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5 Myths About Sharia Law

14 May 2014 General 6 Comments Email This Post Email This Post


By Sabith Khan, Policy Mic

The problem with discussing Sharia law in the U.S is that very few people seem to know what they are talking about, as Dr. Sherman Jackson, one of the foremost experts on Islamic law in the U.S., points out. Myths about “creeping Sharia” and the take-over of Islamic law abound. Far from anything of this sort happening, what is occurring is the vilifying and scare-mongering about a system of “personal laws” that Muslims use to settle domestic issues: i.e., those related to disputes inheritance, divorce etc. This issue of the “creeping Sharia” is a politically motivated strategy to vilify Muslims and is nothing short of pseudo-intellectualism and scaremongering, passing off as genuine civic discourse.

Before we address some of the myths and de-bunk them, let us look at what Sharia actually is. As Dr. Jackson further points out : “At the most basic level, Sharia is the Muslim universe of ideals. It is the result of their collective effort to understand and apply the Quran and supplementary teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (called Sunna) in order to earn God’s pleasure and secure human welfare in this life and attain human salvation in the life to come prescriptive and normative way that a good Muslim is supposed to live his/her life.” While this includes legal norms, it goes beyond just legal injunctions and includes aspects of good behavior, aesthetics and also personal responsibility, derived from Islam’s rich 1400 year old history

Here are five myths about Sharia that need to be critically looked at:

1. Muslims want Sharia to be applied to everyone in the U.S:

As a recent report from Washington D.C based think-tank Institute for Social Policy and Understanding points out : “For most American Muslims shari’a represents a private system of morality and identity, primarily focused on marriage and divorce rituals. None of the American Muslims interviewed for this study (over 212 interviewees) expected American courts to enforce Sharia. Just like other Americans, they will access the courts for adjudication according to American family law if they cannot make a private agreement (relating to divorce) that meets their needs and values.”

2. Sharia is “archaic” and backward:

While the space limitations here do not allow me to get into a lengthy detail, suffice it to say that the moral framework of civics, living one’s life, and behavior cannot and should not be judged by other’s standards. Each society, nation and culture has its own perspective of life and moral framework and in a plural society such as the U.S, the constitution upholds the right of people to practice their religion.

3. Sharia is one fixed, rigid system of laws:

Far from it. Within Sunni Islam, there are four schools of thought and much diversity within Shii Islam as well. The U.S represents the confluence of almost all major strands of Islam and this reflects the diversity within the Muslim world. There are multiple ways of interpretingSharia and each one is different, depending on the school of legal jurisprudence one follows.

4. Sharia is all about criminal laws and punishments:

As pointed out earlier, Sharia is more a “moral framework” rather than just laws and must be understood as such. Of the legal injunctions, a tiny majority of them pertain to punishments. Also, the fact that there are multiple eyewitnesses needed for application of strict punishments make the laws almost toothless, in that they cannot be applied in real-life situations.

5. Sharia needs to be defeated for everyone to live peacefully:

Muslims without Sharia are like Catholics without their personal laws or the Jews without their Halakah. As Dr. Sherman Jackson points out poignantly: “While most non-Muslim Americans may think of Islam without Sharia as simply Islam without rules or criminal sanctions, for Muslims Islam without Sharia would also mean Islam without prescriptions on ablution, prayer, alms, sales, diet, filial piety, civics, etc.”

So, the next time you read an article or hear someone warning you about Sharia or the evil machinations of Muslims, please ask them to correct their ignorance or better. Educate them about what Sharia truly means. In this day and age of free information, there is no excuse for their ignorance.

Original post: 5 Myths About Sharia Law


  1. Or, to paraphrase Mehdi Hassan in a debate at Oxford a couple of years back: “I’d like to see the book of Sharia law. But you can’t show it to me, because it doesn’t exist! The scholars can’t agree on what Sharia law is!”

  2. This is good, but where are reliable sources on the Shariah? I’m a Muslim and have been my whole life, but there’s nothing good on Shariah with a quick internet search, which is the route most non Muslims will start with, and it’s so totally misleading who’s fault is that? Almost everything is just the horrifying stuff no wonder people believe those things about Muslims and Shariah. So where is the sensible credible info?

  3. This is an interesting piece. Several important points stand out and very fundamental differences appear to exist between Sharia tribunals and the American system of justice. By this account, Sharia is a religion, moral value and culture oriented tribunal, while the latter, American system is an entirely secular system of justice.

    Sharia guidelines established for presiding over judgements could be expected to be flexible from geographical location to location, as explained here, while our secular guidelines for family court procedures and judgements are far less so.

    This greater, but not complete, secular based uniformity is to ensure that American family court judgements are made without prejudice or preference with regard to the gender, race, religion, or cultural differences between the parties involved in the petition, wherever the geographical location that the divorce matter is filed in this country.

    Some states have differing laws regarding the determination of child custody and support arrangements and also the division of property rights, but in all cases and in all American family courts, both parties are guaranteed the right to legal representation and are deemed equal in standing in the eyes of the court in order to avoid the possibility of behind the scenes exploitation, coercion to settle without benefit of legal counsel and a misunderstanding of individual rights in the process of a marital dissolution. Maybe someone could advise me as to whether Sharia tribunals offer these same guarantees and equal protections?

    If not, then I think it’s entirely reasonable that a couple request someone knowledgeable about Sharia considerations regarding divorce issues be allowed to act as a friend of the court in their divorce proceedings when they’re divorcing in an American family court. In this way, both parties would have the benefit of Sharia counsel related to their shared religious and cultural concerns while also enjoying the added advantages of separate legal representation of they interests, guaranteed open records on file of the divorce proceedings and the eventual findings should issues need to be revisited for any reason in the future, as is so often the case with custody and support issues. Most important though that a secular system of judgement would guarantee both parties equality before the court under American law. All rights, including the couple’s religious rights and freedoms, would be thoroughly respected and protected in this way.

    Now, if a couple chooses to avoid the American legal system, altogether, preferring to dissolve their union and separate their property in a Sharia tribunal, I see no reason why they shouldn’t simply travel outside of the country to divorce, to a country where Sharia law represents the law of the land. Our legal system, including family court, recognizes both marriage and divorce decrees from other countries.

  4. So much for claims of Hysteria…
    Live, from a kangaroo court in Khartoum.

    Four embassies register “deep concern” that 8 months pregnant, Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag, has been sentenced to death for adultery and apostasy. The three days have passed to give her time to deny her faith and return to Islam, that was the faith of her absent father, but never her own.

    Yet Meriam continues to cling to her faith despite having been imprisoned with her young child. If she is martyred, by being whipped and hanged, for refusing to renounce her religious beliefs and for marrying outside her father’s Islamic faith, the rage against apostasy sentences in Sharia courts will be all consuming, and it should be.

    By what right and by whose authority does anyone of any faith dare to criminalize the sacred beliefs of another human being? If Information Minister Ahmed Bilal Osman is correct, Sudan is not unique in its law against apostasy. He says, “In Saudi Arabia, in all the Muslim countries, it is not allowed at all for a Muslim to change his religion.”

    If this young woman is put to death, then there need be no further defenses made for Sharia courts in the West. Not ONE.

    Claims that “nowhere does the Quran permit these kinds of outrages” will fall on deaf ears because, clearly, there are individuals who sit in judgement in Sharia tribunals across the M.E. who absolutely do interpret holy scripture in this way and are prepared to kill to support it.

    If Amnesty International and the U.N. Human Rights Council, in the aftermath of this sentence and others like it being carried out in the M.E., lead the world to a mass condemnation and outlawing of Sharia It won’t be due to Islamophobia or MYTHS. It will be due to the documented fact that those who render apostasy judgements in Sharia courts are nothing better than bigoted violators of human rights and criminals who deserve to be arrested, tried for their crimes in the Hague and sentenced to life…..which would represent one hell of a lot more compassion and justice than these judges bearing religious authority were willing to offer this woman and her family.

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