since I came to London. You are right in what you say, but I am not satisfied even with "true" Islam whatever that might be (only the Qur'an; Qur'an + hadith; Qur'an + hadith +...) and all its requirements of proving "crimes". (By the way, you forgot to mention that instead of 4 male witnesses there can also be a testimony. Now that is something that is not so impossible to achieve.)
    What I am trying to say is that distorted Islam is a catastrophe, but the so-called real Islam although much, much better and a true human rights revolution for its time is not enough for this day and age. (You mentioned yourself how displaced that argument about ‘punishments seeming too lenient to the eighteenth century British in India’ was. I completely agree with you.)
    No matter how you look at it, any kind of Islam suggests that someone who "commits adultery" (in other words makes love) should be killed. That is wrong enough for me, right there... Religion has no place in law. Not in domestic law, not in international law.

  5. Cynical Child - the four witnesses present their testimonies; unless you meant the confession of the accused, which that can also be retracted at any time, thus, nullifying the execution of punishment.

    There is no provision within the Quran that dictates one should be 'killed' for committing adultery. Some hadith may prescribe death; however their authenticity is not robust, unlike the Quran (Quran was written at time of revelation, whereas hadith were gathered many years after the death of the prophet of Islam).

    Now, we can engage on a discussion on the question of whether Islam has any legitimacy, but that would be irrelevant to this post. The purpose of this post is to highlight how the ex-vice president and sitting judge of the world court can not only defend human rights standards, he also does not seem to be well versed in a religion in which he claims to advocate - and he was presenting a talk on Islamic law being used in the international courts!

  6. Yes, I meant a confession... my mistake.

    You are right: the Qur'an "only" says: "Each of the man and the woman guilty of adultery or fornication must be flogged with a hundred stripes. Let no compassion move you in their case in a matter prescribed by God, if ye believe in God and the last day. And let a party of believers witness their punishment" I think you know what I am getting at when I say "only". Furthermore if someone flogged me with a hundred stripes, I doubt my body could survive it.

    And I know what the purpose of this post is. I already credited you for writting it. It means a lot when someone comments on my blog, so I like to do the same for other bloggers just to show appreciation of whatever they do, but since you can not just press the "i like it" button here, I wrote what was has been on my mind ever since I started the HR and Islam course, to add to your thinking. I appologize.

  7. I think you have misunderstood my response as a criticism; there is no need for you to apologise. I see you have read Surat Al Nur from the Quran.

  8. Hi Mehrtash, I listened your brief interview on BBC 4 which was interesing to me. As for my opinion on your recent 'post', unfortunately, as I said previously, I haven't enough time to have a critical review at it (and your previous materials) as a result of my assessments etc to provide a reasonable comments on them. However, I still like to have your next 'posts' etc. Good luck in your job humanaterian activities. Khosro

  9. no, no, I didn't :) I wanted to read the whole Quran but then with all this course work didn't have time for it. I took the citation from an article which Dr Badar gave us to read. He gave us three articles about the hudud offences, and this article was the only one that even mentioned sepratelly what the Quran said. The other articles said "under Islamic law either in the Quran or the Sunnah" the punishment for Zina is stonning etc... Making no distinction between the importance of the sources...
    Anyway, I'm glad I just misunderstood you ;)

  10. Khosro - Thank you for honouring me with your comment. One need not always take time to provide a thought-through comment; sometimes a response from opinion is more effective in articulating a more stimulating response.