In this interview Maher Hathout offers a very humane understanding of Shariah. He outlines the 5 principles upon which Shariah is based: preservation of life; preservation and freedom of religion; preservation of mind and intellect, including freedom of conscience and thought; preservation of lineage and family; preservation of ownership.
The fear and revulsion that some people feel toward Sharia law is due to the perception that the penalties for certain crimes seem barbaric and cruel. The over emphasis of certain aspects of the Penal Code, both in the media and in the hands of some jurists, has led to the overshadowing of the moral principles which comprise true Shariah. There is a confusion between Shariah, the path that leads to happiness, justice, and well-being, and Fiqh which is the application of shariah principles to specific societal circumstances–applications formulated mostly by middle-aged men in the context of a patriarchal society. Fiqh is man-made not Divinely revealed. Sometimes in the quagmire of details, the essential purpose of the Law is forgotten. A fundamental principle of Sharia is the law that controls all laws: namely, that no harm or hardship should come from the application of these laws.
Perhaps what is most significant about Mr. Hathout’s understanding is that he does not absolutely hold that the penalties prescribed in the Quran for such things as adultery and theft are for all times and places. He says that these penalties may have been necessary and effective in the context of a society that had almost no legal system, police force, jails, etc. Under those circumstances a strong deterrent was needed, but Islam should be a dynamic process of achieving greater and greater levels of justice and compassion.