Guest commentary: Understanding Shari’a — its guidelines of faith don’t conflict with laws of the land|newswell|text|FRONTPAGE|s

By Dawud Walid


Apr 28, 2011

With anti-Islam legislation proposed in Texas in which a legislator states that Dearborn is governed by Islamic law to the recent media circus surrounding Pastor Terry Jones, the term sharia has become perhaps the most misunderstood term in America’s contemporary lexicon.

Sharia is generally defined by Oxford Professor Tariq Ramadan as a “path towards faithfulness” meaning the Muslims’ compass towards living life pleasing to God.  As sharia’s original meaning is a path towards water, Islam teaches that souls need spiritual and intellect water to sustain and protect their physical and material selves in societies.  To be clear, sharia does not mean a fixed codex of laws but is a guidepost towards promoting well-being.

The 14th century Spanish Muslim jurist Abu Ishaq al-Shatibi stated that the basic objectives of sharia are five – the protection of religion, life, intellect, property and posterity.  To meet these objectives in worship, social transactions and judicial proceedings, varying schools of jurisprudence arose based upon textual interpretations and cultural environments.  Like Jewish Halakha, which was practiced in Muslim Spain for almost seven centuries, there are laws between God and man and rules that govern relations between people within Islam.

Sharia, thus, guides Muslims in the entire life from how to eat and pray to the need for being just with all humans for the pleasure of the Divine.  What can be eaten, the exact words to be said in ritual prayers and the system in which justice can be found, however, can vary.  Hence, Dr. Ramadan stated that the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution is “sharia compliant” because American Muslims can adhere to the laws of the land while congruently striving to fulfill the requirements of the Islamic faith.

Adhering to the rule of law and order in any country while prohibiting vigilantism, which can lead to anarchy is within the sharia.  The Qur’an states, “Oh you who believe! Fulfill (all) obligations,” and “fulfill (every) covenant, and surely (every) covenant will be questioned about.”  Therefore, American Muslims must fulfill their social contracts with the state, not simply as being law-abiding citizens but also as obeying a Divine mandate.

Islamic jurisprudence is not incumbent on people who do not believe in Islam, nor do American Muslims have the desire, much less the authority, to force one particular form of Islamic jurisprudence on the Muslim community.  Many Muslims, who have immigrated to America from lands such as Egypt and Tunisia can attest to fact that they can practice Islam more freely under our system of government than the countries in which they migrated from.  This is a fact.

As our nation witnessed merchants of fear proclaiming that Catholics were going to secretly take over the country to have the Pope and Catholic Law rule America, we are seeing from the likes of Newt Gingrich, himself a Catholic, propagating the same regarding Muslims and sharia.  As we better our understanding of Islam and the long history of Muslims in America, I hope that more of us can challenge the likes of Jones and Gingrich, who are seeking to divide fellow Americans for a quick moment of fame or to gain cheap political points.

Dawud Walid is executive director of CAIR-MI.


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