The Reality of the Imposition of Shariah
By Dr. Basheer A. Khan
Garden Grove, CA
It was difficult for me to understand the bogey of threat to the USA by imposition of Shariah on it. I could not imagine how Shariah which is a pariah even in the Muslim- majority countries could become the way of life in America where only 2 percent of the population is Muslim. It was difficult for me to understand how Shariah could play this role in America where separation of church and state is so strong that even Christians who are in overwhelming majority, and Jews who hold all keys to power, have difficulty in displaying the innocuous Ten Commandments in Public Places.
Prof Tarek Massoud, who was a panelist on the House Intelligence Committee hearing on Muslim Brotherhood, rightly pointed out to the chairwoman of the committee that her fear about imposition of Shariah by a rag tag group was an underestimation of the capacity of US government which had successfully defeated the state power of communism.
I thought that it was a ploy of some politicians to get the votes of those who were influenced by the anti-Muslim propaganda fueled by some media outlets. I thought that it was an attempt to scare the innocent Americans and divert their attention from the problems in which these politicians have plunged the nation to help the businesses which fund their campaigns. As I was looking into the causes of this scare I found that it was generated as a strategy by those who were opposed to the construction of an Islamic Center in Tennessee to win their case and to stop the center's construction.
Tennessee law treats all religions equally and recognizes their right to construct their places of worship. When Muslims of Murfreesboro in Tennessee wanted to build an Islamic Center they had no problem in obtaining a license from the local authorities. Some of the local people who were influenced by the media scare about Muslims wanted to stop what they presumed to be a center of “terror” and “terrorists” in their midst. As they could not stop the construction of the Islamic Center under the laws of Tennessee , they thought of building up their case on a unique premise. They argued that Islam is not a religion; it is a Shariah. It is an alternate system of life different from our own, which promotes terrorism, abuse of women, etc. Therefore they pleaded that Islam does not merit the status of a religion to be given the right to construct a place of worship envisaged in the Tennessee law. Even though it was a tall order for them, yet they tried to make a case that Islam witch is a religion of one out five people in the world is not a religion deserving a place of worship in Murfreesboro. But the witnesses from the government side who were called to testify refused to buy the argument. They also did not concede the argument that the construction of the Islamic Center will help those behind it to impose their way of life on the people of Tennessee .
This charge against the Muslims of Tennessee who wanted to build an Islamic Center to perform their religious duties and social activities was akin to the one that was made to provoke the Roman Governor of Jerusalem Pilate Pontius against Jesus (peace be upon him) by the high priest Caiaphas. Caiaphas alleged that Jesus (PBUH) was challenging the authority of the King of Rome by declaring himself as king and luring people to his kingdom and therefore should be punished for treason.
The judge who heard the case against the Muslims of Tennessee decided against issuing injunction to stop the construction of the Islamic Center. For the details of this case one must see the documentary made by MS Soledad “Unwelcome Muslim Next Door” on: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gRlqz3e9OrA.
The exercise that was started to achieve the limited objective of stopping construction of an Islamic Center in a small sleepy town of Tennessee furnished the most vicious tool to the Islam and Muslim bashers. They used all the means they could to give credence to the lie that with the growing number of mosques in America there is a danger that Shariah will be imposed on America . It also brought out some remarkable aspect of American life.
Few people motivated by their misconception about Islam and Muslims tried to cross all limits of common sense in denying the established fact that Islam is an established religion which is followed by 1.6 billion people. They tried to portray this great religion as a cult of some inhuman practices which is trying to dominate the American way of life. This showed the vitality of imagination and ingenuity of these people in achieving their desired objectives through invidious logic. It also showed that while some people can exceed all limits to advance their perceived interest by sacrificing truth, there are lots of other people who are willing to show their support for truth even though they have no personal benefit from it. Words are not enough to appreciate the support of these selfless people for the cause of aliens. Blessed are those who stand for justice and peace between people. The way the few hundred Muslims of this Tennessee town bore the brunt of the onslaught of some misguided people with the help of other sympathetic people in the town and the law enforcement machinery was exceptional. The way the wife of the Imam who was a new convert to Islam, and the teenaged daughter of a professor at the local university, defended the image of Islam with whatever knowledge and common sense they had was superb. May Allah bless all these people and guide those who are opposing this project due to ignorance or hate.
This case has ended for now, but the party which lost the case intends to pursue it in higher courts. A Senate committee held a hearing on civil rights of Muslims under the chairmanship of Sen. Durbin. This was also an opportunity to understand what Shariah is and how it impacts American life with so many Muslims joining its tapestry. In this hearing there was almost a consensus about the patriotic, peaceful and devout nature of the majority of American Muslims. The committee had no qualms about the practice of Shariah by Muslims in matter of observance of worship under five pillars. But issues of Shariah like child marriage and polygamy which contravene the US laws were a concern for Sen. Kyle. About this the Deputy Attorney General during President Bush era, who was one of the panel members on this hearing, assured Sen. Kyle that State Law will be the operative law on all such issues.
One thing that was evident from the above hearing was the determination of law makers to ensure the separation of Church and State in view of the increasing number of Muslims in the USA . If we fail to understand the reason behind this fervor we are likely to label these lawmakers as atheists with an anti-religious bias and also fail to take stock of our own house.
Like all the other primitive civilizations, Europe in the earlier part of its history was guided by instincts in conduct of its affairs. Later on when it came into contact with teachings of Greek philosophers like Socrates, Aristotle and Plato conventional wisdom became the basis in the conduct of affairs. When Roman Empire expanded to include Jerusalem it came in contact with Judaism, which was a religious oriented society. When Constantine embraced Christianity around 300 AD the religion of the king became the religion of the Romans.
By this time Christianity was 300 year old, and Judaism was 2 millenniums old and had deviated a lot from the original teachings of the prophets to accommodate the various interpretations of the clergy and the pressures of the society. Europe which had allowed its consciousness to develop through conventional wisdom found it difficult to live by the dictate of faith as demanded by the church that was not appealing to their common sense. As a result there were constant friction between people and the church which held sway over power.
It is impossible for me to say as to how and when the geocentric nature of our universe became a doctrine of the church. When the curious astronomers with an investigative spirit proved with evidence the heliocentric nature of the universe, the church instead of accepting this fact subjected them to inquisitions and torture. On this and many more issues when the church stood in the way of rational thinking and imposed its creed these independent thinkers struggled hard to come out of its shackles . Many of these people reached the shores of America to establish a unique and successful experiment with a new way of life. Many more stayed in Europe under new governments with various reformed churches restricting the rule of the old Roman church to the confines of the Vatican .
After flourishing in freedom over all these centuries no one would like to go back to the days of religious dogmatism. For this reason they have kept religion strictly out of the Public Square and confined it to personal affairs. Secularism in America does not mean it negates the utility of religion altogether. Every business meeting of every representative body in America from City Councils to Congress starts with prayers offered by the official Chaplain and sometime by the religious leaders of other religions. The scare spread about the obscurantist Taliban rule in Afghanistan and anachronistic behavior of some Muslims in Muslim societies has been successfully exploited by hawks in the media, and some “experts” in the think tanks to push their agenda under its cover.
In order to advance their interest some influential groups have dragged the tenets of secularism a little too far to deny the moral and economic imperatives which are vital for social decency and economic justice. Those who promoted this extreme trend in secularism convinced the people that collective wisdom and dialectical processes will substitute the moral and economic imperatives of religion. When collective wisdom was usurped by some powerful and influential people, decisions made by the institutions of collective wisdom were not made for collective benefits, but for parochial gains. With the powerful people setting the agenda for discourse the dialectical process is not operational in the society to synthesize better alternatives. This lopsided freedom which is sacrificing the interest of many at the altar of a few is casting doubts about the future of human civilization despite all its material advancement. People are looking for answers to their personal problems as well as the problems of their societies.
Many Americans are accommodative and even appreciative of modesty, honesty and devout nature of Muslim amidst them. Americans are receptive to religion but it should be sound religion which is not in conflict with conventional wisdom and basic human values. If Muslim scholars help Muslims in discarding some of the cultural and traditional practices which have assumed the status of Deen and Shariah, then this pure form of Islam which is the natural way of life will entice even those who are currently suspicious and hostile to it. More than this it will bring back a large part of skeptical Muslims in the fold of its practice. If Islamic scholars accept this challenge and revive Islam to meet the challenges of modern time then spreading scare about Islam and Muslims will lose its steam and herald a new chapter in the history of religious coexistence among Abrahamic faiths, not just in America but in the whole world.