Saturday, August 13, 2011

An antidote to the anti-shariah movement

David Yerushalmi's well documented efforts to establish an anti-shariah movement in the United States betrays the reality of what shariah is and how Muslims in America and around the world interpret it.

A recent article in the New York Times showcased the crusading efforts of Mr. David Yerushalmi, a 56 year old Hasidic Jew. His circle of support include like-minded prominent thought leaders and presidential candidates like Newt Gingrich, Michelle Bachmann, Sarah Palin, Pamela Geller, and Frank Gaffney - all alleged experts on culture, financial systems, history and religion.

Mr. Yerushalmi, who has been taught Arabic and shariah by two Islamic scholars whose identities he won’t reveal, argues that Islamic law, or shariah, ‘presents the greatest threat to American freedom since the cold war,’ where presumably the USA would eventually stand for the United States of Afghanistan.

Mr. Yerushalmi makes some interesting comments, and three of them require either additional elaborations or placing into context for a more informed understanding.

First, he states Islamic militants have not perverted Islam, but rather the Islamic doctrine seeks global hegemony and overseas Muslims support Islamic rule. It’s interesting to know he and his inner circle believe in something that we, Muslims, do not believe. Islamic militants have not only attempted to pervert the religion, but also hijack its core peaceful teaching with their diametrically opposite ideology of hate and murder.

It goes without saying that as Timothy McVeigh and Anders Behring Breivik (the so called ‘Christian terrorist’) did not represent Christian values, Tamil Tigers did not represent all Tamils, Ayuman Shinto did not represent all Japanese, the IRA did not represent all Catholics, and the late Osama Bin Ladin and his ilk neither represented Islamic values, Muslim culture nor an Arab outlook.

A sampling of the state of Muslims around the world shows that they are not at all homogeneous and their societies are in a state of flux. Most of the word’s internal conflicts are in Muslim majority countries, as can be seen with the brutality in Syria, Yemen, Libya, the change of leadership in Tunisia and Egypt, and the financial accommodations in Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait. Also, extremists have killed far more Muslims than non-Muslims, as can be seen with the al-Shabaab Islamic movement contributing to the famine in Somalia. Finally, the brain drain from Muslim countries due to a lack of education, economic opportunities, repression and corruption, hardly foresees a desire to establish Islamic caliphate in the US.

Why doesn’t Mr. Yerushalmi not use examples of Muslims in Muslim majority countries like Malaysia (a multi-ethnic democracy) and Turkey (a democracy led by an Islamist party) instead of focusing on sensational headlines from Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran? Because it’s easier to influence the masses, via a cooperating media, by presenting things out of context.

Second, according to his groups study, 82% of Imams in 100 Mosques surveyed in the US espouse and promote violence. Much like Peter King’s hearings concerning the radicalization of Muslims in America, there was no ‘smoking gun’ that appeared. We Muslims, would like the names of the 80% of imams so that they can be either ‘de-frocked’ or deported. The mosque, much like a church or synagogue, is a sanctuary to connect with God and find solace. Those that use the pulpit otherwise are "...buying the life of this world at the price of the hereafter" (Qur’an 2:86).

In the US, there are present Muslims from all 57 Muslim countries. American Muslims come in different colors, shapes, sizes and, yes, even ‘beliefs.’ There are different sects in Islam and represented in the US by mosques run by Sunnis, Shias, Sufis, and even Ahmadis and the Nation of Islam. Put three Muslims in a room and you’ll get four opinions.

Sarah Palin’s comment in the article, where she claims the downfall of America if shariah law is adopted, is consistent with her misinformed musings. America has outlasted socialism, fascism, racism and communism, and is much stronger with its checks and balances. The ‘over-accommodation’ of Muslims will not happen here and, more importantly, Muslims are not asking for over accommodation but only a level playing field where possible.

For example, Kosher law is well accepted in the US, including by the Muslims for food consumption. There are common areas between Jewish law and shariah law on food (kosher and halal), custody, divorce, and so on. But Muslims are simply not looking to overturn the US Constitution. As New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who recently nominated a Muslim judge to his state Superior Court put it, ”this Sharia law business is crap. It's just crazy. And I'm tired of dealing with the crazies."

Third, the Islamic finance industry, via American banks offering funds, invests in companies deemed shariahcompliant, implying to some that these are companies whose primary business may be inconsistent with American values and principles. If we look at the six index providers, from S&P to Dow Jones Indexes, MSCI to FTSE, Russell to Thomson Reuters, they all have Islamic indexes from which such funds are launched.

But the largest companies in the today’s Islamic indexes include Microsoft, IBM, Pfizer, ExxonMobil, Google, and so on. Islamic equity investing is social-ethical investing, with an emphasis is on negative screening. This is where most of the money from Islamic funds is invested. And not one Islamic financial institution to date has been convicted of financing terrorism. Non-regulated moneychangers and charities are a different issue and must be scrutinized to the full extent of the law.

In fairness to Mr Yerushalmi, he asks a good question in the article, ‘what is shariah?’ Perhaps the best way to answer it is in the negative. It consists neither of a covert fifth column nor overt mass conversions and world domination. It’s about having the dignity to take care of one’s family, looking after one’s neighbours, and obeying the law of the land.

One simple test question will flush out its intent: What is the identity and ideology of those Muslims and non-Muslims that wish to establish perverted medieval laws in the US that oppress women, promote non-tolerance of other faiths and ethnicities, and by default think in terms of hate and violence? The answer is the discredited very few that are becoming smaller everyday because their message is failing the stress test of humanity.

Typically, the longest lines in most countries is at the US Embassy, because America provides not only economic opportunities regardless of race, creed or color, but also has all the virtues described in all the holy books - the Bible, Koran, Torah, etc. The dollar bill is emblazoned with the words In God We Trust. Enough said.

Now, why would the hard working US Muslims want the USA to stand for the United Shariah of America? It’s in America that we have been born or raised, it’s America we want to make great once again, and it’s on American soil we want to be buried.

The Jewish and Catholic people (with allegations of a coup in US by the Pope via President Kennedy) have gone through what Muslims are now going through in the US, moments of mistrust and motives magnified by external events shown in real time.

Time has vindicated the Jews and Catholics and it will also vindicate the Muslims and people like Mr. Yerushalmi will have contributed to it.

Rushdi Siddiqui is the Global Head of Islamic Finance at Thomson Reuters. Recognised as a thought-leader in Islamic Finance, Rushdi was a key force in the creation of the Dow Jones Islamic Index, and is now a leading advocate of the convergence between Islamic Finance and the Halal industry. He writes here in his personal capacity.

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