Sharia, stoning and homosexuality
The Sharia, the Islamic legal system, pays greater attention to ethics than may have been thought. This was clear at the annual conference of the Leiden University Centre for the Study of Islam and Society (LUCIS). Academics from throughout the world considered the question of how modern Islamic law handles stoning and the rights of homosexuals.
Let’s start with the most important conclusion from the LUCIS conference: Islamic law does focus attention on ethics. That may seem surprising, because this centuries-old system of justice is often seen by outsiders as a strict, inflexible set of legal rules. ‘The possibilities afforded by Islamic law at all levels were explored, including, for example, the possibility of stopping stoning as a punishment,’ Professor Leon Buskens explained. Buskens, who researches the law in Muslim communities, was present at the conference.
Another important issue was homosexuality: how does Islam handle this? The speaker on this subject, Serena Tolino, was very critical. She outlined the situation in Egypt and said that ethical discussions on homosexuality quickly become politicised: 'That makes it more difficult to have a communal debate.’ Other lectures addressed such issues at Islam and bio-ethics, and Islam and family law.
Driving research forward
Apart from the academic outcome, this kind of conference is also important for furthering academic collaboration. Buskens: ‘It gives leading researchers the chance to meet and debate important issues. This is a valuable dimension for advancing research. This conference was not only for senior researchers; it was also an opportunity for PhD candidates to have contact with their own generation of researchers.’ The lectures were given by academics from all parts of the world, from the United States to Finland, and from Israel to Indonesia.
Leiden research on the Sharia
Research carried out in Leiden focuses specifically on the Sharia. Most Muslim countries are struggling to strike a good balance between deeply rooted traditions and modern demands, secular and religious laws, and conservative and modern interpretations of the Sharia. Conservative clerics on the one hand and more progressive groups on the other are both putting pressure on governments. It is not uncommon for the Sharia to correct a more repressive common law, as happened in Tanzania and Nigeria, for example, where women had no right of inheritance at all under local customs. The Sharia offers them more rights. Research on legal systems in Muslim societies helps to show these developments in a clear light.