American Shariah? That's news to American Muslims

October 14, 2010

(RNS) Oklahoma state Rep. Rex Duncan expects his "Save Our State"
referendum to keep Islamic law out of state courts to pass easily on
Nov. 2. He's less certain a similar measure could pass in Michigan.


The reason? Muslims have already established a foothold in and
around Detroit, and wield enough political power to stop it, he says.


"I don't believe anybody who would spend five minutes looking at the
landscape and the political dynamics of Dearborn, Mich., would for one
minute entertain the idea that they could pass a preemptive strike to
keep Shariah law out of the courts," said Duncan, a Republican.


Duncan and other conservatives -- including tea party favorite
Sharron Angle in Nevada -- ominously warn that Muslims are hell-bent on
imposing Shariah law on the U.S. legal system.


When opponents of a proposed Islamic center near Ground Zero rallied
at the site last month (Sept.), many carried signs that depicted
"SHARIA," dripping in blood. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich got a
standing ovation at September's Values Voter Summit when he called for
"a federal law that says Shariah law cannot be recognized by any court
in the United States."


The funny thing is, no one in Oklahoma, Michigan or anywhere else is
calling for Shariah -- including and especially Muslims.


Instead, Muslim American leaders say Duncan's referendum is a
concrete example of fanning hysteria about the myth that they want to
impose Shariah, which many Americans associate with misogyny, religious
intolerance, and cruel punishments.


"This is another right-wing fantasy that started on the hate blogs
and worked its way into the mainstream media," said Ibrahim Hooper of
the Council of American-Islamic Relations in Washington D.C. "Where is
the evidence of the takeover?"


Perhaps the most frequently cited example comes from New Jersey,
where a Moroccan Muslim immigrant who beat and raped his wife was
acquitted by a local court that ruled the husband was acting according
to his religious beliefs.


The ruling was reversed by an appellate court in July, and many
Muslim Americans say they found the initial New Jersey court ruling as
absurd and cruel as non-Muslims.


What they do want, however, is protection for reasonable
constitutionally protected acts, like wearing a headscarf, or praying at
work.


"Accommodating a Muslim employee's request to wear a religious
headscarf at work in no way imposes religious law on the workplace, any
more than when employees wear a Latin cross or a Star of David," said
Daniel Mach, director of the ACLU's Freedom of Religion and Belief
program.


"Somehow, basic religious exercise by Muslims is viewed as
imposition by that group of its own faith on others."


Frank Gaffney, president of the conservative Center for Security
Policy in Washington D.C., disagreed.


"The principle difference is that Shariah calls for the destruction
of our country; Jewish law does not," said Gaffney, whose institute
released a 177-page report last month called "Shariah: The Threat to
America."


Examples of "creeping" Shariah infiltrating American society cited
in the report include Muslims building mosques, using Islamic financing
to buy homes, and depositing money in Islamic banks, which forbid
interest and avoid investments in products like alcohol and tobacco.


"So when you're talking about saying, `Well it's just another
religious court system that is operating kind of like the Jews do,' it's
completely different, it's sedition," Gaffney said.


Muslims say such views reflect either bigotry or ignorance about
Shariah, which means "path" in Arabic and is based on the Quran and the
recorded teachings of Islam's Prophet Muhammad.


Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im, an Islamic scholar at Emory University,
argues in his 2008 book, "Islam and the Secular State," that Shariah is
meant to be followed as a personal religious code, not imposed as a
public legal system covering all citizens in society.


"The moment the state imposes Shariah, it stops being Islamic,"
An-Na'im said.


Other Muslims acknowledge that some Islamic countries, such Saudi
Arabia and Iran, have legal systems based on strict interpretations of
Shariah. That doesn't mean, however, that Muslims elsewhere desire the
same thing. In fact, they condemn it.


"Assuming all Muslims follow medieval Islamic rules today is like
assuming that all Catholics follow ninth-century canon law," wrote
Sumbul Ali-Karamali, a Muslim woman raised in California and author of
"The Muslim Next Door: The Quran, the Media, and that Veil Thing," in a
recent Huffington Post column.


Gaffney, whose report called Shariah the "preeminent totalitarian
threat of our time," dismissed alternative interpretations of Shariah as
inauthentic. "There is only one interpretation of Shariah law," said
Gaffney.


While anti-Shariah legislation may never be introduced in Michigan,
Duncan believes other states will follow Oklahoma's lead and pass
similar legislation to ban Shariah.


"There are other states, I believe a dozen or so, maybe more, who
are currently in discussions with me," Duncan said, "and watching what
we're doing."