SHARIA law has raised its ugly head once again.

The south-east Asian country of Brunei is introducing strict new laws that make gay sex and adultery offences punishable by stoning to death.

Although there has been condemnation from international organisations and a backlash from people such as George Clooney to boycott the hotels owned by the Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, it does not seem to have dampened the relationship with some western countries doing good business with the oil-rich state.

Some people don’t believe, despite the punishments advocated by Sharia, that they will actually be implemented.

However, many fear that this stance by the Brunei authority is a dangerous one and those exposed as gay or lesbian or adulterers will face being stoned to death as part of the drive to make the country more “Islamic”.

But the question I think we should be asking is whether this form of punishment really Islamic – or just a return to barbarism.

First of all, what exactly is Sharia? The Arabic word Sharia means way or path and is mentioned many times in the Quran in the context of natural laws.

Stoning is mentioned as a punishment, but only as one practised by Disbelievers, not Believers. The stoning to death of adulterers or for sexual offences comes not from the Quran but from the corpus of hadith.

The hadith is a collection of narrations that were compiled some 200 years after the Quran but now form the basis of Sharia law, superseding even the authority of the Quran. Sharia deals with many aspects of day-to-day life, including politics, economics, banking, business, contracts, family, sexuality, hygiene and other social issues.

Many Islamists, both abroad and here in the UK, feel that Sharia is badly misunderstood in the west.

They argue that it has the authority of divine revelation and that it embodies great concern for social justice and fair treatment.

However, in practice, Sharia is very different. Where Sharia law is meted out, its barbaric nature is exposed. These laws are nothing but cruel and oppressive and conflict with the principles of justice as described in the Quran.

Those people who say they are Quranic have poor and biased understanding on which they justify their savagery.

For example, the cutting off of the thief’s hand is a totally skewed interpretation of a perfectly sensible punishment.

The misconstrued verse correctly says to restrict the thief’s ability to commit further offence. The next verse, 5:39, speaks about repentance; living a useful life after repenting would be difficult without one or both hands.

Those who lapse into criminal activity should be assisted in returning to a good and useful life. The principle that underpins the Quranic justice system is that it allows everyone to reform and, having reformed, to have a second chance.

There is nothing in the Quran that says society must punish homosexuals, let alone kill them by stoning.

Therefore, the Brunei laws to punish gays and lesbians conflict with Quranic decrees and principles of tolerance and justice.

Sharia punishments are cruel, oppressive and unjust. And we must all protest against this brutal system.

Paigham Mustafa is an Islamic scholar who lives in Scotland