What's fascinating to me as a Depth Psychologist is the notion of Shari'a as a symbol. Khaled Abou El Fadl identifies Shari'a as a symbol of Muslim unity despite the diversity of the Shari'a itself. The notion that a legal exegesis of Siratal Mustaqim is a symbol of this unity is intriguing and appealing, whether one accepts the Shari'a as relevant to contemporary life or not. Clearly even the Turkish Muslims today are questioning the validity of the Shari'a within the context of the pluralistic attitude and ethos needed for Turkey to join the European Union. El Fadl offers this perspective in his book, "The Great Theft:"
" The Shari'a - as a symbol to the Divine path and as the representative of the collective effort of Muslims at understanding what God wants from human beings - functioned like the symbolic glue that held the diverse Muslim nation together, despite its many different ethnicities, nationalities, and political entities. Shari'a became a symbol of unity and commonality for Muslims around the world, and the jurists were the Shari'a guardians and protectors. Throughout the classical period, the Islamic Empire became divided into many principalities and kingdoms ruled by different emirs, sultans, or caliphs that at times were in military conflict with each other. But the Shari'a remained the transcendent symbol of unity, and the jurists, as its articulators and protectors, stayed above the petty political and military conflicts and struggles for power. As such, the jurists, although belonging to a variety of schools of thought, provided the quintessential source of religious authority in the Muslim world.
This whole complex edifice that supplied religious authority in Islam started to crumble with the entry of Western colonialism in the eighteenth century. Domestic elements not related to colonialism, such as inefficient taxation systems and poorly organized militaries, had already started the process of deterioration well before the eighteenth century, but those elements would likely have self-corrected had it not been for the sharp blow that colonialism dealt to the institutions of Shari'a after repeated military defeats of Ottoman and other Muslim forces across the Islamic world. Slowly but surely, the jurists lost their privileged position in society; and with the deterioration in their status, the place of Shari'a in Muslim society was seriously compromised as well."
~Excerpted from "The Great Theft - Wrestling Islam from the Extremists," by UCLA professor of Islamic Law, Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl. (2005, pp. 34-35).