The social Matrix

The social Matrix

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Lions Tigers and Sharria? O MY!

  Ever since The UK-based Sharia proponent, Anjem Chodrary attempted to come to America to promote sharia law, Some Americans have been frantic over the non-existent threat of Islamic jurisprudence. Recently, seventy percent of Oklahoma citizens voted for an amendment that would ban the courts from implementing Sharia law. In addition law makers in Tennessee, the same state that experienced contention between Muslims and other Tennesseans over the contentious  Murfreesboros Mosque, has decided to enforce a law that would make it a felony to practice Sharia.

It is within this rich climate of Islamaphobia that North Carolina front runner Newt Gingrich has rang the clarion call against Sharia. 
"a person who belonged to any kind of belief in Sharia, any kind of effort to impose that on the rest of us, would be a mortal thrate to the survival of freedom in the United States and the world."    
  Newt Gingrich said in response to a question about appointing a Muslim as president. Although, Gingrich did acknowledge that a Muslim could become president if he relinquished his association with Sharia. It is the same rhetoric Herman Cain used when he was running for the GOP nomination.

Its politics. The problem is that Muslims don’t have nearly the same amount of political capital Christians have.
Gingrich gives an interesting response given this verse in the Hadiths of Bukhari and Muslim:

“Do not run after an office. If you do so, you would be lost in discharging your duty. However, if an office is assigned to you, God would help and support you.”

I doubt any of the critics of Sharia are versed in Islamic jurisprudence. Most of these critics look at the dismal human rights record throughout the Middle Eastern as a reason to contain the spread of sharia. The truth is that the application of Sharia law is based on the tribal ethnic context from which it is implemented.


  Critics like to use these countries as a yardstick to measure Islam but ignore more moderate countries like Indonesia and Turkey.  During one of Indonesia’s parliamentary elections many Muslim organizations such as the NU, and the Muhamadiyah   focused on issues that united the country and downplayed Islamic fundamentalism. In 2004, the Muslim parties were able to garner a third of the parliamentary votes.  Similarly, the AKP Muslim party in Turkey regulated its position because of the strong secular presence in Turkey.

  The intersection between religion and politics is constantly evolving in Turkey. For example, in 2010 the head of the Religious Affair Department Ayse Sucu  was replaced by  Mehmet Gormez. The liberally-minded Sucu Created a number of initiatives supporting women's rights. On the other hand, the more religious minded Gormez criticized secular activists for protesting the slaughter of millions of sheep for an Islamic holiday.


   Middle Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia are not the only sources of information about Sharia law. Last year Glenn Beck ran a serious of segments warning of the growing Caliphate movement.  On one show Beck discussed a constitution formed by a radical Islamic group which  included Jihad, killing of apostates, and a prohibition on trade with Israel as some of its amendments.  According to Beck, an Islamic state cannot possibly coexist with other religions.

   Beck’s understanding of the Caliphate is lacking.  While critics of Sharia are quick to use Saudi Arabia as a case study, the historical governance of the four Caliphs is ignored. Moreover, Islamic rulers such as Saladin, who was often described by scholars as a man with a “colorful character” and “a man of great warmth and charm,” are also ignored, as well as Sulyeman the Magnificent.  According to the Islamic historical scholar Stephen R. Humphreys:

“We should not assume that the subjects of Muslim autocrats were worse off than their Christian counterparts in Western Europe…In fact European observers of the Middle East as late as the seventeenth century tell us just the opposite.”

I wonder who to believe? A former conservative pundit on Fox News or an Islamic scholar who is even respected by Daniel Pipes?  


  Furthermore Islam is not the only religion to mix with politics. The Bharaatiya Janata Party in India blends Hinduism with politics. Similarly, The Buddhist Sangha in Sri Lanka has played a significant role in the small country’s political sphere.  Also, Islam is not the only religion to serve as an instrument for intolerance in a religiously oriented society. Take for example the influential ultra-religious organization the Haradei in Israel. This group of ultra-orthodox Jews believes that men and women should be kept separate. Young girls are often harassed for simply being members of the opposite sex.  What is the difference between the Wahhabi extremist in Saudi Arabia or the Mullahs from Iran and the Haredi in Israel in this regard.

Of course there is no Christians in America calling for a Christian-governed nation? It would be an outright  contradiction.

   The Muslim Brotherhood and similar Islamic groups aren’t the only religious groups with a political platform. Interestingly, politicians who want to restrict the growth of Sharia law are eager to have the bible supplement the constitution.

“Whereas France, Germany, and Italy permit the formation of a religious party Egypt is proud of the fact it does not have one,” said a member of the violent terrorist organization Islamic Jihad, an organization that believes in using violence against infidels.

Radical groups are eager to point out how the Muslim Brotherhood is still victimized by the Egyptian regime even though they denounce terrorism.

“The legal channels didn’t help them (members of the MB)  from being handcuffed, tried in military courts and dragged to prison.”

The Islamic Response

  Unlike other religious societies political Islam did not emerge out of a vacuum. According to Islamic scholar and terrorism adviser Quintan Wiktorowicz, the marriage between politics and Islam re-emerged because the mosques were one of the few places where political opinions could be expressed openly.  Since 1945 many citizens throughout the Middle East have been victims of brutal regimes such as the Baathists in Syria, the Shah in Iran, and Nasser’s Egypt.

It is quite ironic to note how some Americans are fearful of Sharia law being imposed in America yet conveniently forget how western laws were imposed on citizens throughout the Middle East. Businesses were regulated under the code of Napoleon and courts were staffed by both Europeans and locals in spite of non-Muslims preferences for Sharia law when applied to commerce and trade.

Throughout the Middle East both civil and criminal codes from Beligian, and the Swiss were adopted while simultaneously Sharia was reduced to the realm of private affairs. Most of the rights afforded by the Sharia were eviscerated and replaced by foreign rules. This resulted in the violation of numerous civil rights including arbitrary arrest lengthy detention without charges, torture rigged trials and systematic suppression of democracy.

A more concrete example occurred when Dr. Sa’ad Eddin Ibrahim was arrested simply because he questioned the practice of nepotism within the Mubarack regime.


   It is important to note that even countries like Saudi Arabia have not always been ruled under Sharia law. It was only until 1932 the country became a theocracy. Similarly, Iran did not become a theocracy until the fall of the Shah. The Sharia that is practiced today is a blend of tribalism, patriarchy and politics. Much of the laws governing parts of rural Afghanistan have no basis religious precedent.

   If anything theocratic regimes use Islam to control their populations. For example, criticism of the Monarchy in Morocco can result in imprisonment or fines.Islam has been used as tool to crush dissident movements throughout the Middle East. According to Article 175 of the 1979 Iranian constitution, the media is under the control of the government. A strong example of this is the Khomeini’s education policy.  According to the titular leader the curriculum was reformed to conform to the ideology of the Islamic revolution and to purge out western influences. If Khomeini can control the education policy in Iran who is to say that the supreme leader will not use this power to suppress any criticism of the regime. 

   It is under these pretenses that misunderstandings emerge. One of those misunderstandings is that Sharia law regulates women to sub-ordinated positions in society. A cursory look across the Middle East might support this idea. Reports of women in Saudi Arabia being punished via flogging for leaving without a male relative, or the Taliban in Afghanistan that has forbidden girls to attended school. Perhaps one of the worst forms of abuses on females is honor killing. Yet, the fact is that these misogynistic laws and customs have no basis in Islam.

   In a speech delivered by former Pakistani Prime Minster Benazir Bhutto during her years in exile, Bhutto provided ample evidence that Islam is egalitarian and that it is the Islamic scholars that are distorting the true nature. Both Aisha and Khadija clearly demonstrate the potential for women to play exemplary leadership roles within Islamic society and not to be limited to the household. According to Bhutto the interpretation of Islam is based on patriarchy and tribalism.

  Non-Muslims are also perceived as the victims of Sharia law. Although many religious minorities such as Christians, Buddhists, Jews, and Bahais have been persecuted under Islamic law, despite the fact that there are many verses that suggest Islam is tolerant of other religions.

   With so much ignorance encompassing the debate over Sharia is it any wonder that most of those who vociferously complain of Sharia ignore the fact that most of what the Quran and Hadith states is in contradiction to how Islamic law is practiced throughout the Muslim world. Take for example apostasy, while Glenn Beck is quick to use surah 5:33 which says very little of apostasy yet ignores verses that state “there is no compulsion in religion” and “To you your religion and to me mine.”

  Yet unfortunately the critics are right to some degree. There are incidences of Muslim converts to Christianity being charged with apostasy and sentenced to death. For example, the Taliban has ruled that an Afghanistan man who converted to Christian after working with a Christian relief organization for Afghan refugees should be put to death. This also occurred in Iran despite the fact the men in both cases converted over a decade ago. These are not the only examples.  Another high profile cases involved both Salman Rushdie,  Tujan al_Faisal and Abu Zayd. The latter two were simply convicted for having different views on Islam. 

The connections that Gingrich establishes between Sharia Law and the burning down of Churches by Islamic radicals is weak.

According to the Hadith by Abu Dawud

“In an Islamic State pledge to protect the lives the belongings and honor of all NON_MUSLIM citizen if anyone wrongs them deprives them of their rights oppresses, them or usurps their belongings I would take up these victims case at God’s court.” 

  Notice how the author does define non-Muslims as Jews or Christians but can apply to any religion.

  There are two reasons why this misunderstanding occurs. The first reason is translation. The Quran is written in Arabic, a language that is not native to many countries that practice Islamic law. The second reason is the rate of literacy forces the poor to invest trust in the interpretation of the Quran from the religious leaders.

  As Muslims become more educated they are able to interpret their religion rather than have the scholars interpret it for them. The best way to counter fundamentalist interpretations of Islam is for educated moderate Muslims to challenge the interpretation of Sharia by clerics through the practice of itjihad. Fazlur Rahman implored this technique to argue against polygamy. The goal of Rahman was not to make minor changes but to challenge the underlying understanding of Islamic law, as was the Rasion detre for the Protestant reformation for the Christian world. Religious understanding should not be limited to the ecclesiastical.

  The truth is that Islamic law is just as complicated as any other kind of law. There is more to Sharia law then administering draconian forms of punishment. There are many laws in Islam that regulate economic activity including entering contracts, commerce, property laws which were preferred by Jewish and Christian merchants in the early 19th century because “Decisions made and documents registered in Islamic courts would be fully backed by the authority of the state.” Yet none of the critics have said anything about this.

  What Muslims and non-Muslims should understand is that Islamic law is complicated and includes the Quran and over twenty different books on what the Muhammad said called Hadiths. According to Humphreys "Sharia is not a fixed coded but a vast amphorous, ever changing record of debate. In case of fraud and extortion there is a wide range of ways to punish the guilty." 

  For example, there is a chapter in the Riyad-us-Saliheen that describes the qualities of a just ruler. Interestingly enough the following section describes the “undesirability” of being in positions of authority.

   Furthermore, the Hadith known as the Muslim states that rulers have an obligation treat their citizens with dignity and respect.

  “That ruler who causes hardships to the public would be harshly punished by God. On the contrary, one who is kind and affectionate to his subjects would be blessed with God’s mercy in the Hereafter.”  Another Hadith states that rulers who do not take good care of their citizens would be dragged to hell.
 If the opponents of sharia law want to protest its encroachment on the American judiciary system they should at least understand what it is.

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