Debunking the Misinterpretations of Muslim Sharia Law

CAP Event Examines Sharia Law and the Importance of Religious Tolerance

In recent months, more than two dozen states have proposed legislation that would prohibit the adoption of Sharia, the collective term for a range of religious practices followed by Muslims worldwide. Tenets of Sharia include daily prayer, charitable giving, and honoring one’s parents, which are very similar to practices in Christianity, Judaism, and other faiths. Making these practices illegal for Muslims would violate the Constitution and its protection of religious liberty for all Americans.

The word “Sharia literally means ‘way’ or ‘street,’ a way of life mandated by God,” explained Asifa Quraishi, assistant professor of law at the University of Wisconsin Law School and a fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. She was speaking at a panel event hosted July 26 by the Center for American Progress that focused on the anti-Sharia movement in the United States. Quraishi was joined by Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance, and Faiz Shakir, Editor-in-Chief of Think Progress and Vice President of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. The panel was moderated by Matthew Duss, Policy Analyst at CAP.

Members of the panel noted that in the immediate wake of the Norway bomb attacks last week, a number of conservative and right-wing pundits, along with many in the mainstream media, wrongfully speculated that Muslim terrorists perpetrated the act. Ironically, it turned out that the attacker was a white Norwegian Christian extremist who cited in his manifesto many of the anti-Muslim pundits who were certain the bomber was Muslim.

Rev. Gaddy described anti-Sharia forces as dangerous to democracy. “What we’re seeing now is that we’re willing to give up our essential principles of democracy to achieve a certain goal,” he said.

Gaddy wasn’t alone in voicing concern about the negative effects on democracy by anti-Sharia proponents. According to Faiz Shakir, these proponents aim to ostracize and alienate Muslim Americans in order to lessen their participation and the power of their voices in the public square. Shakir warned that 2012 would be the “year of the crazy” as the presidential campaign gets underway and conservative candidates seek to stand out from the pack by taking extreme stands.

Quraishi stressed the importance of not seeing Sharia as practiced in the United States as identical to Sharia in other countries, including Europe. She also warned against seeing the issue “[filtered] through the experience of the West.”

All the panelists described the diversity of Sharia interpretations and stressed that Sharia practices are not monolithic. It is possible to strongly disagree with certain interpretations of Sharia without rejecting the concept. As Shakir said, just because he rejects the interpretations of the Constitution by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas does not mean he rejects the entire Constitution.

Debunking misconceptions surrounding Sharia is an understandably complex but ultimately responsible undertaking. In this sense, last Tuesday’s event represented a step in the right direction. Throughout the panel, the experts presented a case for Sharia through an expansive lens—as a broad code of conduct for the Islamic faith—while also acknowledging its relevance in contemporary political debates and the inevitable impact of the anti-Sharia movement on the Muslim American community.

For more details on this event, please see its event page.