Sharia law for Libya?

Abdullah Doma AFP/Getty Images Libya’s interim leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil (center right) and oil and finance minister Ali Tarhuni (center … Continued

Abdullah Doma

AFP/Getty Images

Libya’s interim leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil (center right) and oil and finance minister Ali Tarhuni (center left hold a joint press conference attended by National Transitional Council (NTC) fighters in the eastern city of Benghazi on Oct. 24, 2011.

Mustafa Abdel Ja­lil, Libya’s interim leader, declared Sunday that post-Gaddafi Libya will be run as an Islamic state with legislation based on sharia law.

According to The Washington Post reporter Mary Beth Sheridan, Jalil said to a crowd in Benghazi, “’We are an Islamic state,’ and pledged to get rid of regulations that didn’t conform to Islamic law.”

Among the Islamic changes Jalil mentioned in his speech

— ”Libya’s new constitution “will not disallow polygamy’” (

— “The interest [on loans] will be ruled out,” in accordance with Islamic prohibition on charging interest.

Sharia law, as Post religion reporter Michelle Boorstein wrote in 2010, in recent months has become “shorthand for extremism” among critics of Islam in the United States. For Muslims, it is a code of conduct for daily life, similar to Jewish law, but concern over its role in politics have shadowed the Arab Spring.

As revolt and revolution has unfolded throughout the Arab world, secular Arabs and many in the West have voiced concerned about the role of religion in politics in the new Middle East. Violence against the Coptic minority in Egypt has fueled concern that the new Egypt will be less tolerant than under Mubarak. Each development, from a vote for a moderate Islamic party in Tunisia to Libya with Jalil’s call for sharia law, gives new details on how the newly liberated majority Muslims nations will choose to rule themselves.

Writer and religion scholar Reza Aslan, author of No God but God: The Origins, Evolution and Future of Islam, told On Faith in April that debates over Islam’s role are befitting of majority religious states, provided protection for religious minorities and ensuring the rule of law. His analysis of Islam’s role in Egypt has application beyond Egypt’s borders:

For the new Middle East, the details matter. Will religious minorities be protected? Will Egypt’s long-standing peace agreement with Israel hold? Will women lose –or gain–rights? Which parts of Sharia law will be codified — and whose interpretation will reign?

For a more detailed explanation of debates over sharia law in America and abroad, read Boorstein’s 2010 story.

Elizabeth Tenety
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