Beliefs Culture

Muslims launch campaign to explain Shariah

RNS photo courtesy Asterio Tecson.
Anti-Shariah demonstrators rally against a proposed mosque near Ground Zero in New York.

Anti-Shariah demonstrators rally against a proposed mosque near Ground Zero in New York.

(RNS) Against a backdrop of heartland fears that U.S. Muslims seek to impose Islamic law on American courts, a leading Muslim group will launch a campaign on Monday (March 5) to dispel what it called misconceptions about Shariah.

The “Defending Religious Freedom: Understanding Shariah” campaign comes at a time when more than 20 states are considering or have passed laws forbidding judges from considering Shariah in their deliberations.

Many Americans associate Shariah with the harsh punishments carried out in a few Muslim countries like Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, even as U.S. Muslim groups insist they have no desire to introduce Islamic law on themselves or others.

“There were all these wrong notions about Shariah,” said professor Zahid Bukhari, president of the Islamic Circle of North America, which is sponsoring the campaign.

The most worrisome thing, he said, was that the level of hatred toward Shariah had spread from the margins of society to the mainstream. The ICNA campaign has already drawn fire from “anti-Shariah” groups in the United States.

The roughly $3 million dollar campaign will feature billboards in at least 15 U.S. cities, “Shariah seminars” on 20 college campuses, and town hall-style forums and interfaith events in 25 cities.

Sponsors also set-up a 1-855-SHARIAH hotline where callers can ask volunteers about Islamic law, and has even hired an outside public relations firm, The TASC Group in New York City, to shepherd the effort.

At least two billboards are already up. “Shariah is not scary” is the message that flashes on an electronic billboard above New York City's Holland Tunnel, seen by an estimated 120,000 people every day. Another billboard on I-70 in Kansas City reads “Shariah: Got Questions? Get Answers,” and lists the toll-free number and campaign website. 

A Shariah billboard encourages readers to ask questions and call the toll-free number or visit the campaign website.

A Shariah billboard encourages readers to ask questions and call the toll-free number or visit the campaign website.

In March, ICNA will sponsor town hall meetings or lectures in Dallas, Houston, Chicago, Boston, and several other U.S. cities and college campuses.

Even before the campaign was launched, there was already pushback from two groups, the American Freedom Defense Initiative and Stop the Islamization of Nations, both categorized as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Pamela Geller, a founder of both groups and a lead organizer of the opposition to a proposed Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero, called the campaign “a complete whitewash.”

The two groups have designed a billboard parodying ICNA's Kansas City billboard. “Shariah: Got Fatwa? Get help!” it says, along with a toll-free number and website, neither of which worked.

Geller wrote on her blog that the Quran endorses wife beating and mandates that a woman's testimony is worth half that of a man's. Shariah, she said, mandates the death penalty for apostasy and the subjugation of non-Muslims.

Muslim scholars counter that Geller and like-minded critics cherry-pick from Islamic scripture or quote it out of context to paint a false picture of Shariah.

Sheikh Abdool Rahman Khan, an ICNA Shariah expert and resident scholar at the Islamic Learning Foundation outside Chicago, acknowledged that early Islamic law said a woman's testimony was worth half a man's, but only in some areas, such as finance and medicine, where there were few women bankers or doctors.

“It wasn't about equality, it was about participation of women in certain professions,” Rahman said.

Modern Shariah scholars reason that because there are now many women in finance and business, their testimonies are equal to a man's, Rahman said. In practice, that means a woman can certify a medical diagnosis or sign a business contract by herself. 

“If you are looking for problematic texts in the Quran, yes, they exist. They also exist in the Bible and Torah and other books,” said Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im of the Emory University School of Law in Atlanta.

“But Christians aren't judged based on what the Bible said 2,000 years ago, but on how they behave today. Why are Muslims judged according to these literalist interpretations, and not according to how the vast majority of good Muslims behave today?”

Bukhari acknowledged that some imams interpret Shariah in misogynistic or intolerant ways, and that ICNA recognizes the problem. The solution, he said, was better training for imams.

“The Muslim community also needs to be educated about Shariah,” said Bukhari, “and we will be having these programs also for Muslims.”


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Tracy Gordon


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  • Christians are Judged on the writings of Jesus…why would anyone say otherwise. He is the Judge…no one comes to the Father except through Him. Who has the right to change the words of Jesus? No one! And why are many trying to change the basic moral guidelines of the Holy Scripture? They want a man made religion…based on opinions and a morally defunct class of Clergy. What would Jesus tell a Homosexual Priest? Repent for the Kingdom of the Heavens is drawn near. There are no gray area’s of how God felt about Sodom and Gommorah! He destroyed them. So perverse that the men wanted to have sex with the Angel… His anger stills burns against those the pervert the words of the Bible text. Revelation states that plagues will come upon those that tamper( add to or take away) with the Holy Writings. Have you notice how it has turned out for the many perverted men and women? Do the math…count the AIDS virus as a warning! Broad and spacious is the road leading off to life..few are the ones finding it. Who can you believe? Start now to read the many Translations of the Bible and compare the very few changes that are gray in context! Don’t listen to what others say without doing your own research. Why? Your salvation is at stake. To say that modern day judgement is different is perverse and blind! The Church has not evolved to a modern….liberal…it doesn’t matter what Scriptures says ,,,but the apostate religion has! A modern immoral way of life is not getting us closer to God! Another day is coming and it will be like Noah’s Day. Why was that generation destroyed? Notice the many were destroyed not saved. they took NO note until the flood swept them away!
    Beware of the false reasoning that God will not Judge mankind again. If you are called to the Christian way of life it is not an easy way..~

  • Twenty-five years of reading Xtian religious fanatic tirades and I’m never surprised. It’s like Watching Leave it to Beaver reruns over and over again, but without the humor intellect.

    Still runaway streams of non-thought unrelated to the subject at hand. Still the multiple exclamation marks where periods would do just fine, thank you. Still one big old paragraph, driven by religious frenzie. And lots of “expert” interpretation of what jesus would do, condemnation of gays, what disease means (always a punshment of some sort), and the hackneyed admonishments that the “end is near” so straighten up and fly right or else or “Gawd is gonna get cha!”

    Is it any wonder why those claiming to be Christian has declined according to the 2009 Pew survey; or why people of reason look at this kind of gibberish, shake their head, and check their calendars to make sure we really are in the 21st century?