On Thursday 8th December 2012, University College London Union Atheist Secularist and Humanist Society (UCLU ASHS) hosted a debate, the motion of which was “Sharia Law Negates Human Rights”. The two proponents of the motion (namely, Maryam Namazie and Annemarie Waters) were provided by UCLU ASHS from a campaign called “One Law for All”- a campaign to eradicate Sharia in all its forms and guises both in the United Kingdom and elsewhere abroad. The speakers against the motion were provided by the University College London Union Ahmadiyya Muslim Students Association (UCLU AMSA) and were the respected Khuddam members, Ayyaz Mahmood Khan and Jonathan Butterworth. Also present at the debate was Fahim Anwar, head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association (AMYA UK), Dr. Aziz Ahmad Hafiz, deputy head of the AMYA UK, and Dr. Tauseef Khan, head of the AMYA Student Department UK. The entire proceedings were captured by a film crew sent by Muslim Television Ahmadiyya (MTA), the official channel of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community (Sky: 787).
A strong publicity and awareness campaign carried out before the event paid off on the night with the entire 130 seater theatre overspilling within minutes, so much so that late-comers (unfortunately) had to be turned away. The audience comprised of an approximate 60:40 split between Ahmadis and non-Ahmadis. Though previous AMSA events have been hosted at UCL (as well as Queen Mary’s, and more recently, at Imperial College London), no event in recent years has been on the same scale as this debate.
The moderator of the debate, sporting a fetching bowtie, opened the event with the rules of the debate and the associated time allotted for each speaker. Twenty minutes maximum were to be given to each of the four speakers. The first speaker was Maryam Namazie, who sought to argue that Sharia Law does negate Human Rights. She spoke from her perspective as a Human Rights campaigner and attempted to appeal to the emotional sensibilities of the audience by citing innumerable human rights violations perpetrated in countries such as Iran, Saudi Arabic, Algeria and various other countries. In this vein, she read out a poem written by Algerian women regarding the suppression of their voice under the Algerian government’s implantation of Sharia law. The mainstay of her argument was that it wasn’t even a question as to whether Sharia Law negates Human Rights, as the behaviour of those countries that profess the Sharia as the code of law, speak for themselves. She alleged throughout her talk that Islam pronounces stoning for adultery, death for apostasy, death for homosexuality, as well as a host of other barbaric punishments.
The first speaker from the UCLU AMSA panel was Ayyaz Mahmood Khan. From the outset he made it clear that to speak of the Sharia in relation to the behaviour of any individual contemporary country was fallacious. He further elucidated that the Sharia draws principally upon the Qur’an primarily, then the practise of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (saw) before drawing, as a tertiary source, from the hadith. By relying and quoting from these sources, he went sequentially through each allegation against the Sharia made by Maryam Namazie and demonstrated that the barbaric practise of contemporary countries she relied upon to make her point was contrary both to the letter and the spirit of the Qur’anic teaching, as well as the practice (Sunna) of the Noble Messenger (saw). He further emphasised that the true nature of the Sharia relies upon the principle of absolute justice and that the sharia actually therefore calls for a separation of the mosque and the state, de facto secularism. Finally, he made it clear that the two most destructive wars in human history were fought on the basis of geo-political considerations-not religious ones. To highlight that the abolition of religion is not the solution to the cruelty perpetrated by governments, he cited the two notoriously atheistic states-China and Russia, who together were responsible in the 20th century for some of the worst human rights violations, with estimates of 50 million people killed under the atheistic Chinese dictatorship of General Mao. Finally, Ayyaz ended his talk by acknowledging that the Islam presented by him may not be the Islam that the audience has ever been presented with; the reason for this, he said, was that the Islam presented by him is the Islam of the Prophet Muhammad(saw), an Islam which has been revived in this age by Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad(as), the Promised Messiah and Imam Al-Mahdi
Annemarie Waters-the second speakers proposing the motion, also asserted the same points, though attempted to do so through the eye-glass of contemporary British law. She focussed less upon the international manifestations of Sharia, but attempted to hit closer to home by drawing the audience’s attention that Sharia is increasingly being implemented in the UK under the guise of “Arbitration Law”. By citing various quotes from the “Sharia Council of Britain”, she sought to persuade the audience that as Sharia is discriminatory (specifically between men and women) it is not in line with the principles enshrined in the European Court of Human Rights. To this end, she cited anecdotal evidence from instances in the UK where women have suffered at the hands of their husbands, only to have justice denied to them when the matter was taken to the Sharia Arbitration tribunals.
Jonathan Butterworth, a UCL law faculty lecturer and co-ordinator of Human Rights charity “Just Fair”, was the final speaker of the debate and the second speaker to oppose the motion. From his opening words, it was clear that Jonathan was taken a different approach-his was a peace offensive and he sought to win his argument with love. To that end, he made it clear that neither he nor Ayyaz disagreed that Sharia is implemented throughout the world to suppress human rights, but that such implementation could not be taken as the definition of sharia. Jonathan sought to strike at the heart of the issue, by asking the question as to what the basis is of both the International Charter of Human Rights, and of the Islamic Sharia as enshrined in the Qur’an and implemented by the Prophet Muhammad(saw)? His argument was that freedom was the basis for each and thereby opened his speech with the quote of J.S.Mill:
The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant. (J.S.Mill On Liberty)
To highlight this common basis between the true Sharia and the International Charter of Human Rights, Jonathan took each of the salient articles of the charter, provided the Qur’anic verse which corresponded to the article, before providing an example from the life of the Prophet(saw) to demonstrate the manner in which this particular right was put into practise. This method of sequentially going through Human Rights Charter ended on the personal note that he himself was a convert to Ahmadiyyat- the True Islam, and that his journey to this truth required the investigation on his part. He ended on the exhortation that it is the job of each person to seek out the true Islam-the Islam as practised by the Prophet Muhammad(saw) and which could now only be found in the fold of the Promised Messiah(as).
The question and answer session that followed was intense to say the least, yet there were moments when the heavy clouds of discussion and debate were penetrated by a ray of humour. The questions lasted for approximately two hours. A resolution was, to some extent, reached-that the question of whether Sharia law negates human rights, depends principally on whether the Sharia that is being discussed is the abhorrent Sharia as practised by Iran, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan which is in direct conflict to the express statements of the Qur’an, or whether it is the timeless, matchless Sharia as implemented by the Holy Prophet of Islam(saw). Towards the end of the debate, Annemarie Waters accused Ayyaz and Jonathan of living in a “fantasy” and a “fluffy world” which bears no relation to the reality of Sharia today. She then said something along the lines that “(paraphrased) I would like to see how you (the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community) would practise Sharia if given the opportunity”. The future of Ahmadiyyat-the True Islam, will bear witness that the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community will never willingly or consciously be a party to injustice in any sphere of human relations and is every day, by God’s Grace, re-establishing on Earth those inimitable blessings that vanished and had ascended to the Pleiades.
The debate was very well received by those present who appeared to, by and large, appreciate the peaceful and evidenced understanding of Sharia law outlined by the representatives of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association. Some of those attending the lecture were particularly taken aback by the Ahmadi understanding of Sharia law and asked if they could be provided with some of the literature published on this subject by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association later on.
It is hoped that the event, in line with the wider objectives of AMYA, has encouraged healthy debate on a much misunderstood issue surrounding Islam and engendered a sense of co-operation and dialogue between the various communities and societies that make up Great Britain.
Source: Muslims for Humanity