The understanding of Islamic Law (Shari’a) is something that is normally done in universities as postgraduate education. Typically, one who studied Islamic law would have built a foundation of understanding of what Shari’a is and its historical, social, and economic implications (to name but a few). In the aftermath of the September 11th attacks there has been a dramatic upsurge in Anti-Islam paranoia (which can be directly related to the fear mongering of special interest groups) and this paranoia has begun to manifest itself with physical, social and political attacks on Muslims.
Of particular note has been the Anti-Shari’a bill legislation presented in several states, the justification of which is to prevent the “Islaminization” of America. The proponents of such legislation argue that Islamic law is not only contrary to American values but that it opposes the American Constitution and the rights and liberties provided therein. These proponents however have little to know true understanding of Shari’a or its depth in Islamic culture and instead choose to argue very limited, inflammatory reference points meant to capitalize on its sensationalism. Mathew Shmitz pointed out the illusionary aspects of such legislation, which only demonstrates is sensational nature, rather than effectiveness.
“We face a grave threat, they say, one that will swamp every article of our Constitution and sweep away all our laws. Unless, of course, we adopt their anti-sharia laws. But — and here’s the magic part — these laws, they claim, actually do nothing at all, other than instruct judges to do what they already were supposed to do.”
Robert Vischer further opined that such legislation was actually acting against such constitutional freedoms as religious liberty.
“Anti-Sharia legislation does not defend against theocracy but calls into question our society’s fundamental commitments to meaningful religious liberty and meaningful access to the courts. These commitments have been relied on by generations of Protestants, Catholics, Mormons, and Jews, and to try to remove them for Muslims both is unjust to Muslims and sets a dangerous precedent for other religious groups.”
Such perceptions are often overlooked or ignored in favor of sensationalist ‘reports’ of how Shari’a is implemented in foreign countries and then qualifying how it is against American sensibilities. Upon investigation of how Shari’a is implemented in different regions or countries, it is also important to note specific cultural or social differences which can also play into the administration of Shari’a, the same way it does American law as illustrated by Sentencing Disparity and Discrimination in “How Do Judges Decide? The Search for Fairness and Justice in Punishment Second Edition”.
The implementation of Shari’a like any legal code has been left in the hands of the judges who issue their verdicts or opinions based on their understanding of Shari’a. This understanding is not given lightly, as they have been trained in Law, and acted as lawyers for years before becoming a judge. A judge is however still a person, one capable of mistakes or of being influenced by his or others social, religious, or other bias. When there is concern of how a system is implemented one should not immediately ban the system, rather they should try to understand the system and learn if it is the fault of the system of of its application by individuals.
There are several schools of thought on Islamic Jurisprudence called Madh’hab as well as what is called Ijtihad or understanding through personal effort independent of any singular Madh’hab. The importance of Islamic law lies in the fact that it has a depth in Islamic society far greater than simple litigation, as Frank Griffel, professor of Islamic studies at Yale, points out Sharia goes beyond what most Americans would consider “legal discourse, for it extends to matters concerning proprieties of clothing, conduct between spouses, filial piety, behavior at funerals, and other questions that Westerners would treat not as legal, but as moral issues or mere etiquette.”
Before trying to ban something out of fear and ignorance, perhaps there should be proper communication on the topic that would help each side understand the other. For those of us who believe in the application of Shari’a and for those who fear its implementation, there is alot of ground between us, and if we together could share that by establishing some common ground through thoughtful and insightful discourse which is not meant to alienate or offend, then perhaps we could move forward as a nation. Just as Jews and Christians have their own laws, we as Muslims have ours; it is a slippery slope when one begins to take away rights because of religious misunderstanding, and its potential impact is often ignored.