Christians often criticize sharia law because the death penalty is applied for crimes like adultery, apostasy, fornication, etc. Sharia is often compared to the legal laws given in the O.T, but it is often said that the Old Testament legal law was for a certain time and place, and it is therefore not inconsistent for Christians to criticize sharia in modern contexts. Aquinas, however, believed that although the legal law is not binding, it wouldn't be a sin to apply the Old Testament laws to a modern state.

For the ceremonial precepts were annulled so far as to be not only "dead," but also deadly to those who observe them since the coming of Christ, especially since the promulgation of the Gospel. On the other hand, the judicial precepts are dead indeed, because they have no binding force: but they are not deadly. For if a sovereign were to order these judicial precepts to be observed in his kingdom, he would not sin. (Summa Theologica, I-II, q. 104, a. 3)

If it is not a sin to apply the legal laws of the Old Testament in modern contexts, what moral grounds do Catholics have for objecting to sharia law?

  • 1
    -1 I was thinking about answering this question, but this is a bad question. Why would Catholics support a theocracy that is not a Catholic Theocracy. The product of non-Catholic Theocracies is Catholic martyrs and whereas that may be good for the Glory of God, it's not an easy way to live and probably not something we'd be apt to not object to. The Old Testament Law is not rejected by Jesus, it is completed in Jesus.
    – Peter Turner
    Nov 1 '21 at 21:33
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    OK, I gotcha, I don't think anyone should not object to anything they don't support - but that might be my temperament, not Catholic moral theology. Thanks for the reiteration with the caps. (but I can't reverse my vote without an edit)
    – Peter Turner
    Nov 1 '21 at 21:50
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    Sharia Law can only operate in a Muslim State and, particularly, its Courts can only function with witness statements produce by Muslim witnesses. The question is not clear as to how or why non-Muslims would be affected by Sharia Law. Are you envisaging Catholic persons objecting to Sharia Law operating in another jurisdiction than their own ?
    – Nigel J
    Nov 2 '21 at 4:01
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    I have deliberately not answered the question, I am still trying to clarify the jurisprudence of your legal enquiry. That is the proper use of comment : to clarify the details of the question, prior to formulating a suitable answer.
    – Nigel J
    Nov 2 '21 at 6:05
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    . . . . . but you introduce the consideration of jurisdiction into your own question : Old Testament legal law was for a certain time and place,.
    – Nigel J
    Nov 2 '21 at 6:47

Clarifying the question

Although I understand the intent of the question (which I think is interpretation #1 below), I just want to point out there are at least 5 possible ways that the Q can be interpreted. I am also going to answer #5. The answers are based on the religious authority of the Catholic church because a Catholic needs to obey his/her religion FIRST when there is a conflict with one's obligation to the state/country.

  1. Can a Catholic refuse to obey an existing law based on Islamic Sharia? Answer in the other section below.
  2. Can a Catholic participate in a political protest to reduce the punishment for breaking an existing Sharia-inspired law? Yes, unless prohibited by the state / Sharia.
  3. Can a Catholic participate in a political protest to de-criminalize an existing Sharia-inspired law? Yes, but only when the law is against NT Divine Law or against Natural Law, AND if the protest is permitted by the state / Sharia.
  4. Can a Catholic participate in a political protest to prevent a proposed implementation of a Sharia law in his/her state? Yes, unless prohibited by the state / Sharia, but only when the Sharia law is considered a Human Law.
  5. Can a Catholic lawmaker or a sovereign promotes implementing Sharia in his/her state / country, or lobbies for the implementation of a separate religious court for certain areas of human life? Answer in the other section below.

Also, the question does not state the political and religious situation of the state/country in which the Catholic resides. I am going to assume scenario #1 below:

  1. The Catholic is a resident of a Muslim majority nation that implements Sharia law for everyone, not just for Muslims (example: Iran).
  2. The Catholic is a resident of a Muslim majority nation that implements European style law in most cases but supplemented with Sharia court (example: Malaysia). Two types of cases:
    • cases where one of the parties in dispute is Muslim (example: contract dispute) so the case is tried in a Sharia court, or Sharia law is used in the general court
    • cases where general civil & criminal law has been influenced by Sharia law (let's say certain physical intimacy in public are considered crime even when the couple are not Muslims)
  3. The Catholic is a resident of a Muslim majority nation (example: Indonesia) but residing in a province (example: North Sumatra) where there is intense discussion to follow a neighboring province which already implements Sharia law fully (example: Aceh).

Background: Catholic Morality

The foundation of morality for a Catholic is: freedom to love according to Catholic understanding of love. St. Augustine famously said: "Love and do what you will".

In Catholic perspective, informed by Aquinas, laws for this love+freedom-based morality has a hierarchy (see Aquinas On Law):

  1. Eternal law : Laws based on God's own reason (unknown to us), which inform Divine and Natural law.
  2. Divine law : Revealed laws in the OT and the NT.
  3. Natural law : Implanted laws in human conscience, same for everyone regardless of religion since it's part of human nature, the basis of objective morality.
    • Because human nature is corrupted by the Fall, knowing this law is not very reliable, so this knowledge needs to be verified and supplemented by Divine law.
    • In principle, Divine law and Natural law should be in harmony, interpreting each other. For example, Divine Law is revealed through Bible authors which were later committed to the text we have today, while Natural Law is revealed to billions of human souls across culture and ages. By careful cooperative process of reflecting on this Natural Law using philosophy of religion and moral philosophy, we can apply Divine Law (interpreted properly) to new modern practical moral circumstances (such as contraception, gene editing, etc). This is an example of Faith and Reason fusing different areas of competence harmoniously.
  4. Human law: Ideally, laws that people create within a government, should not contradict Divine and Natural law which are one level of authority above.
    • Catholic understanding of the purpose of Human Law (based on Aquinas) is for the promotion of virtue necessary for the common good. The kind and the level of punishment should be intimately tied to this goal. Catholic understanding is very different than seeing Human Law as merely an "executor of divine command" which for example authorizes stoning for adultery.
    • Catholics do not see Divine Law as prescribing punishment, but as a guidance to stay living "on the right path" (cf. Ps 119:35: "Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight.") Thus Human Law constructed in the spirit of Divine Law should then be a cause of joy and delight, because it provides a visible boundary of "safe path".
    • Human law takes as guidance the Divine and Natural, adapted to particular geographical, historical, and social circumstances. Thus it makes sense to have Human Law being continually adapted to modern realities, especially where we undergo technological changes and face new economic arrangement (such as global trade, labor unions, women participation in the labor force, etc.).
    • Those in power nowadays are usually good in politics but not in theology or philosophy, which require a religious atmosphere attuned to God and a professional academic environment to apply reason to process enormous amount of research cooperatively. Aquinas had both and the Summa is a product of his piety as well as the early Dominican environment to write it. Thus, Catholic jurisprudence and Christian philosophy of law should then advise those who are in power, whether it is a theocracy, a constitutional monarchy, a republic, a democracy, etc.

Can a Catholic refuse to obey an existing Sharia law?

First the Catholic needs to place the particular Sharia law within the hierarchy above. Muslims put all Sharia laws at level #2 (Divine law), but Catholics need to evaluate on a case by case basis. Catholics can also consider an individual Sharia law as #2 (Divine law) only if it matches an NT law (such as do not murder an innocent). But if a judicial OT law (the topic of Summa Theologica I-II, Question 104) is not applicable in NT, Catholics will consider the Sharia law as #4 (Human law) which can be either consistent with #3 (Natural Law) or not. This is also why the punishment prescribed can be modified, since it is no longer Divine Law.

Example Scenarios:

  1. If the law is mandated by Catholic Divine law (NT) or Natural law, the Catholic does NOT have moral ground to refuse.
  2. If the law is an obligation that is not mandated by Catholic morality AND it does NOT violate Divine (NT) or Natural Law, the Catholic should obey it for reasons of peace with society. It simply reduces his/her freedom, but not a sin to obey.
  3. If obeying the law makes a Catholic sin against Divine (NT) or Natural law, then the Catholic DOES have moral grounds to refuse.
  4. When the Sharia law is determined to be in the Human Law category, Catholics are free to use the available political process to influence a change in the name of freedom and love. For example, to campaign for better laws for women.
  5. When the Sharia law is determined to be in the Divine Law category (such as do not steal), Catholics can object to unnecessarily harsh punishment.
    • We have to understand that punishment is a separate issue than whether to obey the law. This reflects Western law and court systems where determination of guilt is separated entirely from the determination of punishment (sentencing phase).
    • Since OT judicial laws are no longer in force for Catholics, and since NT laws (which is based on freedom and love) don't prescribe punishments other than excommunication or other church sanctions, church authorities delegate punishment to secular authorities IF the secular authorities find that the person ALSO violates secular law.
    • In the case where the "secular" law is Sharia law enforced by an Islamic theocracy, Catholics are morally free (in the eyes of the Catholic Church) to protest the level of punishment through allowable political process since in the Catholic moral system punishment is not part of Divine Law but of Human Law.
    • CONCLUSION: Even when a Divine law had an OT judicial background that packages a prescribed punishment in the Pentateuch, this punishment prescription is no longer in force. So Catholics are free to adjust the punishment according to modern social realities, prudence, and more fundamental Catholic principles such as freedom, love, and mercy.

About Question 104 Article 3

It's important to distinguish between moral (Question 100), ceremonial (Question 101) and judicial (Questions 104-105) precepts. Moral OT laws are still binding, but not ceremonial and judicial.

Intention to obey is the aspect raised by Article 3 of Question 104. Your quote of "I answer that," is incomplete. If the Sharia Law matches the OT judicial law a Catholic can obey it as long as the intention is to observe Human law, not Divine law. To obey the law as Divine Law is considered a mortal sin because it contradicts faith, the basis for Christian salvation. From Article 3, "I answer that," 2nd paragraph:

... On the other hand, the judicial precepts were not instituted that they might be figures, but that they might shape the state of that people who were directed to Christ. Consequently, when the state of that people changed with the coming of Christ, the judicial precepts lost their binding force: for the Law was a pedagogue, leading men to Christ, as stated in Galatians 3:24. Since, however, these judicial precepts are instituted, not for the purpose of being figures, but for the performance of certain deeds, the observance thereof is not prejudicial to the truth of faith. But the intention of observing them, as though one were bound by the Law, is prejudicial to the truth of faith: because it would follow that the former state of the people still lasts, and that Christ has not yet come.

What a sovereign is allowed to do about OT laws is the focus of the first paragraph of "I answer that". The scenario presumed is a Catholic sovereign, who can impose a Human law similar to the (now defunct) Divine judicial OT law (example: death penalty for adulterer). The same provision for intention applies as per individual above. If the reason to enact the law is to promote Divine Law as if God says those judicial laws are still binding, then the sovereign commits a mortal sin. The sovereign can only enact those laws to promote good government as an environment/inducement so people can exercise their freedom to love better, or for peace in the society by creating a separate court for adherents of other religions.

  • Although I appreciate your response, my question is about whether or not a Catholic can criticize Sharia Law and remain morally consistent. In other words, what objection can a Catholic have morally speaking for say, stoning for adultery?
    – bob
    Nov 2 '21 at 20:25
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    @bob I carefully answered your question already, separating at least 5 scenarios on when a Catholic can criticize Sharia law. Sometimes they can, sometimes they cannot. About stoning, see scenario #5: although adultery is still wrong, the punishment is no longer coming from God, so they can criticize the punishment. This is a complex topic. To understand Catholic thinking you have to start from the Catholic foundation, which is EXTREMELY DIFFERENT than the foundation for Islam morality, such as differences in purpose of law and purpose of punishment. Nov 3 '21 at 5:56

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