Sharia is being misused in certain parts of the world, but that certainly doesn’t apply to America, where concerns about a ‘creeping Sharia law’ are the stuff of pure paranoia
By ABRAHAM H. FOXMAN
NEW YORK (JTA) — The threat of the infiltration of Sharia, or Islamic law, into the American court system is one of the more pernicious conspiracy theories to gain traction in our country in recent years. The notion that Islam is insidiously making inroads in the United States through the application of religious law is seeping into the mainstream, with even some presidential candidates voicing fears about the supposed threat of Sharia to our way of life and as many as 13 states considering or having already passed bills that would prohibit the application of Sharia law.
Louisiana and Tennessee were among the first to approve such measures. The bills were based on model legislation issued by the American Public Policy Alliance, an unabashedly anti-Muslim advocacy group that defends the legislation as seeking to “protect American citizens’ constitutional rights against the infiltration and incursion of foreign laws and foreign legal doctrines, especially Islamic Sharia Law.”
When the legislation was introduced in the Tennessee state Senate in early 2010, the bill defined Sharia as a “legal political military doctrine and system adhered to, or minimally advocated by, tens of millions of not hundreds of millions of its followers around the world.” In defense of the bill, state Sen. Bill Ketron said it “deals solely with a single part of Sharia that is strictly political in nature,” and “in no way inserts itself into the religious laws of Islam.”
The language was nearly identical to that of similar bills considered in other states, some of which were thinly disguised in terms of protecting against “the application of foreign law.”
All of this anti-Sharia activity has come despite the complete absence of evidence of the unconstitutional application of foreign or religious law in our judicial system. It has also come with a great deal of political handwringing — and myth making — about the threat of Sharia overtaking this country. This has led, in turn, to a false perception among a growing number of Americans that Sharia is a very real threat to our way of life and constitutional freedoms.
In fact, these legislative efforts are the proverbial solution in search of a problem. The separation of church and state embodied in U.S. and state constitutions prohibits our courts from applying or considering religious law in any way that would constitute government advancement of or entanglement with religious law.
But the anti-Sharia bills are more than a matter of unnecessary public policy. These measures are, at their core, predicated on prejudice and ignorance. They constitute a form of camouflaged bigotry that enables their proponents to advance an idea that finds fault with the Muslim faith and paints all Muslim Americans as foreigners and anti-American crusaders.
It is true that Sharia is being used elsewhere around the world in dangerous ways. While Sharia law can address many daily public and private concerns, it is nonetheless subject to radical interpretation by individuals or groups who subscribe to a more puritanical form of Islamic jurisprudence. Some individuals try to interpret Sharia law for their own radical agendas. It raises more serious concerns when it comes to implementing Sharia law in its entirety, as can be seen with the examples of Iran, Saudi Arabia and the Taliban. But that certainly doesn’t apply to America, where concerns about a “creeping Sharia law” are the stuff of pure paranoia.
If the hysteria over Sharia law continues to percolate through our political and social discourse, there is bound to be unintended consequences.
As we approach the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, in an uncertain economy with millions of Americans still out of work, we also face the prospect of a political season in which more political candidates may be tempted to invoke this mythological threat in an effort to pander to bigotry and fear, and to score political points.
We stand at a crossroads in American society. We have the option of heading down a path toward a greater tolerance of anti-Muslim xenophobia and fear of the “stranger in our midst,” or we can rededicate ourselves to the ideal of an America that is open and welcoming to immigrants as well as minority groups who have been here for decades. Let us hope that the better nature of America will enable us to proceed down the second path and reject those who seek to divide us for political gain, or those who wish to stereotype and scapegoat an entire people because of their religious faith.
We should never diminish the very real threat of terrorism motivated by Islamist fundamentalism coming again to our shores. But as responsible, free-thinking Americans we must be careful to distinguish between the true threats to our freedoms, and identifying their sources, and those who loudly declaim against phantom threats that don’t really exist.
Abraham H. Foxman is national director of the Anti-Defamation League and author most recently of Jews & Money: The Story of a Stereotype.
Foxman writes: â€œThe threat of Sharia Law, or Islamic Law into the American court system is one of the more pernicious conspiracy theories to gain traction in our country in recent yearsâ€¦ It is predicated on prejudice and ignorance.â€
He attacks the introduction of state legislation that would ban courts from considering or applying foreign law as a pretense to outlaw â€˜Sharia.â€™ He states â€œAll of this anti-Sharia activity has come despite the complete absence of evidence of the unconstitutional application of foreign or religious law in our judicial systemâ€¦ This has led, in turn, to a false perception among a growing number of Americans that Sharia is a very real threat to our way of life and constitutional freedomsâ€¦
It is naive to believe that all components of Sharia law are constitutional. The courts must not have the authority to use a religious law over a state law for judgments, thus separating state and church. In practice this means that a Muslim man canâ€™t rape his spouse or a Muslim father canâ€™t kill his daughter and ask for court leniency in the name of religion and honor. The trumping of Sharia law has been happening in English courts where it is an alternative because laws arenâ€™t defined well enough to prohibit these practices. It is apparent that US states with quickly growing Muslim populations are being faced with these very crimes done in the name of religion by Muslims professing Sharia law is the law they live by.
Foxman calls for a â€œShout Downâ€ of the messengers. â€œIf the hysteria over Sharia law continues to percolate through our political and social discourse, there is bound to be unintended consequences.â€ He believes that in this â€œhysteria over Shariaâ€ environment more political people â€œmay be tempted to invoke this mythological threat in an effort to pander to bigotry and fear, and to score political points.â€
Throughout history fear has been a driving force pushing people into survival mode that at times is irrational and creates dreadful consequences. Fear is used to manipulate and polarize people against people, communities against communities, states against states, and countries against countries.
I am NOT referring to the religion of Islam that many Muslims believe in and practice. I am speaking about the prejudice and hatred embedded into the pages of the Quran and practiced by hundreds of millions of Muslims. The power is enough to embolden its believers into killing in the name of Allah. It is an ideology that orders its followers to spread the word of Allah to all people. It preaches hatred and killing of all peoples who do not worship Allah. It is a male dominated society where women are subjugated and honor killing or stoning is protected; where beheading befits the Infidel; where homosexuality is punishable by death; where deceit is taught to achieve Islamic Jihad. It is an ideology that doesnâ€™t allow self-criticism. Blasphemy is punishable by death and insolates its leaders from any disapproval.
What a trap. How can anyone who is not Islamic believe he can be safe from an ideology that has survived 1400 years filled with such intolerance that continues to breed generations of soldiers ready for martyrdom and conquest? This is the question American-Muslims need to address as a real concern, not bigotry.
Foxman concludes by appealing to the â€œbetter nature of America to rededicate ourselves to the American ideal of welcoming immigrants as well as minority groups who have been here for decadesâ€¦and reject those who seek to divide us for political gain, or those who wish to stereotype and scapegoat an entire people because of their religious faithâ€¦we must be careful to distinguish between the true threats to our freedoms, and identifying their sources, and those who loudly declaim against phantom threats that donâ€™t really exist.â€
It is not Americans who need to rededicate themselves to American ideals and the welcoming of Muslim immigrants. It is Muslims living in America (and other Western countries) who must choose to be courageous, to unite and speak out against these abhorrent commandments and those who believe in them. Muslims are at the crossroads of their history where a mea culpa is needed, one that would create an Islamic Reformation. It is time for peace-loving Muslims to bring the religion of Islam into the 21st Century; to purge their ideology of the prejudice and hatred that is incorporated into the Bible of Islam.
I recognize that what I am suggesting would cause a great revolution within the Islamic world and would challenge the courage of every Muslim who has chosen to live in Western societies around the world. But, the citizens of these western countries are ready to hear this and would unite to support this profound movement.
Instead of calling for a â€˜Shout Downâ€™ Mr. Foxman should be calling for a â€˜Shout Outâ€™ looking for Muslims who in their hearts do not believe in or want to be associated with such intolerance and bigotry. Letâ€™s support their efforts to examine, identify and eliminate the words of hate. After all, they will need all of our support because doing this would be blasphemous.