Shariat laws: block them, do not block them, does it make sense?

Shariat Laws- Ban them, Block them: does it make sense? PART 1

Mohammad Akhtar, Ph.D
President, MCA, Author of two books and numerous articles
NOTE: PART 1 of the article is here while PART 2 is to be published in the next issue. It would argue that Muslims should focus more on the relationship with America. Reacting negatively out of anger and fear is only escalating the emotional climate for the worse .Muslims need systematic thinking and take the initiatives such as clearly declare that we do not need Shariat laws in America, it is not necessary as an Islamic mandate
Frankly, I am confused about what is going on in the US regarding Shariat Laws: Legislators in many states want to ban it; others, however, oppose this move and support Muslims. Is it a fight between Muslims and “mainstream America”? Should it be that way? What is the reason or motive behind the fight for each side? Does it make sense or does it do good for either side? To begin with, what is the meaning of “Shariat”? These questions are examined in what follows. But first, let us examine some background information.
I am calling the group that is espousing this ban as “mainstream America”; and I am calling the group that is opposing this ban as “interfaith involves 20 states, the latest being Kansas, where the ban was passed in both houses. Missouri witnessed the introduction of this bill twice, but was defeated both times. I will select a couple of States for illustrating the dynamics involved, and then discuss some reasons and motivations behind the move to ban Shariat.
In Pennsylvania, Rep Marie Swanger introduced House Bill 2029 roughly six months ago. This bill aims to prevent “the application of foreign law which would impair constitutional rights.” The foreign law is a veiled expression. She really means Shariat law.This is simply evident if you add several other pieces of her statements together. Her concern is that the U.S. Constitution will be compromised.
“My main concern”, Swanger said adding a second reason in an interview with Philadelphia Weekly, “is to protect women’s rights because I know that under some foreign law, women certainly don’t have the rights they have here in our country, under our Constitution”. A critic says “while this may sound pleasant and appealing, it merely masquerades behind those pretenses”. What is the truth, is examined in the next section.
Reality behind the ban of Shriat- do we know what does shariat mean?
I am indebted to the following two non-Muslims for the logical analysis that follows: SeanYom and Zachry Scott. Both associated with Philadelphia’s Temple University. “To most Americans, Sharia law is some terrifying and foreign thing. That’s because, quite frankly, they have no idea what it is”. Political Science professor at Temple University, and Harvard graduate Sean Yom, who specializes in the region, finds the word Shariat as the source of great confusion and general misunderstandings. According to Yom, “Shariat is not a freestanding ‘code’ like we assume in the West. There is no ‘book of Sharia law’ because little is written in stone.” It refers to no one fixed book containing all the major laws; secondly it highlights the fact that these laws have been changing over the course of thousands of years and as such are not considered as invariant. I may add that reference to Shariat was revisited, after a long gap of nearly 1,000 years: it was only 60 years ago or so. To identify the practical and most narrow sense in which some Muslims of America are asking for Shariat laws refers to a set of principles for personal conduct, mostly pertaining to family matters such as marriage, divorce, which are compatible and can be safely managed by the American system. If Muslims are able to clearly articulate what is it they are asking for and limit it to domestic laws, things would not have been messy. Unfortunately, many Muslims mistakenly include the imagery of stoning to death for adultery and cutting hands for theft as part of Shariat. This is blatantly incorrect. It is abundantly clear that misunderstanding of Shariat laws is common not only among Westerners, but also to among Muslims. For example, an article by ____ in the June issue of this website concludes that Muslim scholars do not have a unanimity of views on the concept of Shariat, and use varying definitions of Shariat.
Reality check on reasons advanced for the ban.
A close examination of each specific reason given by legislators is undertaken here only to disclose it not to be what is professed and it amounts to be only a pretense in essence, a cover up for something else underneath.
The reason given as a defence is that the bill calls for the ban not only for Shariat law but for all “foreign laws,” as Swanger continues, it is nothing new but “is inherent in the American legal structure”. The counter to that argument is if it has been part of the legal system “why is it necessary to legislate it now?” When pushed she takes the direction of her concerns which are specific and point to the Shariat. She argues thatr “one of my objectives is protecting the rights of women.
The legislators’ most common fear, cited in many states, is that the Shariat runs contrary to the U.S. Constitution. If they fear this might bring about changes in the major laws in the Constitution, then it is an unrealistic fear. “Because the supreme law of America is predicated upon the Constitution, no judge–even if he were a conservative Muslim trained in Sharia law–could ever promulgate Sharia law into existence,” Yom said. If someone caught in intense fear and driven by a fuzzy imagery related to 9/11 and terrorism is thinking of Muslims forcing their Shariat onto America to displace the Constitution, or to force American way of life by physical power, there is no reality to it. It is one thing for some crazy zealots to attack the World Trade Center and overpower it for minutes; but to overpower the entire nation and change its way of life is inconceivable. While majority Muslims are happy with U.S. Constitution and accompanying laws, fanatic Muslims cannot seize that kind of power in millions of years. Incidentally, even if Muslims got the power, the sensible Muslims – who are in a sizable proportion — would not like to change the U.S. Constitution as they feel it is akin to Islamic values. This is discussed in a later section.
Kansas State. The bill was passed to ban Shariat 122-0 in May, unlike Pennsylvania, where the ban was defeated. The language used in the draft of the bill was similarly generic and did not mention Shariat law but prohibited the state courts to make rulings based on any foreign laws or other legal codes. The intent of the bill was amply clear when a supporter of the bill stated that “ they stone women to death in countries that have shariat laws.” There is the same kind of argument given for the ban which emphasizes that the ban is for all foreign laws. It is countered by the same logic as used previously. If prevention of foreign laws is the reason, why is new legislation needed because restrictions previously legislated already exist? This questions the reality of the professed reason as it throws doubt on the compassion for the abused women and regards them as sheer excuses and cover up for some other motive as real—and that is anti-Muslims hate. That seems to be a common theme that emerges consistently across the nation. Bills to ban Shariat laws have passed in Arizona,Tennesee, Lousiana, and Oaklahoma. One can reflect on the relationship between Islamophobia to be inversely related to the exposure to Muslims, who are concentrated more in the East and West coast, big cities like Chicago, (St.Louis), Houston, Dallas, etc.
Muslims Counter Response
Some Muslims have lined up in opposition to the ban in as much frenzy, at the least, as the forces pushing for the ban. The latter forces are active, as Muslims put it, to demonize them, attack their religion and target them for their hate. Muslims line of action was to join the protest against the legislation and threaten with a lawsuit, if and when their rights were to be compromised. In majority of the states, the ban movement was defeated. I am sure that Muslims contributed to this defeat. If they weighed equal to all other groups combined remains a question. Two other groups who got into action were: (i) those who cherish America as prejudice-free; (a couple of examples of rational analysis that were cited above represent this idealist group; and (ii) interfaith groups, specifically Jews and Catholics.
In the 19th century, Catholics were regarded by many people in this country as totally incompatible with Americanism. They saw Catholicism as a foreign element that would subvert Democracy. Today, a majority of the justices on the Supreme Court of America are Catholics. Jews have had a far too long a period of persecution and discrimination. Their scar from abusive treatment by the dominant majority of America may have been far too deep to be forgotten. What is remarkable and commendable about both groups is that they did not stop at just nursing their wounds, but they brought their past memories to bear down to Muslims suffering and recognized their need for support. Similarly, another group that cherishes fairness, tolerance and other ideals of America to be preserved and practiced finds Muslim rights being compromised and therefore supports Muslims in the most genuine and selfless manner. To quote Scott, “we live next door to Muslim-Americans. We shop at the same grocery store with them. We sit next to them in our classrooms. And now, it is time to stand beside them and demand that the ignorant people who speak the loudest do not speak for all of us”.
I find the last phrase as the most insightful when suggesting the loudest voices may not be telling the truth. Such is the nature of “crowd psychology”. It magnifies the power of leaders, increases the role of group-favored stereotypes, and multiplies the opportunities for exploitation for money and other vested interests. Let me fill in the above sketch with few specific details:
The stereotypes used in the ban movement were : a)Muslims are terrorists and barbarians, and b) they are out to destroy America and American ways. Therefore, Muslims need to be feared.
. Stereotypes are not the truth therefore they are used only as veiled and not upfront as the main reason – as was illustrated previously. The leaders in this situation to be identified are the legislators out to exploit the situation. Knowing fully well that Muslims are feared they conjured up the image that Muslims are up to doing something with Shariat- hence the move to ban it. “What truly angers me,” adds Scott, is that I can guarantee that I know what the people – like Swanger — think they are doing. They probably believe that they are “defending America” from some sort of threat. When they look in the mirror”- that is the self reinforcement. I am “Defender of Constitution” “protector of the country”– is the selling point used by the leader to sell “follow me as a leader”, for example, or give me the money or whatever form of exploitation one may have designed as part of the business. Right behind the leaders come the media and commercial and religious groups that get on the bandwagon to run their own shops around the dynamics of the situation.

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