I want you to know that I take your Trump sign personally. I take it personally because I have a vagina, or as your favored candidate might say, a “p***y.” My daughter has one, too. And I figure if you’re okay with a p***y-grabber for President, you might just be one yourself. I assume you vetted the guy before you put that sign on your lawn, facing my home, in our safe and quiet suburban neighborhood. The latest news, I bet, reaches you before it reaches me, since we don’t have cable television at our house. But your loud, proud sign supporting a sexual predator for President is still out there, right alongside the quiet part of the block, where my kids sometimes practice riding their bikes. I don’t think we’ll be riding our bikes near your place any more. …
“…I have always known that I would need to prepare my children, as racial and religious minorities, to handle the kind of covert racism and ignorance I experienced with my teachers, and the hypocrisy I experienced with my childhood friend. Those experiences were not easy, but they were not crises. Through them, I developed the ability to speak loudly and clearly, to carry myself with dignity, to listen carefully, and to learn. They were the inevitable challenges of taking part in the great project of pluralism. In that project we are offered the divine opportunity to reach across gender and color, across nation, language and tribe “that we might come to know one another,” as the Qur’an describes.
But today’s Republican rhetoric-turned-platform would deny me, and would deny my children, a place at the table altogether. It drives a fundamental shift in what I have understood to be the ideals of my country. It says that America is not, and should not be, all of ours, together. It subverts the blessed opportunity of pluralism and replaces it with fear, contempt and violence. And so this election is, for me, not simply about choosing a President, but about surveying my countrymen’s vision for the future of America.”
Years ago, before I went to law school, I was thinking about getting married. I wanted to know what that meant, legally. I’m a pretty good researcher and I figured if someone could just point me toward the right books, I could work it out.
So I went to the local law school and found the library. I asked the librarian to point me towards the books on marriage and divorce. And the librarian very sweetly asked what exactly I was looking for, and then explained to me that the law didn’t work the way I imagined.
It turns out that to find American law that governs the family, you would have to look in many different places. You might have to look at the relevant state statute, possibly the relevant state regulations, and most likely the relevant state case law (the cases related to your specific legal situation over the last several years, or even decades, and across various levels of courts). Which state or states’ laws applied might depend on where you got married, where you signed certain documents, which law those documents said would apply, where you lived at the time your legal problem arose, or where your child lived at the time your legal problem arose. If the issue you have is not something that’s ever been decided by your state legislature or court system, the law will depend on the reasoning of at least one and maybe several judges. If the matter at hand involves a Constitutional issue, you’ll also need to take a look at federal case law.
Law is complicated. But it’s not just a bunch of folks making arbitrary decisions about your life. Every court decision has to justify itself based on previous decisions and not violate certain established principles of law. Every statute has to be passed through the state legislature and every set of regulations goes through a separate approval process. The process doesn’t allow a lot of great big leaps; it’s been built brick-by-brick over time, responding to our changing values and ideas about what the rules on families are and should be. It’s a whole system, from the way courts and evidence work and how lawyers are trained and licensed, to how legislators get elected and pass laws, and how judges reason through their decisions. No one piece of it, taken and applied out of context to a legal problem, would be a fair or just or sensible way to do things. But, taken all together, it is an impressive system for resolving conflict and minimizing chaos, especially when things fall apart in our personal lives.
Shariah, which people use to mean Islamic law, is equally complicated. Or it was when it actually existed as a complex system of governance in the Muslim world, hundreds of years ago. Muslims have not yet been able to establish shariah as a system of governance or even a well-developed legal system in any contemporary nation on Earth, for a variety of reasons. So, there is no actual threat of shariah becoming the basis of law in the United States of America.
What is shariah and where did it come from?
Shariah law was once a dramatic innovation in the way people governed themselves. It was a system of governance derived from the Qur’an and Sunnah (or traditions of Prophet Muhammed, peace be upon him), that, in a precursor to modern democracy, limited the power of the ruler. It depended on a well-educated and committed class of scholars whose job it was to interpret divine law, so that the ruler might govern subject to its limitation. This limitation was considered essential to Islamic governance because it established the freedom of the individual to achieve his or her spiritual potential without coercion.
Before 1300 A.D., Shariah law existed to greater and lesser degrees across the Muslim world, which was made up of several empires and sultanates that stretched from Morocco to Malaysia. Shariah was not a book of laws, or even several volumes of books. Instead it was all of the knowledge and institutions that made up the system of governance: scripture, prophetic tradition, as well as the scholarly tradition, courts, schools, established methods of resolving disputes, and, over time, the accepted legal authority of several theories of law or schools of jurisprudence. In an era before the telephone, television, trains or internet, the specifics varied from place to place within the Muslim world. Still, they all referenced the central touchstones of the Qur’an and Sunnah, and they all had these central aims: to make Muslim societies more just and to limit the power of the ruler or the elite by bending it to an agreed upon moral code.
This worked because there were scholars and jurists who, by coming up with clear and replicable ways of solving problems, gained popular support and reputations for integrity. These scholars periodically travelled long distances, visiting other centers of legal scholarship to enrich their own knowledge, share concepts, and develop broader consistency across the Muslim world. This complex system of law and institutions were developed during a period when modern democracy had not yet been born and Europe was in what has been referred to, for its lawlessness and warfare, as the Dark Ages.
Shariah represented an historic movement towards rule of law—a world in which people were more free from the arbitrary exercise of power, and in which people could expect that many legal rulings relating to their persons and property were rationally related to an articulated moral purpose. Shariah, as rule of law, included some remarkable advances towards pluralism, egalitarianism, and liberty. For example, the prophet’s covenants and the constitution of Medina protected the rights of non-Muslims, including Christians and Jews, but also polytheists. In all of the four major schools of thought within Sunni Islam, divorce has always been permissible and could be initiated by a woman. Further, women had an assumed right to custody and financial support in the first two years of their child’s life, female infanticide was criminalized, and women had the right to inheritance and to own property. These were freedoms not generally available in the Western world until hundreds of years later, in the 19th century, and they came at great personal cost to the women who fought for them. During an era when slavery was common, manumission (or the act of freeing slaves) was a common theme in the application of Shariah law; according to the Qur’an and Sunnah, many transgressions can only be rectified by the freeing of slaves. These are but a few examples of the ways in which application of Shariah was a movement towards an equitable society. Shariah was not, needless to say, uniformly progressive or ahead of its time. It was a system, after all, derived by fallible human scholars living 700 years ago.
From 1300 through 1900 A.D., the Muslim world continued to be organized into several empires, all of which were responding to the emergence of the European nation-state, war, and the encroachment of Western colonial interests. Towards the end of this period, some critical changes were made to Shariah in an effort to consolidate the weakening power of, for example, the Ottoman Empire. There was an effort to codify law to create consistency and compete with the new, efficient bureaucracies of Europe. Codification meant the reduction of law to written rules. Written rules robbed scholars of the authority they derived from interpreting and applying the law, and their ability to enforce limitations on the power of the ruler. The Shariah system was thus in a state of decline even as Europe became a colonizing power.
I recently got a message from someone who wrote: “I want to be the kind of person who stands up for Muslims as you say, but, here’s the dilemma. Why is the Muslim community quiet when there is antisemitism, or terrorism by a Muslim Arab against Israel, or a Jewish community in Paris, or anti-Western hate talk? The non-extremist Muslim community is generally quiet.”
Here is my answer:
Salam, Shalom, peace to you!
I have a couple of thoughts on your question, so I’ll try to tease them out here as best I can. I’ve actually seen quite a few instances of Muslim-Jewish solidarity. If you google Muslim Jewish solidarity, you’ll see what I mean. Here are a few examples:
Really very inspiring and not at all rare for people involved in interfaith work. In Philadelphia, where most of my interfaith work has been, there is a long history of solidarity between Jewish and Muslim communities, including joint responses to vandalism or discrimination aimed against either community. I was part of a Muslim group that went to clean up glass from a playground that was left after a Philadelphia synagogue was vandalized several years ago.
So I’m not sure why you think that the Muslim community is quiet in the face of anti-semitism. Perhaps it is actually the silence of the media that you’re hearing? I would suggest connecting to interfaith initiatives near you to find out what people of faith are doing to stand together. As I wrote above, my interfaith community is a stark contrast to your perception.
(As an aside, it occurs to me as that Arab Muslims are semetic people, so I’m not sure anti-semitic is the word you’re looking for.)
Israel is a separate issue entirely. It its not an issue of faith or identity, it is about property and human rights. Many people have said this before me and many people will say this again. What I say is not based solely on the media, but my own experience in Israel and the Palestinian occupied territories. Israel is an apartheid state committing horrific daily human rights abuses and illegal land grabs in the West Bank and Gaza. Whatever violence is committed by Palestinians is mirrored ten-fold in the violence committed by Israelis. There is no question that the military force and power of Israel dramatically outweighs that of the Palestinians. And in recent months, many have commented that the Israeli intent to eliminate the Palestinians has become very clear:
If you use the word terrorism in regard to this conflict but do not apply it to both sides, I’m afraid that hypocrisy prevents us from going much further. The solution to this ongoing conflict does not lie in erasing the Palestinian people or allowing them to be quietly run or killed off. Israel is not entitled to commit genocide, and no one, of any faith, who believes that all human lives have value should stand for it. Muslims are not, in general, quiet about Israel. We generally are quite vocal in our statements that the international community must stop Israeli military occupation and settlement of the occupied territories, stop torture and detention of Palestinians, and that Palestinians must have the rights of free movement, self-governance and return. It turns out that when a state steals a people’s land, livelihood and children, and subjects them to daily harassment, abuse and attack, those people become desperate. Continue reading → Muslim-Jewish Solidarity
The simple and incomplete answer is that yes, insofar as any book that describes battles or warfare from time to time is violent, the Qur’an is violent. However, the Qur’an forbids aggression and permits only defensive battle. It describes battle in the context of defending Islam in its infancy; it makes clear that pluralism is God’s design for humanity and directs us to compete in good works and come to know one another.
Remember that the Qur’an was revealed to Muhammad (peace be upon him) over a period of 23 years in the early 7th Century. At the time of revelation, there were very few individuals living as monotheists in the Arabian peninsula. Muhammad and his message represented an enormous threat to the established political and economic infrastructure, which was all tied up with the dominant paganism of the region. This made Muhammad a target, in much the same way Jesus was. In the course of revelation, Muhammad was not only receiving general instruction for his followers on the nature of God, the universe and life, but also instruction from God in how best to survive and protect the new and vulnerable group of monotheists around him. Most, if not all, of the verses I’m about to discuss are set in this context, the explicit context of Muhammad’s community defending themselves against attack, harassment and assassination attempts.
There are several Qur’anic verses that are often repeated without context and incorrectly for the purpose of stirring up fear and xenophobia. I’m going to do my best to address many of these and contextualize them here. (For purposes of time and readability, I am addressing similar verses with similar contexts only once. Also, parts of quotations from the Qur’an that appear in brackets are where the translator had to add meaning that would have been obvious either by idiom or by grammar in the original Arabic.) Then, I’m going to provide a very brief introduction to the Qur’an as I know it, including the verses that govern how Muslims see and interact with those of other faith traditions. After that, I’m going to explain to you why I shouldn’t have had to justify any Qur’anic verses by showing you several horrific verses from the Old and New Testaments that could easily read as justifying the worst kinds of violence. And finally, I will wish you all a very happy Christmas and a blessed New Year because none of those verses have ever made me think any less of any of you. Continue reading → Sofia Answers (2): Is the Qur’an Inherently Violent?
1) We do! Look at the websites of every major American Muslim organization. The Council on American Islamic Relations, Muslim Public Affairs Council, Islamic Society of North America and Islamic Circle of North America are several of the big ones. Every one of them has several items, usually on the front page, condemning specific violent acts committed by folks who purport to be Muslim, and violence in general. And that’s a tiny fraction of possible examples of us going around condemning violence. Think about it, we make up 1% of the adult population in this country. Would you even hear it if each of us were shouting from our rooftops? No, you wouldn’t; you would have no idea. Which leads me to my next point.
2) Even though we’ve been condemning our hearts out, the fact is, _our condemnation won’t do a darn thing to stop violent extremists._ Violent extremists, whatever their religious affiliation, are not actual people of faith. They clearly don’t display any concern that a just God will judge their actions, and they have no interest in what actual people of faith think of them. They are not interested in faith, they are interested in power. Which is why we need to stand united and not give them more power by repeatedly insisting that they represent all of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims!
If we insist on diverting the resources of well-intentioned Muslim organizations to condemning every single violent act perpetrated by a ‘Muslim’, those organizations can’t do the important work of building strong social and political Muslim networks that could help identify and prevent future threats.