The problem with discussing Sharia law in the U.S is that very few people seem to know what they are talking about, as Dr. Sherman Jackson, one of the foremost experts on Islamic law in the U.S., points out. Myths about “creeping Sharia” and the take-over of Islamic law abound. Far from anything of this sort happening, what is occurring is the vilifying and scare-mongering about a system of “personal laws” that Muslims use to settle domestic issues: i.e., those related to disputes inheritance, divorce etc. This issue of the “creeping Sharia” is a politically motivated strategy to vilify Muslims and is nothing short of pseudo-intellectualism and scaremongering, passing off as genuine civic discourse.
Before we address some of the myths and de-bunk them, let us look at what Sharia actually is. As Dr. Jackson further points out : “At the most basic level, Sharia is the Muslim universe of ideals. It is the result of their collective effort to understand and apply the Quran and supplementary teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (called Sunna) in order to earn God’s pleasure and secure human welfare in this life and attain human salvation in the life to come prescriptive and normative way that a good Muslim is supposed to live his/her life.” While this includes legal norms, it goes beyond just legal injunctions and includes aspects of good behavior, aesthetics and also personal responsibility, derived from Islam’s rich 1400 year old history
Here are five myths about Sharia that need to be critically looked at:
1. Muslims want Sharia to be applied to everyone in the U.S:
As a recent report from Washington D.C based think-tank Institute for Social Policy and Understanding points out : “For most American Muslims shari’a represents a private system of morality and identity, primarily focused on marriage and divorce rituals. None of the American Muslims interviewed for this study (over 212 interviewees) expected American courts to enforce Sharia. Just like other Americans, they will access the courts for adjudication according to American family law if they cannot make a private agreement (relating to divorce) that meets their needs and values.”
2. Sharia is “archaic” and backward:
While the space limitations here do not allow me to get into a lengthy detail, suffice it to say that the moral framework of civics, living one’s life, and behavior cannot and should not be judged by other’s standards. Each society, nation and culture has its own perspective of life and moral framework and in a plural society such as the U.S, the constitution upholds the right of people to practice their religion.
3. Sharia is one fixed, rigid system of laws:
Far from it. Within Sunni Islam, there are four schools of thought and much diversity within Shii Islam as well. The U.S represents the confluence of almost all major strands of Islam and this reflects the diversity within the Muslim world. There are multiple ways of interpretingSharia and each one is different, depending on the school of legal jurisprudence one follows.
4. Sharia is all about criminal laws and punishments:
As pointed out earlier, Sharia is more a “moral framework” rather than just laws and must be understood as such. Of the legal injunctions, a tiny majority of them pertain to punishments. Also, the fact that there are multiple eyewitnesses needed for application of strict punishments make the laws almost toothless, in that they cannot be applied in real-life situations.
5. Sharia needs to be defeated for everyone to live peacefully:
Muslims without Sharia are like Catholics without their personal laws or the Jews without their Halakah. As Dr. Sherman Jackson points out poignantly: “While most non-Muslim Americans may think of Islam without Sharia as simply Islam without rules or criminal sanctions, for Muslims Islam without Sharia would also mean Islam without prescriptions on ablution, prayer, alms, sales, diet, filial piety, civics, etc.”
So, the next time you read an article or hear someone warning you about Sharia or the evil machinations of Muslims, please ask them to correct their ignorance or better. Educate them about what Sharia truly means. In this day and age of free information, there is no excuse for their ignorance.