Saturday 4 February 2023 \


Shariah in America: Not What You Think It Is

By Abdul Malik Mujahid
The Chair of the Council for a Parliament of the World Religions

You might have seen a government-required sign at a McDonald's restroom telling employees to wash their hands. Muslims do this as a part of living their faith, which is part of Shariah. The Prophet Muhammad also encouraged Muslims to wash their hands before and after eating. Muslim parents raise their children on many such manners.

The first chapter in almost all books on Shariah is about morals and manners of cleanliness, which Prophet Muhammad said is half of the faith. God's peace and blessings be upon him.

When Muslims begin anything they say, "In the name of God," that is Shariah, too. When they greet each other, they smile and say, "Assalamu Alaikum" (peace be with you), and that is Shariah. Similarly, when Muslims take short breaks five times a day to pray, this is another example of practicing Shariah. Prayer is normally the second chapter in almost all books about Shariah.

Shariah does not present a comprehensive list of pure foods and drinks, although it prohibits ten or twelve things and declares everything else to be Halal or lawful to consume. If Muslims cannot find Halal food, they often eat vegetarian or kosher food. This is all Shariah.

When you see a Muslim woman wearing a headscarf and a loose dress, or a Muslim man with a head covering or beard, they are likely following Shariah manners of dress. When in a marriage sermon you hear the Qur’an recited about piety, loyalty to each other, and God's advice for clear communication between spouses, that is a Shariah wedding.

Muslims often avoid taking out mortgages due to the Shariah prohibition on Riba (usury/interest). This has led to the establishment of the worldwide Islamic financial industry and Dow Jones Islamic Market Indexes. The latter selects companies that don't deal in weapons, pornography, gambling, tobacco, or alcohol, etc. These investments are similar to 30 other "faith-based" investment options, like the Catholic Values Index. These are examples of the practice of Shariah in the realm of business.

All of the above are real-life examples of the totality of Shariah as practiced by the observant among the close to six million Muslims in America and the 3,000 formal Muslim congregations in America.

Muslim Americans include doctors, entrepreneurs, professors, cab drivers, and the geek fixing your computer. Their service to their communities is also an example of practicing Shariah.

The Shariah that Muslim Americans Don't Practice

There are parts of Shariah that Muslim Americans don't implement in their daily lives.

Since Muslims ran a civilization for over a thousand years, they naturally developed a body of laws to deal with governing society. These laws deal with issues ranging from fighting neighborhood crime to international laws of war and peace. Muslim Americans don't practice these laws since they deal with the realm of government and state. Shariah emphasizes that the rule of law in a society must be implemented by the state. It considers vigilantism a major crime and a sin. Therefore, Shariah prohibits Muslims from practicing this part of Islam on an individual basis.

The Qur’an, like the Old Testament, is not limited to only the Ten Commandments, all of which except for the commandment to keep the Sabbath are to be found in parallel statements in the Qur’an. Like the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus and Deuteronomy), it ordains punishments for serious crimes. Unfortunately, it is this penal law that many people wrongly think is exclusively Shariah. This is incorrect.

It is true that Islamic criminal law has been at times implemented harshly, and even wrongly, by some Muslims. Such an application of Islamic criminal law is void of God's mercy, which is considered His primary attribute in Islam. However, those nations or groups that do this do not speak for all Muslims, nor do they speak for the prophet of mercy, Prophet Muhammad, who would turn his face away when a person confessed his or her crimes. This was to give them room for repentance and forgiveness.

About five countries among the 56 Muslim nations worldwide implement Islamic criminal laws. Virtually none of them implement Shariah in its totality in all spheres of life. Their laws are a combination of local custom and precedent in that particular country, as well as remnants of laws brought by European colonial powers that ruled those countries.

The primary purpose of Shariah is to preserve life and order in society, not to incarcerate and punish. However, many in the Muslim world who are sick and tired of corruption and injustice demand that the criminal laws of Islam be implemented in their countries. However, this is not what Muslims in America are demanding. Their practice of Shariah is limited to the personal sphere.

Shariah is Neither One nor Static

Shariah is not one monolithic body or a codified book of comprehensive law.

Shariah is based on the Qur’an and the teachings of Prophet Muhammad, but not all of Shariah is God's word. A good part of Shariah is made up of human contributions.

There are literally hundreds and thousands of books written in the last 1,400 years, in multiple languages in places as diverse as Timbuktu in Africa to Bukhara in Central Asia, with millions of opinions, judicial reviews, etc. on various issues. Together, they form the body of Shariah.

Shariah Continues to Evolve

A recent development, for example, is a Shariah discipline called Islamic Economics and Finance. It now commands a trillion dollar market, thousands of scholarly works, graduate programs, and the establishment of Shariah boards at hundreds of Muslim and non-Muslim owned banks. This exercise in Shariah is essentially a human contribution of the last 50 years, aiming to offer Muslims guidance on how to invest and conduct their financial transactions in a modern economy in line with their principles as believers.

Throughout history, Islam has cherished debates. An important early Islamic debate that continues today was between traditionalists and rationalists over whether the universal principles of God's law were to be known by revelation or reason or both.

These debates have resulted in dozens of schools of thought in Islam.

Is Shariah a Threat to America?

When some American pundits call Shariah, "a growing threat to the United States," Muslim Americans wonder what in the world are they talking about. Shariah is overwhelmingly concerned with personal religious observance, not with constitutions and laws. All observant Muslims practice Shariah. Defining Shariah as a threat, therefore, is the same thing as saying that all observant Muslims are a threat.

To understand Shariah is to understand Islam. Criminalizing Shariah will criminalize the practice of Islam in America.

Shariah mandates that Muslims respect the law of the land. It is also against Shariah to impose it on anyone. Muslim Americans are subject to the same laws and constitution as any other American.

Shariah is in some ways similar to the Jewish Halacha law or Catholic canon law, with similar historic roots but far less complex. Unlike Jewish Halacha law, which is practiced in Jewish American courts called Beth Din, there is no Muslim court system in the United States, nor is the Muslim community demanding this.



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