Last Saturday, an anti-Muslim group organized rallies in numerous cities across our country against the myth of creeping sharia.
What is sharia, or Islamic law?
In short, the word sharia means "a path" and, by extension, a way to pursue happiness by protecting life, faith, family, intellect and property. As a Muslim and an American citizen, I already enjoy these God-given liberties. Principles of sharia are embedded in our Constitution. Islamic law, nevertheless, requires a believer to follow the law of the land.
The two main sources of sharia are the Quran and the traditions of the
Prophet Muhammad. Muslim scholars and intellectuals engage in deliberations arriving at consensus solutions suitable for time and place, based upon the two fundamental sources. There are five schools of Islamic jurisprudence to choose from that guide modern-day Muslims to practice their faith. In a nutshell, sharia promotes:
- The sanctity of human life. The Quran stresses, “If anyone kills a person — unless in retribution for murder or spreading corruption in the land, it is like killing all humankind; while anyone saves a life, it is as like saving the lives of all humankind.”
- Freedom of faith. Quran commands, “Let there be no
- Family life as a nucleus of society. Sharia regulates marriage, divorce, inheritance, parenting, child rearing, rights of orphans, kin and family relations. Israel and India, two democracies, honor Muslim personal law in their constitutions. American laws recognize Islamic marriage, burial rites, dietary laws and interest-free banking. It’s a code of living that includes daily prayers, fasting and charity.
- Prohibition of intoxicants and drug use. Sharia aims at keeping the mind sound and healthy.
- Protection of property rights. Sharia disapproves of economic exploitation and usury.
Sharia is unfairly portrayed as a medieval system of law that is barbaric, having no regard for democratic values, freedoms, human rights and women’s rights.
It is true that sharia is being wrongly used to justify tribal and cultural practices elsewhere around the world in totally unacceptable ways. Practices like genital mutilation are not sanctioned by Islam. Terror groups like ISIS and the Taliban contribute to fear through their violent acts, incitement to harm
innocent people and by implementing harsh rules in the name of Islam. But they’re only a minuscule faction among the 1.6 billion Muslims who live peacefully under participatory Western-style democracies from Indonesia to Tunisia.
The leaders behind the weekend's rallies, attempting to be politically correct, claim they’re anti-sharia, not anti-Muslim. But that makes no sense. Their argument is like saying being anti-Canon Law but not anti-Catholic, or being anti-Halakha but not against the Jewish faith. They’re also silly to argue that 1 percent of the U.S. Muslim-American population will have the power to replace the U.S. Constitution. The obvious goal here is to promote irrational Islamophobia.
According to news reports, a few dozen protesters in cities from New York to Seattle, some clad in camouflaged fatigues, others belonging to anti-government movements, gathered to protest sharia. In contrast, hundreds belonging to all faiths and walks of life rallied across the street to voice their opposition to such fear-mongering. It only takes the action of a small hate group to divide Americans.
If the hysteria is promoted by hatemongers, poisoning our political and social discourse, it is apt to
result in unintended consequences. We’ve witnessed that in the murder of two good Samaritans as they attempted to stop a vengeful and angry racist on a Portland, Oregon, train.
As Americans, we must be careful to distinguish between the true threats to our freedoms, and identifying their sources, and those who market phantom threats that don’t really exist.
Victor Ghalib Begg is a Muslim community activist and interfaith leader who lives in Fort Pierce.