Worldwide Discussion: The People Join In

We are living in a world where more and more people are feeling more and more insecure, and searching more and more for certainty, in times of more and more turbulence.

And so it has happened.

For the first time in the 21st Century it has been announced that an entire nation will hereafter be ruled by the tenets of a religion as a matter of law.

The nation of Brunei has declared that it has officially adopted sharia law, and will incorporate it into the country’s existing civil penal code, where it will operate alongside of that code.

The online, commonsource encyclopedia Wikipedia explains that “Sharia deals with many topics addressed by secular law, including crime, politics, and economics, as well as personal matters such as sexual intercourse, hygience, diet, prayer, everyday etiquette and fasting. Though interpretations of sharia vary between cultures, most Sharia law is determined through human interpretation of the laws, which fuses together the modern context of society with Islamic values.”

Some online news sources have reported widespread negative reaction by international human rights groups to the announcement by the Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, that commencement of the first phase of the sharia-based penal code has begun in Brunei.

That nation had already implemented several strict religiously-motivated laws, such as the banning of alcohol sale, and now the adoption of sharia law as part of its civil code has some international observers worried. Sharia includes punishments such as flogging, dismemberment and death by stoning for crimes such as rape, adultery and sodomy.

That may be alright for people who adopt, accept, and embrace the Islamic teachings upon which these prescriptions are based, but global sources point out that while some parts of the new Islamic code will apply only to Muslims, other parts will affect all citizens, Muslims and non-Muslims alike. This means it will impact Buddhist and Christian communities as well.

“Around 70 percent of people in Brunei are Malay Muslims, while the remainder of the population are of Chinese or other ethnic descent,” a May 1 report from Arshiya Khullar for CNN said. The report may be seen here.

That CNN story went on to say, ”The United Nations has also publicly condemned the move.”

“Under international law, stoning people to death constitutes torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and is thus clearly prohibited,” Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, was quoted by CNN as saying in a press briefing in Geneva last month.

“He further expressed concerns about the implementation of sharia law’s impact on women,” the CNN article from reporter Arshiya Khullar went on. “A number of UN studies have revealed that women are more likely to be sentenced to death by stoning, due to deeply entrenched discrimination and stereotyping against them,” Mr. Colville is quoted in the CNN report.

The action by the nation of Brunei invites every member of the human community to sincerely ask: Is it the highest and best choice of a sovereign nation to base its civil code on the religious beliefs of the largest number of its citizens?

Alongside of this might come a second inquiry: Do other nations, albeit more quietly, do precisely the same thing?

Is not the civil code of most Western nations based on the principles, ideas, and proscriptions of old Roman Law, which was based on the teachings of the Catholic Church, which is, in turn, based on messages in the Bible? If not, what is the purely Civil Law basis that supports opposition to, say, gay marriage in the Congress of the United States? Is not that opposition based on what legislators say believe about What God Wants?

The larger question is: What role, if any, should What God Wants play in our collective social and civil experience?

For that matter, what does “God want”? Who can know for sure? What source can tell us?

Would it be Moses and the Old Testament? Would it be Jesus and the New Testament? Would it be the Prophet Muhammad, bless his holy name, and the Qur’an? Would it be Bahá’u’lláh and the writings of the Baha’i faith? Would it be Joseph Smith and the writings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in the Book of Mormon? Would it be Lao Tzu and the words of the Tao Te Ching?

For a close look at what Conversations with God has to say about what God wants, return here in the days ahead for an extended series of articles covering the next two weeks, built around excerpts from the book What God Wants. Your comments, ideas, observations, and beliefs will be anticipated with great interest in the fortnight beginning Tuesday, when our first installment will appear.

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