This article first appeared in New English Review.
Currently, many states are attempting to pass-or have passed- legislation which would preclude other forms of law being incorporated into state law. To be specific, the particular law they are trying to avoid is Islamic law-sharia (though they must avoid specifically targeting Islamic law as opposed to those of other religions). Correspondingly, Islamic leaders in the US are trying to combat this trend and prevent said laws from being passed. On one front, Muslim leaders in the US are involved in a public relations drive to convince non-Muslims that sharia law is perfectly compatible with the US Constitution and US law. It is not, and it is very easy to prove it.
Sharia in Arabic means, “straight path”. In the early time of Islam it referred to the straight path to water, life’s necessity. Since Islam is designed to guide virtually every aspect of the believer’s life, sharia is quite detailed. Its two main sources are the Qu’ran and the Sunnah (sayings, actions and approvals of the Prophet Mohammad). Its interpretation through the centuries has come from the learned Islamic scholars.
Much of sharia is benign and related to principles of how one worships, marriage, divorce, financial rights etc. There are also civil and criminal aspects and punishments for criminal violations. Aside from the obvious discriminatory details regarding women and non-Muslims, it is in the area of criminal punishments that sharia is most problematic.
This past weekend, I attended a day-long seminar presented by the (Islamic) Institute of Knowledge in Diamond Bar, California on the topic of sharia. This was the third such event I have attended. While the very capable presenters explained sharia well and defended it, they included an explanation of the most problematical part of sharia, that is hudud sharia, which covers fixed punishments for “crimes against God”. According to what was presented, there are 5 “crimes” included in hudud. (Hudud is plural of hadd, which means “boundary” in Arabic.)
1 Unlawful sex-which may be adultery involving married people having sex outside of marriage or fornication involving unmarried people. According to the Qu’ran, the latter is punishable by 100 lashes, and the former by stoning.
2 Accusing someone falsely of unlawful sex, which is punishable by 80 lashes.
3 Theft, which is punishable by cutting off the hand.
4 Drinking alcohol- 80 lashes.
5 Highway robbery, which is considered a more serious form of theft especially if it involves death. This form of robbery is punishable by death.
What the presenters attempted to do was quickly point out that the standards of proof for these crimes are extremely high to the point of making conviction and administering the above punishments almost impossible. For example, the adultery charge requires confession and 4 male witnesses (emphasis mine).
I could stop right here with my thesis that sharia is not compatible with US laws, but there is so much more. We have not even gotten to the “crimes” of apostasy and blasphemy yet. We were told Saturday that apostasy and blasphemy are not covered under hudud. Well and good, but they are still out there. The subject of apostasy really only came up due to audience questions (mine), which had to be written on note cards and passed to the front hopefully to be selected. We were told that in a non-Muslim country, the decision to leave Islam is between that person and God. In a Muslim country, it was explained that the apostate would be given 4 chances to repent and return to Islam before any sentence could be carried out. It was also explained that even in Muslim lands, if a person left Islam quietly, they would be left alone, but if they “undermine the state or stir up trouble”, they would be guilty of treason and the death penalty would apply. (I was told once by a Saudi lawyer that in his country, an accused apostate gets 3 chances to repent before being executed.)
So as not to engage in overkill, let’s cut to the chase. It is irrelevant whether or not the standards of proof are ridiculously high. It is irrelevant whether or not a person gets the chance to repent. What is relevant is that in our country, we don’t even have laws against drinking (adults), adultery or fornication. Nor do we have laws against apostasy or blasphemy. Yet under sharia law, these are considered crimes and merit either the death penalty or lashing. We must also reject any law that discriminates against women or against those who do not belong to a particular faith-in this case Islam. Furthermore, in modern (nation-state) times, treason is considered betraying one’s nation-not one’s religion.
These aspects of sharia are clearly not compatible with our values and our laws. Every person living in the US-Muslim or non-Muslim- is entitled to enjoy every single protection that our constitution offers. Properly drafted, laws that preclude any outside law (including sharia) from being considered or recognized in our own laws should be passed.