The Islamic Post Blog


Opinion: Tolerance and Sharia by Khalida
May 21, 2009, 5:46 am
Filed under: International, May Volume I - 2009, National, World | Tags:

By Noora Ahmad

Islamic Post Staff Writer

(IP) –US President Barack Obama stood before the Turkish Parliament recently conveying the mission of his administration to “bridge misunderstandings” between the West and the Muslim world. “We seek broader engagement based on mutual interest and mutual respect. We will listen carefully, we will bridge misunderstandings, and we will seek common ground. We will be respectful, even when we do not agree. We will convey our deep appreciation for the Islamic faith, which has done so much over the centuries to shape the world –including in my own country. The United States has been enriched by Muslim Americans.”
“This is not where East and West divide; this is where they come together,” the President pointed out about Turkey, a secular nation whose citizens are majority Muslims. This statement also describes the millions of Muslims who reside in the United States, the majority of whom were born Muslim American. East and West have met, and thrived, in many Western countries as well, despite those who feel threatened at the prospect.
While comments like those from President Obama, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams –who recently applauded “a number of fairly senior people” in British society for drifting towards an understanding of sharia, or Islamic law– others like Netherlands MP Geert Wilders, chairman for Party for Freedom in that country, are simultaneously trying to stop the flow towards common ground. Wilders, on his most recent tour of Britain and the United States voiced his fears regarding Muslim converts and the spread of Islam with numerous comments that were not well researched, including his assertion: “There might be moderate Muslims, but there is no moderate Islam.”
Noah Feldman, an adjunct senior fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), writes in his article, “Why Sharia?” that the mere mention of Islamic law is “radioactive,” especially in the case of Rowan Williams who drew no end of criticism for suggesting that certain rules in sharia be placed on equal footing with various laws of Judaism that have been allowed in domestic affairs of Jews living in the United Kingdom.
Fueling the controversy, another CFR writer, Laura Vriens, in her recent article, “Islam: Governing Under Sharia,” offered misinformation for those already concerned about the rights of women in an Islamic society. “Despite official reluctance to use hadd punishments [sic], vigilante justice still takes place. Honor killings, murders committed in retaliation for bringing dishonor on one’s family, are a worldwide problem,” writes Vriens, discarding the fact that vigilantism is not a part of the Islamic legal and judicial system. Hadd is a verb signifying punishment issued via a judge in an Islamic court of law; it is not vigilantism. Adultery has spawned both Muslims and non-Muslims to wrongfully take the law into their own hands and illegally murder the alleged culprits. Yet, in Islam four eyewitnesses to the act of adultery or an unforced confession are necessary before any punishment is meted out. Nevertheless, these arguments are largely moot under a non-Islamic government as the lesser punishments remain voluntary on the culprit and heavier punishments do not apply in a non-Islamic society.
To clarify this, while most Muslims adhere to the moral and religious code found in sharia while residing in non-Islamic countries, the status of a Muslim living in a non-Islamic country is different from one who lives in an Islamic state, and the sharia does not enforce certain punishments in that case. Nevertheless, using orientalist texts, ignorance and fear, a good many continue to promote false information about Islam and its governing system, which they derive out of context at best and blatantly distort at worst. Situations in history which applied to those living under the rule of the Islamic empire –which became known as the Ottoman Empire in the latter years before its demise– are being used for such distortions.
One legal term which was applied during the Islamic empire is dhimmi. A dhimmi is a non-Muslim who chooses to remain under an Islamic government. The term indicates a person who has agreed to pay a tax that will afford them protection from foreign threats along with the Muslim citizens of the state, while relieving them of military duty from which others are not exempt. These days, the word dhimmi is widely misconstrued and is being used in unscholarly circles as a sort of insult or slur to apply to any non-Muslim who is sympathetic to Muslims on the whole, or who advocates for Muslims to be treated with respect. Such detractors loudly proclaim that common ground between Muslims and their non-Muslim neighbors and government will lead to an eventual sharia takeover wherein all others will be deprived of their rights. On the contrary, some would say history proves modern democracy to have derived from Islam, because when the Islamic system was flourishing, Europe was suffering under feudal oppression.
In the Middle Ages, when Islam was at its peak, the laws of Islam were never forced upon the non-Muslims living in Islamic territories. For example, in one of the classic texts of Islamic jurisprudence by Abul Hasan Ahmad Al-Qudoori (362 AH- 428 AH), Mukhtasar, it is stated clearly that non-Muslims are even allowed to continue the trade of alcohol amongst themselves. While Islam contains strong injunctions against intoxicants and Muslims who adhere to sharia do not indulge in alcoholic beverages whether they reside in Muslim or non-Muslim countries, non-Muslims are not made to adhere to these rules under Sharia. Imam Qudoori relates this legal judgment by stating: “Wine is to the non-Muslim what juice is to a Muslim.” Just as juice is lawful to a Muslim, alcohol is lawful to a non-Muslim.
Any peace-minded person will recognize the merit of these statements. The element of cohesiveness among religions was reiterated by President Barack Obama at the conclusion of his visit to Turkey: “One of the great strengths of the United States is –although as I mentioned, we have a very large Christian population– we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation; we consider ourselves a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values.”
The Imam of the Muslims of the Americas (MOA), El Sheikh Mubarik Ali Shah Gilani is a great teacher of patriotism and love of one’s country and reminds the Muslims living in the West not to be incited by those who encourage hate, whoever they may be, and whatever words or actions such people take to invoke intolerance. This universal advice is sufficient.

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