Muslims launch campaign to ‘understand’ Shariah

Against a backdrop of heartland fears that U.S. Muslims seek to impose Islamic law on American courts, a leading Muslim … Continued

Against a backdrop of heartland fears that U.S. Muslims seek to impose Islamic law on American courts, a leading Muslim group will launch a campaign on Monday (March 5) to dispel what it called misconceptions about Shariah.

The “Defending Religious Freedom: Understanding Shariah” campaign comes at a time when more than 20 states are considering or have passed laws forbidding judges from considering Shariah in their deliberations.

Many Americans associate Shariah with the harsh punishments carried out in a few Muslim countries like Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, even as U.S. Muslim groups insist they have no desire to introduce Islamic law on themselves or others.

“There were all these wrong notions about Shariah,” said professor Zahid Bukhari, president of the Islamic Circle of North America, which is sponsoring the campaign.

The most worrisome thing, he said, was that the level of hatred toward Shariah had spread from the margins of society to the mainstream. The ICNA campaign has already drawn fire from “anti-Shariah” groups in the United States.

The roughly $3 million dollar campaign will feature billboards in at least 15 U.S. cities, “Shariah seminars” on 20 college campuses, and town hall-style forums and interfaith events in 25 cities.

Sponsors also set-up a 1-855-SHARIAH hotline where callers can ask volunteers about Islamic law, and has even hired an outside public relations firm, The TASC Group in New York City, to shepherd the effort.

At least two billboards are already up. “Shariah is not scary” is the message that flashes on an electronic billboard above New York City’s Holland Tunnel, seen by an estimated 120,000 people every day. Another billboard on I-70 in Kansas City reads “Shariah: Got Questions? Get Answers,” and lists the toll-free number and campaign website.

In March, ICNA will sponsor town hall meetings or lectures in Dallas, Houston, Chicago, Boston, and several other U.S. cities and college campuses.

Even before the campaign was launched, there was already pushback from two groups, the American Freedom Defense Initiative and Stop the Islamization of Nations, both categorized as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Pamela Geller, a founder of both groups and a lead organizer of the opposition to a proposed Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero, called the campaign “a complete whitewash.”

The two groups have designed a billboard parodying ICNA’s Kansas City billboard. “Shariah: Got Fatwa? Get help!” it says, along with a toll-free number and website, neither of which worked.

Geller wrote on her blog that the Quran endorses wife beating and mandates that a woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man’s. Shariah, she said, mandates the death penalty for apostasy and the subjugation of non-Muslims.

Muslim scholars counter that Geller and like-minded critics cherry-pick from Islamic scripture or quote it out of context to paint a false picture of Shariah.

Sheikh Abdool Rahman Khan, an ICNA Shariah expert and resident scholar at the Islamic Learning Foundation outside Chicago, acknowledged that early Islamic law said a woman’s testimony was worth half a man’s, but only in some areas, such as finance and medicine, where there were few women bankers or doctors.

“It wasn’t about equality, it was about participation of women in certain professions,” Rahman said.

Modern Shariah scholars reason that because there are now many women in finance and business, their testimonies are equal to a man’s, Rahman said. In practice, that means a woman can certify a medical diagnosis or sign a business contract by herself.

“If you are looking for problematic texts in the Quran, yes, they exist. They also exist in the Bible and Torah and other books,” said Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im of the Emory University School of Law in Atlanta.

“But Christians aren’t judged based on what the Bible said 2,000 years ago, but on how they behave today. Why are Muslims judged according to these literalist interpretations, and not according to how the vast majority of good Muslims behave today?”

Bukhari acknowledged that some imams interpret Shariah in misogynistic or intolerant ways, and that ICNA recognizes the problem. The solution, he said, was better training for imams.

“The Muslim community also needs to be educated about Shariah,” said Bukhari, “and we will be having these programs also for Muslims.”

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  • LoyalReader

    “…both categorized as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center.”

    The American Freedom Defense Initiative and Stop the Islamization of Nations organizations may or may not engage in hateful behavior, but the writer of this article detracts significantly from his credibility when he cites as authoritative a left wing hate group like the Southern Poverty Law Center led by the radical Morris Dees. Otherwise, an interesting article.

  • rentianxiang

    I agree with the statement that Muslims, like Christians, should not be judged solely on their books but rather on how they behave today. I think that will prove a problem for proponents of shariah expressly because of how it is practiced in many places today, i.e. how Muslims behave. The statement about the behavior of the majority of Muslims is somewhat problematic since it is unclear how many Muslims are actually modelling their behavior on shariah for everything they do and how many are living in countries governed by shariah law. The allegation against anti-shariah groups regarding “cherry picking” is almost ridiculous. It is perfectly legitimate to point out problematic portions of shariah. No one is saying that all of shariah is necessarily bad, but as a legal system it is simply not compatible with our society. Pro-shariah groups can likewise cherry-pick parts of shariah that appear agreeable to people in a democratic society but the problem remains: which parts of shariah are no longer valid, which ones should still be followed, and who gets to decide? The fact is, some pretty awful things are part of shariah, whether followed by some or most, and there is no way for any individual or even majority of Muslims to elminate them. Is stoning considered by some as a legitimate punishment in shariah? Yes, and there is historical evidence that it was and, in some cases although rarely, stoning is still practiced. Is there any penalty for apostasy? I don’t care if some Muslims interpret shariah to mean apostates should be killed or that they should be punished in some other way. Apostasy and blasphemy should not be against the law in a society where people are free to believe or not believe as they see fit and the fact that anyone thinks there should be any punishment is already a problem. Can we compartmentalize shariah to allow the “good” parts and elminate the “bad” parts? Until there is a way to separate the patently barbaric portions of shariah from what is acceptable, shariah (just like any other “religious laws”) should play absolutely no role in civil, criminal or administrative law. I only hope that the ICNA and their cohorts don’t try to whitewash shariah and are honest when confronted with the unpleasant reality that some terrible parts of shariah do actually exist and are part and parcel of their beliefs.

  • ThomasBaum

    In the article, “Bukhari acknowledged that some imams interpret Shariah in misogynistic or intolerant ways, and that ICNA recognizes the problem. The solution, he said, was better training for imams.”

    Seems as if professor Zahid Bukhari, president of the Islamic Circle of North America misses something here and that is no matter how an imam, any imam, interprets sharia, this should have absolutely no bearing on laws in the USA.

    Also written in the article, ““The Muslim community also needs to be educated about Shariah,” said Bukhari, “and we will be having these programs also for Muslims.””

    In this education about shariah for Muslims, will it be taught that sharia law is not the law in the USA?