A draft of a new constitution created by the Libyan rebels’ transition council that says Sharia law will be a principal source of laws has been leaked on conservative blogs, but authenticity of the document has yet to be confirmed.
The prospect of an oppressive, Iranian-styled theocracy replacing an oppressive dictatorship has alarmed bloggers and posters on the Internet, causing many to question the worth of the Libyan revolution. Fox News sarcastically said, “Good job, NATO,” while TheBlaze.com said, “Even with a new regime, ‘reform’ still does not seem to be an operative word for a new Libya.”
The part of the alleged draft constitution that has raised so much concern is in Article 1 and states that, “Islam is the religion of the state and the principal source of legislation is Islamic Jurisprudence (Shari’a).”
Whether or not the draft constitution is authentic, it is still difficult to determine exactly what kind of government a new constitution will create. Using Sharia as a “principal source” does not necessarily mean that each law must strictly adhere to a Sharia system.
According to a study by the University of Houston, out of 15,000 documents from America's founders, 34 percent of the quotes came from the Bible, making it arguably the “principal source” for the U.S. constitution. Yet few would argue that America’s legal system is too heavily regulated by the Bible.
"There are so many varying interpretations of what Sharia actually means that in some places it can be incorporated into political systems relatively easily," says Steven A. Cook, Council of Foreign Relations senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies.
Indeed, the rest of the draft constitution appears to be one that would be agreeable to a Western, democratic audience, including religious freedom, guaranteed human rights, freedom of the press, and academic pursuits, as well as other staples of Western democracies.
Whether or not the draft constitution is legitimate and if the new Libyan government will implement Sharia law in its legal system is uncertain right now, but some scholars have argued that Sharia law is viewed by many Muslims as a tool to separate religion from law. They say it can help make both religion and law purer, as opposed to a corruption of the two caused by a history of corrupt rulers in Muslim nations.
Noah Feldman, a law professor at Harvard and an expert on Middle East affairs, wrote in the The New York Times: "For many Muslims today, living in corrupt autocracies, the call for Sharia is not a call for sexism, obscurantism or savage punishment but for an Islamic version of what the West considers its most prized principle of political justice: the rule of law."
However, others argue that legally-enforced Sharia conflicts with its religious purpose.
"Enforcing a Sharia through coercive power of the state negates its religious nature, because Muslims would be observing the law of the state and not freely performing their religious obligation as Muslims,” wrote Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im, a professor of law at Emory University, in a column for the Huffington Post.
The degree and type of influence Sharia law will have on the new Libyan constitution is yet to be determined. The Transition National Council of Libya, the group responsible for spearheading a new government for the Libyan rebels, did not respond to emails from The Christian Post questioning the authenticity of the draft, and the Libyan Mission to the United Nations declined to comment.