Shriat Laws: Block them, do not block them

Shariat Laws: Block them, do not block them Part II

Mohammad Akhtar,Ph.D

(This is in continuation with part I that was published previously in the July issue)

The stereotypes that were exploited 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.

Can Muslims as a group become vulnerable to a similar dynamics, become exploitative and miss the real thing as was amply illustrated previously in the non Muslim America? Certainly, we are vulnerable if we are human and would note many examples of duplicity and of conscious exploitation . We certainly have most powerful stereotypes linked to Islam, such as if someone is branded as disrespectful to the prophet, we want to kill him. Often fear-based stereotypes come handy: “Islam is in danger”, Muslim nation is under threat to lose etc. Can a counter-ban movement be vulnerable? Yes, such as if they are supporting Muslims exclusively to get back at the mainstream America for their own mistreatment. How about Muslims in particular? Could some of them be on the verge to exploitation? Possibly, yes. What individuals or what Muslim groups . are to be faulted specifically is a judgment difficult to make. It better be avoided unless one makes it an extensive and careful study of it. It suffices to mention here the clues one can use in arriving at that judgment. They could be inconsistencies, for instance, in the professed reason and the actual motif for one’s behavior. Some examples are: someone, who claims to be a protector of Islam and undertakes activities to fuel sectarian hatred or someone who is the defender of the Muslims cause and preaches killing innocent humans in the West as Kafirs.

Muslim victories; There is no hedging here and I do not have any organization to fault. On the contrary, CAIR is an organization to be commended for their effective support of the Muslim cause. In majority of the cases, Muslims, succeeded. This is all good and fine. But now we should be concerned and thinking of stopping here as the point of balance. Captivated by the notion of Shariat - at the level of religious stereotype, some Muslims may emotionally go for “more Shariat” which extends beyond family laws. That will be a colossal loss to the Muslims or Islamic cause. If Muslims knew the reality, they would not want it. And clearly that would be incompatible with the U.S. legal system. Along the same lines, one must be alert to the US Constitution. It is the most basic and sacred part of the American system. That is why we Muslims took the oath of allegiance to it when we became citizens. If we do not believe in it, or try to have anyone refuse taking the oath, we would loose U.S. citizenship. What is the meaning of a contractual agreement, especially if it is combined with an oath? It is the most solemn agreement. Check out Islamic rules about this. We are talking about Shariat and Islam. We are required to abide by it. We cannot get out of it because our oath was not to “ Allah” and was to God the same God Jews and Christians revere.

Further Reflections on how to make it really better

There are two key questions central to our discussion on Shariat

1)Does Islam require Muslims to practice Shariat in the US? The answer is no. That may be a big surprise to many. The Islamic position on Shariat is given in the next section. To give the shortest answer on which all Muslim scholars are unanimous is : follow the laws of the land where you live. If it is that simple, why are Muslims fussing and agitating about Shariat law? What Muslims are asking for is only the “domestic” part of the whole Shariat, and the US is fine with it, They did ask for it because other religious groups were given the option, the denial of it to Muslims would have meant discrimination or insult. That may perhaps be better formulated at the ethnic level rather than be formulated as the religious reason. Our thinking should remain clear and simple: Muslims do not need Shariat in America to practice Islam. Please refer to the MCA’s Position paper on Islam and Shariat( to be found on the website

The above rule about following the law of the land is indisputable There are many differences among Muslims, such as traditional vs. progressive, or literal vs. contextual. One of the main point of disagreement is whether to hold on to the old laws literally as they were thousand years ago, or to keep revising them according to the needs of the time and the society? Islamic scholars were updating systematically and revising laws regularly but that was suspended thousand years ago leaving Shariat in a depraved and outdated d mode. Last century,however, has witnessed a revival in Islamic thinking which is catching up with reasoning and making sense. Continuing with this rational approach in the US, Tariq Ramadan argues that American laws are best suited for Muslims of America and they need not go for shariat anywhere else. That obviously is the best solution for Muslims specially if they want to integrate and avoid the perennial source of serious conflicts. But, is it too radical for some Muslims who are entrenched into a group-following mentality centered around traditionalism? That poses another problem that is the need for masses education

2) What is at the heart of the problem in the conflict between Muslims and their opponents? Muslims are for Shariat and opponents for the ban That is only the pretext and it is apparent. It was made amply clear in the earlier analysis that deep down it is the growing fear of each other leading to hate and animosity. If this diagnosis is correct, even if the politicians lose in all legislations, they would not quit but find other grounds to reflect their fears and fight. Then the approach to take is the relationship approach and not a rational approach. The trick is to reduce fears and improve relational possibilities. What makes it difficult is the reciprocal and escalating nature of fear. Each side is afraid of the other and is suspicious of the worse that is to come. Some Muslims stereotype that all Americans are out to slander Islam and marginalizing them as people. But let us confront and ask them , are interfaith and idealist groups who supported them and made them win: not Americans? However,one instance is not sufficient. if the dissociation from stereotype is to weaken, it has to be repeated. We need to repeat multiple facts about “true” Islam such as Islam is against terrorism, Islam is against coercing someone to change his/her belief, Islam is for supporting rights similar to the rights in the US Constitution, Islam gives women the right to live respectably and with dignity, stoning women to death is not sanctioned by Islam, even if it is practiced in countries where supposedly Muslims live. That multi-facet repetition should weaken the fear of Islam. That level is the rational of fear reduction. The second level of fear reduction is illustrated in the following: it requires courage and sense of security. It is like someone who is suspecting something is yours, but out of honesty you decline to take.

Muslims are suspected of being all-occupied by Shariat. But suppose Muslims turn around and declare that according to Islam they are not required to get Shariat in America and that they do not want it. Would it not change the context significantly? Someone who was expecting the worse to come, and finds it to be never coming, would leave him with big relief and positive thinking. : Majority of Muslims are not religious fanatics. They say that Islam is a sensible religion. That is precisely what Muslims want and love to hear from their opponents.Their own tension and fear would be immensely reduced, paving the way for them to act in less frightening manner and making even the opponents feel congenial. This chain reaction is the basis for both escalation and de-escalation. The big question is which of the two sides takes the initiative. Considering the size of gains, if you do and the amount of losses if you do not, Muslims should be the ones to make a start. They must have courage to let go. They must follow the maxim: “It is better to lose the battle and win the war.”

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