Searching for Sharia

, Val Jensen, Leave a comment

A recent presentation held by the Center for American Progress (CAP) discussed the often heated and controversial topic of Sharia law in the United States in lieu of recent anti-Sharia bills that have been put forth by certain state legislatures and adopted in Oklahoma.  The adamant position of the panelists, in particular, Professor Asifa Quraishi of the University of Wisconsin Law School, is that Sharia is a “way of life” which takes shape in everyday activities such as dietary norms, praying five times a day, doing good and tithing, which are in many ways no different than religious customs of Jews and Christians. Prof. Quraishi also clarifies that Sharia is the “divine path” which literally means “way” or “street” and that what Americans mainly know as “Sharia law” is actually called fiqh which is the interpretation/understanding of statutes or general concepts found in both the Quran and Hadith (or sayings attributed to Muhammad).

Note: For the rest of this article, Sharia law will be referred to as fiqh.

The concern over fiqh law, Prof. Quraishi explains, is unduly founded upon a fundamental naivete` in mainly conservative, Republican circles which equate fiqh found in America to what is practiced in states such as Saudi Arabia and Iran. Quraishi notes that this strict interpretation is but one way of interpreting that may stem from one school of Islam and that in America, there is a different interpretation. When asked about the danger some see of Sharia taking over America, she replies that “sharia does not direct Muslims to take over the political realm, especially when living as minorities in non-Muslim societies.” However, as she pointed out, Sharia is the general divine path equated to an individual’s relationship with Allah, not a political venture. Fiqh is the interpretation of Islamic law and the political venture and to this she states, “fiqh relating to politics is full of deference to rulers, even to the point of tolerating disregard of sharia by Muslim rulers.” Simply because it shows deference does not address the principle concern and is not an answer that would satisfy those who see a conflict of interests between human rights and Sharia law. The other reason she gave was that “as long as American democracy is alive and well, we vote for our leaders and legislators. This includes voting out of office anyone who may try to violate the Establishment Clause by using state power to force any religious laws Americans citizens.” The part that is disturbing in her reasoning is where she states as long as long as “American democracy is alive and well.” There is no reassurance in her answer that fiqh in any sense of the term wants American democracy to be “alive and well.”

This question of principles is laid bare when Quraishi answers a question (See Video Above) as to punishment for adulterers which involves stoning them to death. She replies, according to Hadith, that in order to have the punishment enacted, there must be four witnesses to the act of penetration and that is unlikely to ever happen and thus is a non-issue. The Quran does not mention stoning but states in Surah 24: 2, “The woman and the man guilty of fornication: flog each of them with 100 stripes.” Quraishi does not disagree with the Quranic principle of the punishment since the Quran is scripture and furthermore, she said it depends on individual Muslims and their particular school of thought if they would condone stoning as punishment. She is not the only Muslim woman to use this example on a panel. Noah Bakr, Commissioner of the Montgomery (MD) County Commission on Women, in a recent forum on this issue held by the Muslim Public Affairs Council which was reported on by this author in a related article, made the same claim.

Val Jensen is an intern at the American Journalism Center, a training program run by Accuracy in Media and Accuracy in Academia.

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