June 18, 2010

On Shari'ah and American Politics

Recently, Oklahoma state senator Rex Duncan proposed "a ballot measure that would prohibit courts from considering international or sharia law when deciding cases. He says the measure is a 'preemptive strike' against 'liberal judges' who want to 'undermine those founding principles' of America." The proposition is a glaring example of wingnuttery at its worst but, to add fuel to the fire, another person asked the question, "What is 'liberal' about Sharia law?"

This is my response to that question.

Shari'ah is neither "liberal" nor "conservative." It is a codification of Islamic rules and regulations on topics that are both discussed in the Qur'an and Sunnah of the Prophet (pbuh) and on topics that are not discussed directly but are derived from fundamental principles (for example, much of Shari'ah law on Islamic finance is derived from principles such as the ban on usury (interest)). Whether Shari'ah matches up with American liberal or conservative political thought is not a concern to most Muslim jurists... or most Muslims for that matter. Muslims think of Islam as the middle path, a religion that tries to avoid the extremes. And while some positions within Shari'ah match up with what American conservatives believe in, other positions match up with what American liberals believe in.

If a liberal non-Muslim doesn't believe that Shari'ah takes "liberal" positions, they don't know Islam or Shari'ah that well. Islam believes in social justice. Islam believes in an equitable distribution of wealth within society. Islam believes in the equitable treatment of people and their human dignity. Islam believes in promoting a healthy society. Islam believes in preserving life. Islam believes in a healthy business environment ("Main Street") rather than a casino economy ("Wall Street"). Islam believes in maintaining a healthy ecosystem. (There are probably more "liberal" positions I could mention, but these seven will have to do for the moment...)

Trying to prevent Shari'ah from being used as a code of law is like trying to prevent water from doing what it does. Non-Muslims can try to channel Shari'ah away or dam it up, but Shari'ah finds its own way. Muslims use Shari'ah without the consent of non-Muslims as much of Shari'ah is simply the rules of conduct Muslims use between themselves in their day-to-day lives. It is largely only within certain issues (e.g., family issues, such as marriage, divorce and inheritance) that Muslims want to incorporate Shari'ah within the existing legal frameworks. That some non-Muslims want to prevent this from happening only speaks to their ignorance about Shari'ah and Islam.

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