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On the Pope, Cartoons, and Apostates: Shari‘a 2006

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 April 2015


During 2006, controversies concerning Shari‘a or Islamic law seemed to dominate media reports. From cartoons to apostasy trials, Shari‘a was deemed to be at the core of controversies that attained international notoriety. Furthermore, Shari‘a was implicitly invoked by the Pope in his now infamous speech at Regensberg, in which he referred to the prophet Muhammad and an early Muslim jurist in order to define Europe as Christian and contrary to all that is Islamic. The Shari‘a-related events of 2006 raised fundamental questions not just about what Shari‘a is, but more fundamentally about the place of Muslims and their religious tradition in the international system. This article attempts to survey the above Shari‘a-related events from 2006 in order to illustrate how references to Shari‘a, whether by Muslims or non-Muslims, were embedded within a larger discourse on identity, community, and difference.

This survey will not provide an in-depth analysis and critique of the Shari‘a doctrines invoked in each case, as that would be beyond its scope. Rather, this article is intended to review the events in light of how “Shari‘a” was characterized, used, and positioned within a larger legal and political discourse. All of them illuminate similar problems of definition and identity that will generally arise in any critical discussion of Shari‘a in the modern day. Shari‘a has arguably become more than a system of legal rules that can be subjected to critical legal scrutiny. Rather, it is also a symbol of political identity, such that any suggestion of legal reform may create political fall out amongst those committed to certain conceptions of identity, political and otherwise. The controversies concerning Shari‘a in 2006 arguably had less to do with legal doctrine, and more to do with how “Shari‘a” can be used and manipulated to facilitate political ends concerning the definition of identity and thereby the separation (and even marginalization) of communities.

Copyright © Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University 2007

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56. The impact of this history is further evident in sections 2 and 3 of the preamble to the Afghanistan constitution:

2. Realizing the injustice and shortcoming of the past, and the numerous troubles imposed on our country;

3. While acknowledging the sacrifices and the historic struggles, rightful Jehad and just resistance of all people of Afghanistan, and respecting the high position of the martyrs for the freedom of Afghanistan ….

See (accessed June 8, 2007).

57. Supra n. 29, § 1.

58. Supra n. 30, Art. 9(2).

59. Supra n. 39.

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