So you had a situation in which three men living in the same street could die and their estates would be distributed under three different legal systems if one of them happened to be Jewish, one Christian, and one Muslim. A Jew could be punished by a rabbinical court and jailed for violating the Sabbath or eating on Yom Kippur. A Christian could be arrested and imprisoned for taking a second wife. Bigamy is a Christian offense; it was not an Islamic or an Ottoman offense. By similar reasoning, Jews and Christians were exempt from the distinctively Islamic rules. They were allowed to eat, even in public, during the sacred month of Ramadan. They were permitted to make, sell, serve, and drink wine, as long as they did all these things among themselves. Some documents in the Ottoman archives discuss a problem which was apparently of concern to the judicial authorities: how to prevent the drinking of wine by Muslim guests at Christian and Jewish weddings. The simple and obvious solution—to impose the ban on alcohol on everyone—was apparently not considered.
Muslims do not have that degree of independence in their own social and legal life in the modern, secular state. It is no doubt unrealistic for them to expect it, given the nature of the modern state, but that is not how they see it. They feel that they are entitled to receive what they gave. As a Muslim in Europe is said to have remarked, presumably in jest: “We allowed you to practice and even enforce monogamy; why should you not allow us to practice polygamy?”
Such questions—polygamy , in particular—raise important issues of a more practical nature. Isn’t an immigrant who is permitted to come to France or Germany entitled to bring his family with him? But what exactly does his family consist of? They are increasingly demanding and getting permission to bring plural wives. The same ruling is also being extended to welfare payments and other benefits.
The contrast in the position of women in the two religiously defined societies has been a sensitive issue, particularly in the age of Muslim defeat and retreat. By defeat in battle, the Muslim was made keenly aware that he had lost his supremacy in the world. By thegrowth of European control or influence, including the emancipation of his own non-Muslim subjects, he had lost his supremacy in his own country. With the European-inspired emancipation of women, he felt he was in danger of losing his supremacy even in his own house.
The acceptance or rejection of Shari‘a rule among Muslims in Europe raises the important question of jurisdiction. In the traditional Sunni juristic view, the Shari‘a was part of Muslim sovereignty and jurisdiction and was therefore only applied in the House of Islam, that is to say in countries under Muslim rule. A minority of the Sunnis and the majority of the Shi‘a took the view that the Shari‘a also applied to Muslims outside the House of Islam, and should be enforced when possible.
But at no time, until very recently, did any Muslim authority ever suggest that Shari‘a law should be enforced on non-Muslims in nonMuslim countries. The first instance of this new approach was when the Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran pronounced a death sentence for the crime of insulting the Prophet, not only against the Muslim author Salman Rushdi, living in London at that time, but also against all who had been involved in the preparation, production, and distribution of the book—that is to say the English, presumably non-Muslim editors, printers, publishers, and booksellers. It was followed by an increasing number of other attempts to enforce Shari‘a law in Europe and more recently in other places where Muslims have settled. A notable example was the Muslim response to the famous or infamous Danish cartoons. No less notable were the various European responses to Muslim anger and demand for punishment, ranging from mild reproof to eager acquiescence.
Where does Europe stand now? Is it third time lucky? It is not impossible. The Muslims have certain clear advantages. They have fervor and conviction, which in most Western countries are either weak or lacking. They are for the most part convinced of the rightness of their cause, whereas Westerners spend much of their time in self-denigration and self-abasement. They have loyalty and discipline, and perhaps most important of all they have demography— the combination of natural increase and migration producing major population changes, which could lead within the foreseeable future to significant Muslim majorities in at least some European cities or even countries.