Let’s Get Our Islamic Terminology Straight
Playing off of Mark’s post against the Oklahoma ban on sharia law, it’s important to note that most of the contemporary debate over Sharia law in the United States seems to be operating under a huge misconception over what Sharia actually is. I think a lot of its detractors, and maybe even some defenders, imagine it as a single bound volume of set-in-stone proclamations and prohibitions — sort of like a Muslim Talmud, I guess.
It’s not like that at all, though. Whereas Talmudic scholars disagree with one another of the interpretation of their holy text, there’s vast disagreement within Islam about what constitutes the text itself. There’s a reason why you’ll never find a single volume or collection of volumes everyone can agree makes up the whole of Sharia.
And in fact, while some understandings of Sharia are quite stringent — the most extreme example I can think of being the Taliban’s — others are so benign that it’s amazing anyone could find them remotely controversial or threatening. Take Park 51’s Imam Feisel Abdul Rauf’s interpretation: in his book What’s Right With Islam, he argued that “the American political structure” was already Sharia compliant because it protects and furthers basic God-given rights. Under Rauf’s definition of Sharia, Oklahoma — and, in fact, any state in any liberal democracy — has every reason to desire compliance.
Really, all of this fear-mongering about encroaching Sharia only demonstrates how terrifying Islam can seem when you decide to take the most extreme possible reading of every single concept in the faith. We’ve seen a similar thing happen with “jihad,” which can mean both “holy war against the infidels” and “[a]n individual’s striving for spiritual self-perfection.” Guess which definition is the only one you’ll ever hear cited on cable news?