Tuesday, July 26, 2011

What Sharia Is and Isn't--Panel at Center for American Progress

by Marta Steele

At the Center for American Progress in Washington, DC today (26 July 2011), a packed room listened to several experts, including three panelists, speak about Understanding Sharia Law--specifically centered on Conservatives' Skewed Interpretation, which Needs Debunking.

It is neither those ignorant of Sharia nor those heavily involved with eliminating Islamophobia and all the associated prejudices who are to blame. The guilty consist of some of those in the center, who know little about Islam--just enough to find prejudice within themselves and do their best to spread the word and the hatred, to the level of government.

Twelve states are working on legislation to make Sharia illegal, including Iowa.

The first point made regarding this idiocy was that it meshes well with the agenda of terrorism, diverting attention away from this genuine threat.

These bigots equate sharia with fascism.

                                               *****What is Sharia? 

It consists of laws that pertain to the individual, not the government. Extremist governments misinterpret this set of rules governing daily prayers, honoring parents, what women should wear and how the household should be run, and marriage, divorce, and adultery. Sharia encourages Muslims to live a devoted religious life. Details not covered in that context can be found in the "footnote" section of Islamic law, the Fikit.

The word "sharia" means "path" or "way." "Fikit" means "understanding."

Neither Sharia nor Fikit originated with Muhammad, as did the Qu'ran. They were composed by humans.


The audience was welcomed by Sally Steenland, Director of the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative. Following up was Shireen Zaman, Executive Director of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. Matt Duss, Policy Analyst for CAP, was a most effective moderator. Panelists included Professor Asifa Quraishi, Fellow of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding and Assistant Professor of Law at the University of Wisconsin Law School; Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy,  President of the Interfaith Alliance; and Faiz Shakir, Editor of "Think Progress" and Vice President of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.


Did you know that there were Muslims in this country at the time of the American Revolution? That 85 percent of the victims of terrorist attacks are Muslims? That of all the countries in the world, the United States is the best country for Muslims, even with all the prejudice and Islamophobia? Groups have sprung up nationwide to counter it.

Faiz Shakir said that major motivations for the debunkers of Sharia include incentivizing Republicans to vote, payment for organizing prejudice at the group level, and spreading around an ideology that flies in the face of Muslims and Progressives. These bigots believe in religious freedom for themselves but not others, but in this process, they are unwittingly betraying the democracy that allows them to address the public, said Matt Duss. Welton Gaddy said that 75 percent of the U.S. population are Christian, compared to 2 percent  Muslim  (and 2.2 percent Jewish--ed.).

And some of these people, he continued, including the Society for American National Legislation, claim that Sharia is a crime that should be punished with twenty years of prison. Another group in harmony with the society call themselves Stop Islam in America. Shakir called 2011--2012 "the year of the crazy." That would subsume Newt Gingrich, who is friendly with anti-Muslims, as well as Rick Santorum. A loyalty oath required of any Muslim employees was suggested by one of these "crazies."

An awkward symbiosis between religion and politics is evident in their thinking. 9/11 was politicized by these people, said Gaddy.

If a country's laws oppose Sharia, Muslims should leave, said Asifa Quraishi; according to the Constitution, religious oppression is forbidden. [According to the Qu'ran, and confirmed by experts, Muslims are required to obey the laws of the country they inhabit--I don't know whether this is a subject of dispute--ed.] Nowhere in Sharia is there a law requiring the coalescence of Islam and the state.

She added that Barack Obama used to be Muslim, a little-known fact. Another anomaly is her ten-year-old son, who said that the best thing about his religion is disabusing people of negative stereotypes associated with it.


Sharia is not one stationary set of laws; it varies by country, by sect, and even by mosque. Many of these groups disagree with each other.

There is always room for reinterpretation in Sharia, but one reinterpretation does not speak for all of Sharia law.

She brought up a detail that attracts much negative stereotyping: stoning of a woman accused of adultery. First of all, this ruling does not come from the Qu'ran.

For this brand of punishment to be allowed, she said, there must be four individual witnesses. If there are fewer, than they are all charged with defamation.

When it came time for questions and answers, the press were granted priority. One reporter, extremely emotional, said that if Islam dispensed with sharia, the religion would gain respect from all people.

Rev. Gaddy concluded the discussion by noting how full the room was. (When I first requested admission, I was put on a waiting list.) Gaddy said that our large numbers indicated what a yearning for information exists among the people.

"Continue to learn," he advised us.


  1. Couple of issues - "It consists of laws that pertain to the individual, not the government."
    Then why do governments run countries based on it, either strictly or moderately? One of Libya's council members is a sharia law graduate and a large faction of the council and its supporters want to have a sharia law system imposed on the country.
    Wiki - Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy, although, according to the Basic Law of Saudi Arabia adopted by royal decree in 1992, the king must comply with Sharia (that is, Islamic law) and the Quran. The Quran and the Sunna (the traditions of Muhammad) are declared to be the country's constitution. No political parties or national elections are permitted and according to The Economist's 2010 Democracy Index, the Saudi government is the seventh most authoritarian regime from among the 167 countries rated.
    Saudi has one of the most brutal and unfair justice systems in the world. Sharia.
    What is it these CFP people are selling? A different version than that applied in practice?

  2. I don't typically disagree with comments but if you would please spend a moment reviewing and analyzing the current degradation and treatment of women as well as minorities in this country as well as our judicial system which operates upon rewarding the prosecutors and judges for convictions, you would easily see that America is not what one would call even with the wildest of imaginations; civil. Case in point: Guantanamo Bay and the radicalization of Christian bigotry and xenophobic paranoia. The phrase, "when one points a finger, three others always point back", definitely applies here. We are far from being in the position of judgement given the numbers of murders of innocents we have committed in this "Holy War" against Islam.

  3. In addition, we should stop this incessant desire to judge the rest of the world based on our perception of what is "normal". Personal and situational bias is what got us into this mess to begin with. Who the hell are we to tell the rest of the world how to act and comport themselves when we can't even control our own nation?


I want to hear from you but any comment that advocates violence, illegal activity or that contains advertisements that do not promote activism or awareness, will be deleted.