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Islamic law class to be taught next semester

26 April 2011 General 15 Comments Email This Post Email This Post

Sally Finneran/Montana Kaimin Professor Jeff Renz sits in a classroom in the Law building Monday afternoon. Renz will be offering a class on Islamic law next semester.

By Erin Cole

Earlier this semester, Jeff Renz, a law professor at The University of Montana, appeared on a conservative radio show to discuss the myths and realities of Islamic law. Accompanying him to Missoula’s KVGO studio were UM professor Mehrdad Kia and Robert Seidenschwarz, president of the World Affairs Council of Montana.

According to Renz, the talk stirred up a fair amount of debate.

“It was an interesting conversation,” he said. “A lot of the myths were repeated and we talked about those as well as a lot of the accuracies that are negative.”

The appearance was a launching pad for Renz, who plans to expand the conversation this fall semester by teaching an Islamic law class at UM.

This development adds UM to the growing number of American universities offering classes on Islamic law, ranging from the University of Minnesota to Yale. Islamic law, also known as Shariah law, guides the daily behavior and actions of Muslims while influencing the legal code of Islamic countries.

The three-credit class, ANTY 491, will meet three times a week and is open to UM undergraduate, graduate and law students. Renz said the course will examine the development of Islam along with the four principles of Islamic jurisprudence and will address the challenges of applying Sharia law in the 21st century.

Renz said Shariah law is not monolithic and that legal codes vary from one Muslim country to another and are often intertwined with tribal law.

“The most important thing they’ll learn is that what people perceive to be Islamic law is really local and national law rationalized, and falsely rationalized, by reference to the Quran,” he said.

Renz said that Shariah law’s core values are dignity, equality and justice, principles that were overshadowed in the midst of Islamic imperialism and European colonialism. Today, Renz said that Shariah law is in “enormous ferment” with regards to women’s and human rights and that he wants to explore both the negative and positive aspects.

Renz developed an interest in the subject due to his travels throughout Central Asia. After years spent studying books and journals on the topic, last fall he attended a week-long Islamic law and human rights conference in Salzburg, Austria. The conference solidified past talks with UM’s Central and Southwest Asian Studies Center about creating the class.

“Somewhere along the way we said we had to do it,” Renz said. “Once the decision was made to do it, things moved fast.”

Seidenschwarz, who participated with Renz on the radio show, said he’s glad UM would offer the course.

“I would greatly encourage anyone to take this class,” he said. “There’s so much misunderstanding and misinformation about what it is and there’s no uniformity in the Islamic world on interpretation.”

He said that many fears revolve around the question of whether Shariah law will either supplement or subordinate the current U.S. legal system.

Despite experiencing “not a peep” of backlash, Renz contends that there might be some disapproval of the class, and he does expect there will be controversy in the classroom.

erin.cole@umontana.edu

Original post: Islamic law class to be taught next semester

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15 Comments »

  1. “he wants to explore both the negative and positive aspects”
    I don’t like this statement, positive and negative are opinion based. There’s no way to say that this one this is positive, because some people can view it as negative and vis-versa. I think opinion has no place in classes like this, opinion is up to the student alone. Although I am pleased that this information is being presented, I think it is important to present it in an honest, and academic way, so as not to sway impressionable students by personal opinion.

  2. I have a friend who I would classify as a islamaphobe. He would see this and say this is Islam seeping into our culture to eventually take over, that Islam law is going to seep into our judicial court systems. I have argued, no way will that ever happen. Then his marine friends pipe in asking me how will i like to be maimed, stoned, have my tongue cut out for offenses once sharia law has infused into our culture. How would you address those misunderstandings and fears?


  3. Rhonda:

    I don’t know if you’re a Muslim, but, first & foremost, I’d like to thank & commend you for your defense of Islam. Understand that EVERYONE with access to the Internet & cable TV has heard ALL of the Islamaphobic talking points (READ: anti-Islam trash-talking points) that have been spewed by those who hate Muslim (and some of them will even claim to “not have anything against Muslims” — they do) but they proclaim to openly hate Islam.

    Ask your friend’s so-called Marine friends if they will appropriately define Shari’a Law and whom it affects. What we’ve learned is that many Islamaphobes can pronounce many Islamaphobes can pronounce Islamic/Arabic terms, but last the requisite understanding of said terms. It would also help if you studied and found the word for yourself, BEFORE-HAND, so you can see just how ignorant they really are as they babble their pseudo-definition of the term (Shari’a Law).

    Seems to me, from your description, they “gang-up” on you in a debate of said topic. But it sounds like you’re holding your own.

    Excellent work!!

  4. rhonda,

    hopefully the constitution will stand up to those aspects of sharia. the cruel and unusual punishment clause should disallow them. but than again 6 people in detroit just nullified the first amendment last week. so who knows what the future will hold. also i think sharia only applies to muslims, are you muslim? not sure what the deal is if you marry a muslim man? men can marry non-muslims but muslim women can’t marry non-muslims. if you have an islamic ceremony i don’t know if you are concenting to being governed by sharia in family court? the koran has women inheriting half as much as men. as for maiming, i guess they are talking about the hadith where muhammad cut the hand of a theif for a quarter of a dinar and upwards. stoning is actually and old testiment punishment for adultry. the taliban seem to favor that over what the koran says, which is to lash an adulterer and even fornicators 100 times. never heard anything about cutting out anyones tongue? (a knowledgable muslim will have to answer that one, naseerah, anything about cuting out tongues in the koran or sunnahs?) maybe for blasphamy? in pakistan they kill people for blasphamy? in india a catholic professor wrote a paper on muhammad and 6 muslims cut of his arm, claiming it was blasphamous. the ayatollah khomeni did a fatawa putting a 5 million dollar bounty on salmon rushdie’s head for his book satanic verses. so alot of muslims are anti-freespeech. i mean you did see where the afhgans killed a bunch of un personel for what a guy in gainseville did. in pakistan a village council ordered a woman gang raped for something her 12 year old brother did. they don’t always seem to have the best focus on what they consider crime and who they punish. for said crime. the whole cartoon thing would be laughable if peolpe hadn’t died.

    or just say knowledge is power, how is studing islam creeping it into america? don’t they still study greek mythology in school? you don’t see anyone advocating a return to the ways of ancient greece. they should read the koran. http://quod.lib.umich.edu/k/koran/browse.html

  5. Islamic law class to be taught next semester…

    Earlier this semester, Jeff Renz, a law professor at The University of Montana, appeared on a conservative radio show to discuss the myths and realities of Islamic law….

  6. rhonda,

    perhaps the reason for stoning arises from this sunnah or hadith, (the example set down by the prophet and his companions) i may have those terms intertwinded or confused but deuceprez can correct me if i’m wrong.

    Book 020, Number 4483:
    It has been narrated on the authority of Amir b. Sa’d b. Abu Waqqas who said: I wrote (a letter) to Jabir b. Samura and sent it to him through my servant Nafi’, asking him to inform me of something he had heard from the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him). He wrote to me (in reply): I heard the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) say on Friday evening, the day on which al-Aslami was stoned to death (for committing adultery): The Islamic religion will continue until the Hour has been established, or you have been ruled over by twelve Caliphs, all of them being from the Quraish. also heard him say: A small force of the Muslims will capture the white palace, the police of the Persian Emperor or his descendants. I also heard him say: Before the Day of Judgment there will appear (a number of) impostors. You are to guard against them. I also heard him say: When God grants wealth to any one of you, he should first spend it on himself and his family (and then give it in charity to the poor). I heard him (also) say: I will be your forerunner at the Cistern (expecting your arrival).

    i think there is also a hadith where one of the prophets companions had riden for a long time with a prisioner, and when he got to the oasis he would not take food or drink until the prisioner was stoned to death, despite the insistance of his host to eat and drink. you now desert people are very hospitable. but don’t quote me on that, i’m getting old and my memory fails me sometimes. i’ll look for proof.

    well here’s what wiki says a sunnah is. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunnah i know some people don’t trust wiki because it’s a user created page, but i think it’s the greatest invention since the internet. maybe dueceprez will correct any errors?

    rhonda i don’t mean to offend, but dueceprez how is she “holding her own”? she said “no way will that ever happen”????? does not allah will it? “surely Allah has power over all things.” does not the koran say a caliphate will be established over all mandkind? [2.30] And when your Lord said to the angels, I am going to place in the earth a khalif, they said: What! wilt Thou place in it such as shall make mischief in it and shed blood, and we celebrate Thy praise and extol Thy holiness? He said: Surely I know what you do not know. [2.41] And believe in what I have revealed, verifying that which is with you, and be not the first to deny it, neither take a mean price in exchange for My communications; and Me, Me alone should you fear.

    sorry for my ignorance, but like chevy it runs deep. what did socrates say, i’m a wise man for i know i know nothing?

  7. i would like to thank UM for offering this chance for students to clear some misconceptions about islam. it’ll be an amazing opportunity for students to have a scientific and good idea about islamic law, and i think that those who’ll take this course will understand and realise by themselves that this law is law that solves many problems of the 21st century.
    thank you and peace be on you.

  8. @Mike

    You often conflate the cultural practices of certain societies with Shariah. You start out by saying “Shariah this” and then go on to list a few instances of things that happen in Pakistan or Afghanistan and then conclude with “So a lot of Muslims do this, a lot of Muslims believe this.” What some people believe and do in Pakistan or Afghanistan is pretty irrelevant in terms of how American or Western Muslims live. Do you also equate Christian Africa with the culture and beliefs of American Christians? If so, I would like all American Christians to speak out and apologize for things like female genital mutilation and the recent murder of a gay man by hard-line African Christians. This statement would be absolutely ludicrous were it not for the fact that people often ask American Muslims to do the same.

    Shariah is a legal system rooted in Islamic principles derived from the Quran and Hadith. Many different societies have different understandings of what these principles are and how they should be enforced. Women inherit half as much as men in the Quran because women were in no way required to spend of their money for the financial support of the home. Men, on the other hand, had to use what they recieved to pay for food, shelter etc. I don’t see why that is unfair. And many progressive Muslims believe that because the workforce has drastically changed in the 1400 years since this passage was revealed, and women are steadily becoming breadwinners for their families, that this practical rule (for the time) could be done away with, or made more flexible in certain circumstances.

    As far as stoning goes…it is not mentioned anywhere in the Quran. It is, however, mentioned in Hadith. There are only a few instances of this actually happening, and it was in extreme cases. Crimes that could potentially result in the death penalty have an extremely high burden of proof. Only extremists believe that people should still be stoned in today’s time. Because no prison system or alternative form of punishment was feasible during the time of the Prophet, capital punishment was often the method of punishment for serious crimes. This holds true in all societies in that age, and is not an exclusively Islamic practice.

    @Rhonda
    I would suggest doing some reading for yourself first. Then once your comfortable with the subject you can take to countering arguments like the one your friend makes. He is using an extreme interpretation of Shariah to represent the tradition in its entirely, and also claiming that most Muslims adhere to and believe in this interpretation, which we don’t. Study for youself though to see if you agree with me.

  9. […] more here: Islamic law class to be taught next semester | Islamophobia Today … This entry was posted in Islam, Sharia and tagged human-rights, islam, legal-system, past-talks, […]

  10. @hannah

    thank you for input. first let me say i am overjoyed by your statement, “And many progressive Muslims believe that because the workforce has drastically changed in the 1400 years since this passage was revealed, and women are steadily becoming breadwinners for their families, that this practical rule (for the time) could be done away with, or made more flexible in certain circumstances.” i was told the same thing by a female member of cair once. it great to hear some muslims believe that the koran can be open to new interpretation in modern times. i just fear that yazeed, dueceprez, muslim, and most muslims in the world do not agree with you. i don’t think the saudis, pakistanis, afhgans, north africans agree with. oddly enough i do think the irans educate their women quite a bit. speaking of educated women, are you refering to my post on the maldives father who wanted his daughter to be a housewife and not a scientist? you say i “conflate the cultural practices of certain societies with Shariah” when? (you should revisit that article) you mention fgm, i mentioned fgm in a post on the maldives guy article as an example of how the world often trys to influence cultural practices. also i never said the koran mentions stoning. i said it is an old testement punishment. sorry i thought it was obvious that i was saying that the koran never mentions stoning, but calls for adulterers and fornicators to be lashed 100 times. just that there are hadiths with stoning in them. you quote me as saying ” “So a lot of Muslims do this, a lot of Muslims believe this.” ” when did i say that? please do not misquote me. that’s not right. isn’t funny that the acurate quote of your’s i pulled from your post, that you proclaim to know what “many progressive muslims believe”? if i have ever claimed to know what someone else believes i retract that claim. i post news reports of actions, which are of course the manifestation of belief.

  11. Mike,

    I was referring to this comment “so alot of muslims are anti-freespeech.”

    I agree with your statements against FGM, and fathers refusing their daughters the right to pursue a life of fulfillment. Most Muslims condemn these things (I know because I am Muslim and am an active member in my community) I have a problem, however, when people claim that this is an inherent aspect of Islam.

    As far as inheritance and certain percieved inequalities between the sexes in Islam, there is nothing wrong with men and women fulfilling different roles. There is nothing inherantly inferior about being a house wife or mother….I think if society didn’t have a generally negative view of traditionally feminine roles, then things like wanting to stay at home with your children or be a wife, or someone else wanting you to do those things, wouldn’t be considered a put down for a woman. There are lots of families that want their sons and daughters to be doctors or lawyers, but because those professions are held in such high-esteem (traditionally male professions) people rarely get all up-in-arms about this sort of pressure and coercion. I think EVERYONE should be allowed to be whatever they want to be, but Islam regards the role of women as being EXTREMELY important and dignified. So it it plausible that the father in the Koran recitation story felt he was saving his daughter from a less-dignified life by forcing her to be a wife and mother. Maybe he respects female roles and wants his daughter to be a wife and mother the same way that some parents respect lawyers and doctors and want their kids to pursue those professions. I’m not sure, maybe the dad is a jerk…but we don’t always know or understand.

    THere’s nothing about Islam that says I can’t work, can’t make a lot of money, can’t get 3 Phd’s or anything. Men have ALOT of responsibility that doesn’t always seem fair to me. Think about this. What if, in Islam, women were forced to work (whether they want to or not) and had to spend every penny on her husband and kids. Whereas the husband could work if he wanted to, or not if he didn’t, could keep the money for himslef, and his wife couldn’t touch a dime of it? Would you think that’s oppressive? That’s the reality for Muslim men. But because they’re men, and traditionally male roles are regarded so highly across ALL sociey’s, no one bats an eyelash. In fact, society starts telling women that that’s what they should want to do, that’s the role they should have and if they don’t, then they’re obviouly oppressed and worthless.

    Sorta went off on a tangent, I know. Just food for though. :)

  12. Just one question: Why do we need to learn it at all? imagine going over there to their country and teaching them christianity, you think that would fly???…I know of a lot of Muslims who converted to Christianity and are getting hell for it..So why do we need to learn it at all?, it belongs in their country, not ours

  13. hannah,

    that’s a cornucopia of thought. always welcomed. you’re right, i should not use comparative language like “a lot”. but given the reactions of muslims to the cartoons and now the burning of the koran, it seems that by casual observation the so-called islamic world is against freedom of speech. i mention pakistan alot because there are what 170 million muslisms? as for american and western muslims i think there is a great differance of attitudes between them and muslims who are spread from indonesia (well the maldives are even farther east) to morocco. but there can’t be more than what 100 million western muslims? and less than 20 million american muslim? there is more than 1.5 billion muslims in the world, right. does any declared islamic state have freedom of speech in their constitution? i may be wrong. hang on the more i think about the more i stand by my statement, in fact i’ll say the majority of muslims (in the world) are anti freespeech. not to mention halima and lawan who posted things on this site. so when i said that did i not post examples? what do you think of the ayatollah’s fatawa on salam rushdie?

    as for “nothing inherantly inferior about being a house wife or mother”, i agree whole heartedly. in fact i think there is no greater profession. but i hope a woman in the modern world could pursue both her passion for oceanography, medicine, law and motherhood. i just think that idea that a father would decide for his daughter as to what she will be at age 10, is a little premature, weather it be a particular profession or not. in no way did i mean to imply that it is only muslim fathers who think that their daughters don’t need and education. this story reminded me of the time in college that my roommate’s girlfriend asked me if i wanted to buy her car. she was working her way through college and couldn’t afford it. i asked her if her parents couldn’t help her out finacially and she said her father didn’t think she needs to go to college. that kind of floored me. i guess this is one of my prejudices i bring to the conversation. myself, my brother’s and my sisters were always expected to go to college.

    still to this day my mother will kindof complain that my dad didn’t want her to go back to work after having kids. she was a rn. than again my four older siblings where all born in 5 and a half years and i was 2 and a half years removed from my nearest sister. so if mom had gone back to work i may have never been born. that may have pleased so.

    how’s that for a tangent!!!

    On the mountains of truth you can never climb in vain- either you will reach a point higher up today, or you will be training your powers so that you will be able to climb higher tomorrow.” ~Friedrich Nietzsche

  14. crewchieft,

    i truly hope you are not an american!

    looks like i’m on a nietzsche kick today

    “He who fights monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster.”
    — Friedrich Nietzsche,

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