Harmonizing Sharia Legal Systems

Uthman ibn Affan, third Caliph, ordered four of the best reciters among the Companions of the Prophet(Sahabah) to transcribe several copies of the manuscript of the Qur’an(Mus-haf), which was compiled into one manuscript by the command of Abu Bakr. When they finished Uthman sent a copy of the transcribed manuscript to every territory. He also ordered that any other versions of the Qur’an be burnt. This story about the present version of the Quaran is cited as a guideline for disposal of unusable copy of Quran in book form.

According to some, Quran may be disposed by wrapping it in cloth and burying on holy ground where it is unlikely to be trampled on or “safely” placed where it is unlikely to come into contact with impurity. According to an Arab source, Muslims are forbidden to recycle, pulp, or shred worn-out copies of the text; instead, burning or burying the worn-out copies is allowed. Some online discusssions suggest burning, wrapping in a clean piece of cloth and burying, or disposing in a flowing river as possible ways of disposing. Few others suggest using a shredder, where the papers of the copy are to be shredded so that the form of a letter cannot be seen. Some people suggest disposing in a trash but inside a black plastic trash cover so that it is not visible to others. The burying is not advised by some to avoid the text being walked on.

These contradictory views and actions aligned to them are intended to avoid descration. Desecration is defined in abstract terms as ‘dishonoring’ or ‘showing disrespect’. Since there are differing view points on the way of disposal, the desecration may not be easy to identify. The case of a desecration is determined based on intent behind the act rather than the act itself. So the same act of disposal may be a desecration is one situation and a non-objectionable disposal in anohter situation. Who decides this issue?

In a recent incident in Pakistan, a trash collector reported collecting pages of Quran from the trash disposed by the Christian couple. The trash was generated from the belongings of an elderly person of the house of the couple. The act of disposing Quran in trash was perceived as desecration either by trash collector who reported it to the Mullah of the mosque or by the Mullah of the mosque after receiving the report. While the act of disposing the Quran in trash is not a deciding factor, the reason that a case of desecration is suspected in this case needs analysis of intent. While, the trash collector and/or Mullah might have seen bad intent in the disposal, the Christian couple have denied such an intent from beginning to the end. So, there were contradictory view points. The views of the Mullah and/or the trash collector have been presumed to be conclusive and the views of the Christian couple have been neglected or rejected.  (Expecting couple were burnt by a mob incited by loudspeakers of a local mosque declaring them as “blasphemous” and saying they should be “killed”).

What were the other options for the Christian couple? Burn the Quran? Since, burning is not recommended by some, such an act could have been interpreted as desecration by another set of people, and the Christian couple would have landed in a similar situation. Burn inside the house? Burning secretly by a Christian couple is definitely would create more suspicion about the intent behind the disposal, if and when it is known to the outside world. What about the burial? Since there is a possibility of stepping on this or there could be some interpretations on the details of the burial that leads to a conclusion of bad intent. Even if the Christian couple handed over the unusable Quran or its pages to a Mullah for disposal, one may suspect desecration of Quran and an attempt to cover it up by submitting the torn pages to a cleric. A bad intent in the descreation of the Quran and a decenptive intent in reporting it to the cleric may be concluded.

The Pakistani law provides life imprisonment for the desecration of Quran. But, the mob punished the Christian couple by burning them after the local Mullah concluded about the desecration. The official courts did not hear this case and so according to the constitution of Pakistan the trial and burning is unofficial and illegal. So, there are two parallel legal systems in Pakistan. One managed by Muftis and Maulvis of local Mosques. The other one by the courts approved by the Constitution. Both follow Sharia law – but the working of the Sharia law is different in both cases.

The trial of desecration, thus remains problematic from the perspective of the non-Muslims. Non-Muslims are not able to get justice from the constitution of the country because before it operates, the Islamic law is applied on them. This is true in many other countries and in many situations, Muslims are also affected in a similar way. There are many way of resolving this difficulty. Firstly, as stated by the Prime Minister of Pakistan, the rule of law is to be established in Pakistan with Constitution approved Sharia law superceding the Mosque implemented Sharia law.

There is another option.  The Sharia courts managed by local mosques and Mullahs may be recognised by the formal court system of Pakistan. Punishments of the traditional Sharia to be included as a possible option in the national legal system. Appeal system should be systematized to have a meaningful relook at the higher courts. Implementation of judgements from such a legal proceedings would be more meaningful.