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  • Country: 
    Saudi Arabia
    News Date: 
    18/09/2009
    Summary: 
    • Saudi law is based on Sharia (Islamic) law41 and applies to both Muslims and non-Muslims in the country
    • Observing any religion other than Islam is illegal in the Kingdom.
    • Fundamentalist Wahhabi Islam is the only expression of religion allowed in Saudi Arabia. There is no religious freedom in the country, even if Saudi officials have been tolerating the private practice of other religions. However, the Saudi religion police, the Muttawa, continues to persecute Christians in their homes where they meet to pray.
  • Summary: 

    These cases of openings to a justice parallel to that of the State raise several problems. The first is that the acceptance of parallel court decisions is an acceptance of communitarianism. This calls into question the unity of justice in a territory as well as the equality of men before the law, since depending on the religion of the former, the applicable law would not be the same. The applicability of the ECHR in the signatory countries is questioned or at least restricted in certain areas. Areas of “different right” (sometimes called “no rights” zones) where the signatory State would have accepted more or less officially that its right be derogatory.


    Finally, this raises the question of the acceptability of certain principles or values. The former PACE Rapporteur explained in her note that “The Court has ruled that Sharia law is in compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, but obviously this does not mean that there is absolute incompatibility between the Convention and Islam”      

    This distinction between Sharia and Islam to consider the former as incompatible with the ECHR contrary to the second is not obvious. At the beginning of her note, she states precisely that “Sharia law is understood as being ‘the path to be followed’, that is, the ‘law’ to be obeyed by every Muslim.” If Islam “ordained a law” (Surah 5, verse 48) to every Muslim and “assigned a path” (id.) is sharia, then sharia becomes something consubstantial to Islam. A Muslim may not be a good Muslim if he does not apply the Sharia. There would thus be an incompatibility between the ECHR and Islam, which is not surprising as the need to create human rights in Islam testifies.

     CEDH, Refah Partisi (The Welfare Party) and others v. Turkey [GC], n° 41340/98, 41342/98, 41343/98 and 41344/98, 13 February 2003, § 123.                                                                                                                            

     Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, Compatibility of Sharia law with the European Convention on Human Rights: can States Parties to the Convention be signatories of the ‘Cairo Declaration’? Introductory Memorandum, AS/JUR (2016) 28, 7 October 2016, § 6. All following passages are excerpts from this note, which contains all sources, .

  • Summary: 

    Is Sharia compatible with Human Rights? This concrete question is more and more important in Europe, particularly for women, and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has tried to answer it.

    Indeed, among the large Europe, there are territories where the sharia (or “Islamic law”) is applied. This raises a problem in view of Human Rights, in so far as these States are members of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and at the same time they apply or respect an Islamic justice opposed to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the ECHR.

    Three member countries of the Council of Europe have ratified both the European Convention on Human Rights and the Cairo Declaration, which is a declaration of Human Rights compatible with the sharia. These countries are Albania, Azerbaijan and Turkey. One must add that the Russian Federation and Bosnia and Herzegovina have not signed the Cairo Declaration but are members observers of the Organization of the Islamic Conference and they have signed the ECHR.

    This Cairo Declaration of 5th August 1990 stipulates inter alia that “Islam is the religion of unspoiled nature”. It does not contain a right to freedom of religion, does not confirm the equality before the law of all men regardless of their religion, and finally Article 25 stipulates that “The Islamic Shari'ah is the only source of reference for the explanation or clarification of any of the articles of this Declaration”.

    Some of the principles stated in the Islamic law contravene the principles which are recognized as Human Rights, and first of all, freedom of religion. According to the sharia, a Muslim does not have the right to change his religion to another religion or to atheism. If he does so, he is an apostate, which generates his civil death (opening of his succession) and deserves a death penalty.

    The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights had the opportunity to give an answer to that question of compatibility in 2003: it “concurs in the Chamber’s view that sharia is incompatible with the fundamental principles of democracy, as set forth in the Convention.

    , the PACE will establish in the next few months a report on these incompatibilities, determine on which territories of members of the Council of Europe the sharia is applied and what consequences are to be drawn from it.

    Mrs Meritxell Mateu (ALDE, Andorra) was the rapporteur of the Commission before she left the PACE. She wrote  under this procedure. This note defines sharia as follows:

    Sharia law is understood as being ‘the path to be followed’, that is, the ‘law’ to be obeyed by every Muslim. It  divides  all  human action into  five categories–what  is obligatory, recommended, neutral, Disapproved of and prohibited –and takes two forms: a legal ruling(hukm), designed to organise society and deal with everyday situations, and the fatwa, a legal opinion intended to cover a special situation. Sharia law is therefore meant in essence to be positive law enforceable on Muslims. Accordingly, it can be defined as ‘the sacred Law of Islam’, that is, ‘an all-embracing body of religious duties, the totality of Allah’s commands that regulate the life of every Muslim in all its aspects’.”

    Besides the different international instruments written and ratified by Muslim countries, the Rapporteur highlighted the members States of the Council of Europe in which sharia law is being applied, more or less legally: Greece, the United-Kingdom, Russia and Turkey.

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