By Roy Oksnevad
The row concerning Shari’a [Shariah] creeping into North America has filled the blogosphere. According to NPR, by the summer of 2010, anti-Shari’a laws were being introduced in several state legislatures. Louisiana, Arizona, and Tennessee have all passed versions of a bill restricting judges from consulting Shari’a or broader categories of religious, foreign, or international laws. Over 20 other states have debated such laws. Voters in Oklahoma passed an amendment to the Constitution banning courts from considering Shari’a, which has been struck down by the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Question: Do all Muslim-majority countries live by Shari’a law?
Answer: Most countries of the Middle East and North Africa maintain a dual system of secular courts and religious courts, in which the religious courts mainly regulate marriage and inheritance.
Question: What does Shari’a looks like?
Answer: It might be good to use two groups to give a comparison here. Within the Orthodox Jewish traditions, faith is lived through a complicated series of laws. These Jews look to legal renderings to know how to live in the modern world. Another illustration is civil law which says that two people, once married legally in any state, can get a divorce. Catholic law says they can only divorce if they get a dispensation for a divorce from the Church. A Catholic can choose to obey church law and not obtain a divorce, or choose to follow civil law and get the divorce. There is a parallel to Shari’a law here. Under Shari’a, a couple marries within their faith and divorces within their faith. To have a legal marriage and divorce, they must do so with the civil authorities. In other words, they are separate ceremonies with separate contracts. In Europe, marriage is done twice; one is the civil ceremony registered with the State done in the town hall and the second is a religious ceremony done before God in the church of their choice. They are two separate actions. (see http://www.sharia4america.com/news.php?nid=5279)
Question: Who then is trying to impose Shari’a in North America?
Answer: The reintroduction of Shari’a is a longstanding goal for Islamist movements in Muslim countries. This is being resisted by most governments in Muslim-majority countries. However, the majority Muslim population does not want to be ruled by Shari’a law. In North America, small Salafi-related groups, such as Hizb ut-Tahrir, make more noise than their size warrants. They will push for Shari’a for everyone as the solution to all societal ills. However, the Salafi voice is only one such voice within the Muslim community.
Question: Do all Muslims want Shari’a?
Answer: Modernists, traditionalists, and fundamentalists all hold different views of Shari’a, as do adherents to different schools of Islamic thought and scholarship. Different countries, societies, and cultures have varying interpretations of Shari’a as well. However, only harsh countries like Saudi Arabia and some Gulf states, along with Iran have laws consistent with Shari’a. The Gallup Poll has undertaken a major study titled, Who Speaks for Islam? The study reveals, “The emphasis that those in substantially Muslim countries give to a new model of government—one that is democratic yet embraces religious values—helps to explain why majorities in most countries, with the exception of a handful of nations, want Sharia as at least ‘a’ source of legislation.”
The study also reveals, “Ironically, we don’t have to look far from home to find a significant number of people who want religion as a source of law. In the United States, a 2006 Gallup Poll indicates that a majority of Americans want the Bible as a source of legislation.
Forty-six percent of Americans say that the Bible should be “a” source, and 9% believe it should be the “only” source of legislation.
Perhaps even more surprising, 42% of Americans want religious leaders to have a direct role in writing a constitution, while 55% want them to play no role at all. These numbers are almost identical to those in Iran.
Question: Do Muslims in North America want Shar’ia Law Applied?
Answer: The study was conducted by Dr. Judy Macfarlane, law professor at the University of Windsor and fellow for nonpartisan think tank, the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, based in Washington, D.C. Macfarlane interviewed a total of 212 North American Muslims, 41 of which were imams, or Islamic worship leaders. Another 70 were community leaders, and the remaining 101 were divorced Muslim men and women. Seventy-five percent of the data was collected from American Muslims, while the remaining 25 percent came from Canadian Muslims. Macfarlane wrote in her report, “The study shows clearly that other than religious observance, the practice of Shariah for the vast majority of American Muslims is focused on family matters, primarily marriage and divorce.”
For Macfarlane’s report go to: http://www.ispu.org/pdfs/ISPU%20Report_Marriage%20I_Macfarlane_WEB.pdf
Question: If I want to see what Shari’a councils look like in North America where can I go?
Islamic Council of North America
Islamic Shari’a Council in the UK
Opposition to Shari’a law by Muslim Canadian Congress
Question: Who is behind the movement to ban Shari’a law?
Answer: NPR has done excellent research on this question. On Fresh Air (August 9, 2011), “New York Times investigative reporter Andrea Elliott joins Terry Gross for a conversation about the state-level movement to ban Shari’a law. Elliott recently profiled David Yerushalmi, the Brooklyn lawyer who started the anti-Shari’a movement and who she says, ‘has come to exercise a striking influence over American public discourse about Shari’a.’” There are now websites and organizations that have picked up on resisting Shari’a in America. They include Act for America, Creeping Sharia, and Sharia for America.
Question: Isn’t Shari’a about punishments (primarily stoning and amputations) and the very strict control over gender matters that exists in some countries?
Answer: This question concerns the establishment of Islamic criminal law or Hudud offenses. The six areas are:
- Illegal sexual intercourse
- False accusations
- Drinking alcohol
- Apostasy including blasphemy
Muslim-majority countries struggle with what to do with the Shari’a criminal code (Hudud) and being accountable to the international community. The amputations and stoning are not commonplace even in Muslim-majority countries. The few cases have brought tremendous international pressure to bear on these actions. Islamic revivalism is driving this move in Muslim-majority countries but there is tension (or contradiction) between Islamic criminal law (Hudud) and defending equality and freedom for its citizens. In the end, it’s about how local officials decide how to mete out “justice.” We live in a secular democracy with a constitution that is committed to basic human rights. We are protected under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
For a good discussion of Shari’a written by a Christian scholar:
“Sharia: Can It Be Outlawed?”
Aug 26, 2011, Written by David L Johnston, excerpt follows
I was teaching a seminar course on intra-Muslim debates on human rights at Yale University and we had just covered a variety of Muslim “fundamentalist” views. Out of fifteen students I had four Jews, four Christians, and seven Muslims. One Orthodox Jewish student (actually the president of the Yale Friends of Israel that year) raised his hand to comment, “I have to tell you that the more I listen, the more I connect with these conservative, politically active, law-oriented Muslims. No joke, not a day goes by that I’m not furiously involved in two or three arguments about religious law. This is what we breathe!”
Indeed, Judaism and Islam, unlike Christianity, are faith traditions that revolve around the down-to-earth, practical rules of living that were inspired by the sacred text, then distilled by rabbis and ulama’ (Muslim jurists), first orally and then finally written down according their respective schools of law. Christians tend to be more preoccupied with right belief (orthodoxy), whereas right conduct (orthopraxy) commands the allegiance of Muslims and Jews.
For the full article go to: http://www.humantrustees.org/blogs/current-islam/item/6-sharia-outlawed?