These days it is very common to see aspects of "Islamic law" [Sharee'ah] brought up in media outlets and discussions with anti-Muslim elements [indeed, even among some Muslims on occasion], as a way to embarrass or ridicule the overall message of Islam itself, while at the same time maintain the "superiority" of the "Western' way of doing things.
Islam as religious practice and as a Political ideology are both seen as inherently inflexible, unable to function in modern society.Our intransigence has made us hateful, we are told, of the physical accomplishments of the Non-Muslim world, and manifests itself in "our" women wearing various "Islamic clothing" [everything from the Khimaar to the Niqaab], by 'fanatically' clinging onto five daily prayers, by having 'distinctive' architecture [ take for example the minarets traditionally attached to the Mosques, now made illegal in Switzerland] and eventually this intransigence leads to violence against some innocent third parties.
It is our intention here to present in a condensed form some thoughts on these issues, as well as what we perceive to be the genesis of the above.
Islamic Law vs. "Western" law [democracy/secularism]
Obviously, "law" to a Muslim encompasses a great number of things. It can refer to the prayer format [i.e. Qur'an recitation, prostrations, etc...] to the prohibition of Alcohol and Pork, all the way to the penalties for murder.
We acknowledge that the "democratic" legal tradition can be argued to be lacking when compared to the Islamic law in some respects, after all, with the exception of Murder mentioned above, there are no laws in any Western nation regulating prayer methods and dietary practices yet we have to also admit that the Qur'an does not give direct rulings on every single legal issue. Certainly, it contains prohibitions and punishments regarding theft, murder, embezzlement, etc... and does give some punishments that would be deemed unacceptable in a multicultural, modern world as ours. Cutting the hand of the [perpetual] thief, execution of rapists, a physical penalty for Zinaa are some examples.
The message of the Qur'an, the practice and the spirituality that emanates from the Qur'an, should not be misinterpreted or summarized just in the presence of exemplary punishments. That would be over simplistic. Every legal tradition evolved in a unique set of circumstances, and the presence of exemplary [or 'harsh'] punishments in the legal texts [for Muslims, the ultimate source is the Qur'an itself] only shows that there has to be some remedy available for extreme circumstances. Indeed, this has been historically recognized, in that theft [for example] was only to be punished by cutting the hand when a certain amount was taken, all of which depending on the particular case itself. This is the Muslim scholars approach. Even in the early days, during the reign of the Khalifah 'Umar ibn Al-khattab [d. 644 C.E.], famine swept the Arabian peninsula, so he [the Khalifah] deemed it unjust to punish theft, especially of food items, knowing full well the citizenry was in dire straits. May God be pleased with him, one of the wisest and most fair rulers of all time. The point being the Islamic message need not be seen as "rigid" and inflexible.
Besides, any legal system imposes limitations on what is allowed and what is not. If there were no such limitations in place, the system would be meaningless. So why is it that only the Muslims or their religion is seen as 'rigid'?
Muslims and Islam are sometimes two different things
This author has a "Muslim look" [beard, olive skin complexion], and a while back I was asked by some random guy on the street "why do you kill your women?' He also asked me "why do you force your women to wear all black?" It is true the guy was looking for an argument, but even in such circumstances I tried to be reasonable. Some women wear black as part of their cultural expression, but such choices are not mandated by the Qur'an at all. There is nothing inherently Islamic or Un-Islamic by wearing black. It is a neutral issue, a moot point, as far as the Islamic texts are concerned. This is the answer I provided for the guy, and also for you, our noble reader.
To outsiders, and sometimes even among us, cultural or personal choices are mistaken for Islamic! This has always been the case, and will continue to be the case, as long as humans remain human. Fortunately, we have access to the Qur'an, and in the modern world even access to the canonical works of Hadeeth, Fiqh, etc.. [thanks to the internet, book companies, otherwise such works would only be available to the scholars and specialists], so we can find out rather easily what is authentic according to Islam and what is spurious.
It is commonly assumed that 'honor killings" is sanctioned by Islam. Now, while segments of both Muslim and Non-Muslim societies accept it [ one only need to look at Egyptian Christians who engage in the same], no where in the Qur'an or Hadeeth literature can there be found any justification.
Sexual relationships are a sensitive issue, and the Qur'an advocates that such can be engaged in only within certain confines. It also tells us a legal punishment for those who violate that restriction, but it is apparent that the punishment is only in some extreme circumstances. This is because [A] To even make the charge in an Islamic judicial system, a minimum of four witnesses are required. If such are unavailable [and unless the act is taking place in public, they are never available anyways] then the one who makes the charge will be deemed unreliable as a witness for any future cases, and is open to punishment themselves. Please see Qur'an 24:4 [Ft.1].
[B] The Qur'anic punishment is suppose to be for both parties [provided of course the requirements are met as mentioned above]. The wording of the verse is Az-Zaaniyatu waz Zaaniy 'The woman and the man who has done Zinaa..'[Q 24:2], yet it is often imagined [and indeed, when 'honor killings' take place] that the female alone is to be punished. Besides all of this, there is no death penalty given for this.
So, even when there is guilt, when no evidence is available, legally nothing can be done about it. This is God's wisdom, which allows all the parties/families involved to address the issue internally, one way or the other. There is no need for putting all the dirty laundry out there. This wisdom is applicable anywhere, any place and any time. Alhamdulillaah!
Applying Islamic laws in the West?
There is a great fear that the Muslims in the West are a third column, ready to march on capitals, cutting off heads, whipping and amputating. This fear led the Swiss voters to recently ban minarets on Mosques in their country, even though its purpose is only for architecture. Some posters distributed by the supporters of the law asserted that minarets are ''symbols of Islamic fascism". The specter of fear was waved so much that people actually thought the Muslims in Switzerland were ready to take over and impose Islamic laws, even though the Muslims there are a minority.
Well, despite their fears, Muslims are already conducting themselves on the basis of Islamic laws. Our Marriages, funerals, rituals, fasting, etc.. are all done according to Islam, not according to the whims of voters. But as for the laws mentioned earlier in this post, i.e. for theft, Zinaa, etc.. no Muslim in his or her right mind would dream of such a thing in a Western context, for many, many reasons. The least of those reasons is that even in the traditional sense, Non-Muslims were exempted from Islamic laws anyways. Moreover, there are reasons that Muslims living in the West participate in the legal system prevalent.[ft.2]
There are many elements out there, seeking to publish their views and push their agendas. In a world with so much information readily available, it is important that all people remain informed, educated and well-rounded. Such a position can actually reduce tensions, hatred and violence. Mutual understanding and wisdom in dealing with things are needed more so than armies, intelligence agencies and law enforcement. As the Qur'an says "Do not let hatred of a people towards you swerve you away from justice" [ Q 5:8].
 It should be noted that the Quranic verse actually says "and those who throw[Yarmoona] [the public accusation of Zinaa] against Al-Muhsanaat.."[Q 24:4] the latter word means "the goodly women", translated as "The chaste women" by both A.Yusuf 'Ali and the Saheeh international translations, shows that the principle here is 'innocent until proved guilty'.
 Please see our "Voting for the first time" at http://shamsuddinwaheed.blogspot.com/2008/11/voting-for-first-time-muslims-thoughts.html. Also of interest is this discussion at the Islaminviewforum site, called "Islam and Corporal punishment" http://islaminviewforum.com/index.php?showtopic=1040. This discussion is still open, to contribute to it, become a member of the forum.