GUEST OPINION: Sharia law no threat to the U.S.
Published: Sunday, July 10, 2011
By MILLIE WRIGHT
Michigan, like all other states, is governed by the U.S. Constitution and its state constitution, which makes the idea of “creeping Sharia” a straw man argument that pundits and 2012 presidential hopefuls use to rabble rouse among voters.
Some have pointed to the recent controversies in Dearborn as proof of this trend: The arrest of a few Christian missionaries at a Dearborn festival for allegedly disturbing the peace last year and the latest Terry Jones episode. Jones, like the Act 17 Apologetics protesters, were arrested for allegedly breaching Michigan laws, not Islamic law.
Even if they felt wrongly accused, our legal system has mechanisms for rectifying this. Nonetheless, a growing number of states have gone so far as to propose a ban on the use of Sharia in state courts. This idea of “creeping Sharia” is really just a campaign of fear mongering.
The American public should be made aware of several things: First, for Muslims, the Sharia is the word for God’s own idea of how humans should conduct themselves. Living according to the Sharia is to follow certain guidelines of properly maintaining one’s relationships with God and with other people.
These guidelines are derived from the Quran, the example of the Prophet Mohammed, and expanded upon by a vast legal tradition to make up what can be broadly referred to as Islamic Law. The aims of Sharia are to preserve the faith, life, posterity, wealth and the reason of an individual. For the average Muslim, Sharia is thus manifested by praying, giving charity and a host of other spiritually beneficial personal acts, anything that would contradict federal and state constitutions has never been advocated.
Second, interpreting the guidelines has always been a pluralistic endeavor. Muslims are compelled to follow the Sharia, but there is no one code for them to follow. When interpreting the Sharia, Muslims generally refer to the opinions of religious scholars, who go through intense training in religious sources and interpretive theories. How can the Sharia be implemented in the U.S. when it has no single code, no single human authority and a wealth of interpretive methods? This is extremely difficult for even Muslim-majority nations.
Sharia is no more of a threat to the U.S. than are other religious laws. In the case of Dearborn, to argue that Jones or other missionaries were arrested according to Sharia propagates the false idea of Islamic intolerance. While there are plenty of examples of conflict between virtually all religions, we cannot ignore or minimize their long histories of interfaith cooperation. The Quran acknowledges the necessary plurality of religions: “We have assigned a law and a path to each of you. If God had so willed, he would have made you one community, but He wanted to test you through that which He has given you, so race to do good” (5:48).
The Constitution of Medina 1 (622 CE), among the first legislative documents of Islam, ratified by Mohammed himself, guaranteed protection to Jews, Christians and other religious minorities, as well as the right to establish their own religious courts, as long as they paid their taxes and were not openly subversive.
The misuse of the word Sharia perpetuates the imagined dichotomy between “Islamic” and “American.” We can point to the recent “birther” issue as an example of the “more American than thou” strategy of campaign politics.
There is no threat of Islamization of the U.S. legal system, but some politicians know that to piggy-back on the Sharia scare craze and manipulate the emotions surrounding this non-issue will score political points. It might be better for their campaigns if they focus on the real problems facing this nation.
Millie Wright, Ann Arbor, is an Islamic Studies candidate at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor and a CAIR-Michigan intern.