What is Shariah?

Shariah is the Arabic word for ‘the path’, which is commonly used to describe Islamic jurisprudence. There is no formalized code of Shariah. Rather, Shariah is an interpretive set of principles based on the Qur’an, the Hadith (the sayings and traditions of the Prophet Muhammad), and local custom and practice. Other than issues related to doctrine and belief, i.e. belief in one God, the vast majority of these religious decrees are subject to very wide interpretation.

Shariah, like Jewish Halacha law and Catholic Canon law, is a comprehensive way of life that constitutes beliefs, acts of worship, supplication, marriage and dietary restrictions. Both the First Amendment to the Constitution and Shariah promote freedom of worship. This is what Muslims do. Muslims do not impose penal laws in the U.S. They do not even apply alimony or many basic laws that other faiths enjoy. The misconceptions about Shariah are based on ignorance, not facts.

Does Shariah change over time?

Shariah does not change over time. However the interpretation and application change according to time and place.

Penal laws make up only 15 verses out of 6,236 verses of the Quran. While penal laws are part of Shariah, they can only be applied after the accused has gone through the legal process and found guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt. Islam has placed many hurdles in the way of such convictions and as such throughout the entire history of the Muslim world very few such punishments were delivered. More so, even when a guilty verdict was known, through direct confession of the accused, the system sought ways to pardon the guilty party or avoid such a harsh punishment.

Furthermore, American Muslims do not seek to have Shariah penal laws introduced in the U.S. American Muslims are simply interested in how Shariah regulates a Muslim’s personal duties to God such as praying, fasting and alms-giving, as well as marriage, divorce, burials, wills, and inheritance.

Is Islam compatible with democracy?

The early Muslim statesmen after appointment sought the full consent of the people and publicly questioned whether anyone objected to their appointment. Such a system in Islam is described as Shurah, which literally means consultation,  a system where by the consent of the majority is sought out. As such the purest form of democracy was applied by those early statesmen that present day Muslim’s hold in the highest regard and praise for their just leadership.

The facts on the ground in the Muslim world, as determined by major surveys such as the Gallup World Poll, reveal a desire for greater democratization. When asked what they admire about the West, majorities of Muslims’ top three spontaneous responses were: (1) technology; (2) the West’s value system, hard work, self-responsibility, rule of law, and cooperation; and (3) fair political systems, democracy, respect of human rights, freedom of speech, and gender equality. In general, Muslims see no contradiction between democratic values and religious principles. Muslims want neither a theocracy nor a secular democracy and would opt for a third model in which religious principles and democratic values coexist (From What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam by John Esposito p 190-191)

Do American Muslims want Shariah?

American Muslims, like their fellow Americans, stand by the U.S. Constitution. But like their fellow Americans, they would like to practice their faith pursuant to the First Amendment, including in private contracts.

Who follows Shariah?

Practicing Muslims follow Shariah to the best of their ability.

Do American Muslims follow U.S. laws?

Absolutely. American Muslims follow U.S. laws in America. Shariah provides guidelines that individuals voluntarily enforce in their lives to become better believers and productive members of society. In that regard, Muslims do follow Shariah to the extent of staying honest and truthful, abstaining from alcohol and pork, avoiding interest-based transactions, performing obligatory rituals, staying away from immoral practices, feeding the poor and needy, fulfilling the rights of family and neighbors, etc.

Do American Muslims follow Shariah?

All practicing American Muslims follow Shariah to the best of their ability. The U.S. Constitution forbids any other framework of law and, as citizens and residents of the U.S., we are contractually bound to obey the Constitution. Islamically, Muslims are not permitted to disobey the laws of the land or formulate such laws that would directly conflict with those on which the founding fathers established this country. Just like all other citizens, Muslims also seek protection within the U.S. judicial system and participate in this democracy as best they can.

Can Muslims be loyal citizens?

Yes. Muslims are taught to respect the laws of the land they live in as long as they can still effectively practice being Muslim. Islam is a faith, a way to be in a community with others and be in a relationship with God. Like other people of faith whose values are inspired by religious tradition, Muslims can be and are engaged citizens.

What would Shariah look like in the U.S.?

Shariah could be implemented in the U.S. when it comes to personal and private contracts, including in cases of marriage, inheritance, and business transactions. However, any such private contracts would have to be fully consistent with local, state and federal law and the U.S. Constitution.

Are other faiths in America allowed to practice their religious laws?

Within similar confines for Shariah, all other religions are free to practice their laws as long as they do not fundamentally impinge on U.S. civil or criminal code. This means Jewish Halacha law is allowed to be practiced alongside Catholic Canon law, governing the running of the church.

What did the founding fathers say about religious freedom?

The founding fathers made it very clear that religious civil liberties should be protected. This was then codified in the Constitution by the First Amendment in 1789. Called the Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause, it made it very clear that the U.S. neither stipulates a religion for its citizens nor does it prohibit the practice of any one religion.

What does Islam say about religious freedom?

This very concept is enshrined in the Qur’an when it states “Let there be no compulsion in religion” (2:256), and all Muslims must abide by it. Islam does not accept conversion by force whether in the U.S. or in any Muslim country.

What is Taqqiya?
Taqqiya is a concept that was developed by the Shia minority to protect themselves from the Sunni majority, whereby a person may conceal their faith if their life is threatened. However, this is not a concept in Sunni Islam and most Muslims have never even heard of it. Furthermore, protecting oneself in a life threatening situation is a concept that exists in many other religions.

Does Islam oppress women?

Islam regards men and women as equal in the eyes of God, but as in other societies and cultures, women are often subject to cultural, economic and social oppression, often in the name of religion. “The believing men and the believing women, they are guardians/leaders of each other, they enjoin the doing of what is right and forbid the doing of what is wrong…” (9:71).

Does Islam approve of honor killings?

Islam strictly prohibits honor killings and the taking of an innocent life. Specifically, early Muslims were warned and prohibited against the murder of newborn girls – a barbaric practice in the Arabian peninsula before the introduction of Islam.

“Honor killings are murders, usually committed by male family members against female family members who are accused of “immoral” behavior (violating social norms, modesty, and sexual codes) that is seen as breaking the “honor codes” of a family or community. As the products of strong patriarchal value systems, these codes reflect deeply rooted social and cultural concepts of honor and shame, and women are seen as fully responsible for maintaining family and community honor. The complicity of other females in the family, who often support the attacks, strengthens the community mentality that women are property and that violence against them is a family matter, not a judicial issue. Honor killings have occurred across cultures and across religions…but none of the world’s religions, including Islam, approves such murders.” (From What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam by John Esposito)

Are women second class citizens in Islam?

“The revelation of Islam raised the status of women by prohibiting female infanticide, abolishing women’s status as property, establishing women’s legal capacity, granting women the right to receive their own dowry, changing marriage from a proprietary to a contractual relationship, and allowing women to retain control over their property and use their maiden name after marriage. The Qur’an also granted women financial maintenance from their husbands and controlled the husband’s free ability to divorce.

The Qur’an declares that men and women are equal in the eyes of God; man and woman were created to be equal parts of a pair (51:49). The Qur’an describes the relationship between men and women as one of “love and mercy” (30:21). Men and women are to be like “members of one another” (3:195), like each other’s garment (2:187).” (From What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam by John Esposito p 97)

What does Islam say about domestic violence?

“Domestic violence is a serious social problem in the West and globally, and the Muslim world is no exception. Many grassroots movements and women’s organizations who work to eradicate it through education for both men and women emphasize Quranic teachings about the rights and responsibilities of men and women and about martial relations.

In some Muslim societies, men use the Quran to justify domestic violence. However, many verses in the Quran teach that men and women are to be kind to and supportive of each other. Love and justice in family relationships are emphasized and cruelty is forbidden. Quran 30:21 states, “And among his signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that you may dwell in tranquility with them, and He has put love and mercy between your [hearts]: behold, verily in that are signs for those who reflect.” Quran 4:19 further commands, “O you who believe! Your are forbidden to inherit women against their will. Nor should you treat them with harshness. On the contrary live with them on a footing of kindness and equity. If you take a dislike to them it may be that you dislike a thing through which God brings about a great deal of good.” Chronologically, the last Quranic verse to be revealed that addressed relations between husband and wife was 9:71, in which women and men are described as being each other’s protecting friends and guardians, emphasizing their cooperation in living together as partners, rather than adversaries or superiors and subordinates. Likewise, the hadith (Prophetic traditions) note Muhammad’s respect for and protection of women. Muhammad said, “The best of you is he who is best to his wife.” Muhammad’s wife Aisha narrated that Muhammad never hit any servant or woman and never physically struck anyone with his own hand.” (From What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam by John Esposito p 114-115)

What does Islam say about female circumcision?

Female genital mutilation is “neither an Islamic practice nor widespread among Muslims. Rather, it appears to be an African tradition that remains in practice in countries like Sudan and Egypt, among Muslims and non-Muslims alike.” ( From What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam by John Esposito p 111)

What does Islam say about forced marriage?

“There is a common misconception that in Islam women are forced into marriage, having no right to choose their husbands….In Islam a woman’s consent is absolutely necessary. The prophet, peace be upon him,  said: A divorcee or a widow must not be  married until he/s. he is consulted, and a virgin must not be married, until her permission is sought. [Bukhari]

Khaula bint Huzam petitioned the holy Prophet, peace be upon him, that her father married her to a person whom she did not like; the Prophet revoked her marriage for her [Nisa’i].

A young woman once came to the holy Prophet, peace be upon him, and said, “My father has married me to my cousin, whom I do not like.” Thereupon, the holy Prophet gave her permission to adhere to or to revoke the marriage contract. Hearing this, the woman heaved a sigh of relief and said, “I have already given my consent to what my father has done, but what I want to impress upon woman is that a father has no right to give the hand of his grown daughter without her consent.” [Nisa’i]”

(From Would You Like to Know Something About Islam? by Mohammad Ahmed)

Why does Islam allow polygamy?
Islam did not introduce polygamy nor does it encourage it. In fact, it is found in many religious and cultural traditions, yet we tend to identify it particularly with Islam. Islam limited an existing tradition that was common and widespread, whereby men in pre-Islamic Arabia could have as many wives as he wanted. Because seventh-century Arabia was the scene of frequent tribal wars and combat, “when men were killed in battle, it was impossible for their widows and orphans, or unmarried sisters or nieces, to survive without their male protector. In this context, the revelations in the Quran regarding marriage, like other Quranic revelations and reforms regarding inheritance, divorce, serving as a witness, etc., tended to improve women’s position. The Quranic command restricts a male’s right to an unlimited number of wives, while also using the umbrella of marriage as a protection for women in a violent society. “Although polygamy is practiced in some Muslim societies, the vast majority of Muslims are monogamous.” (From What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam by John Esposito p 112-113)

Why do Muslim women wear veils?

Muslim women  wear veils or a hijab because it seen by the majority as a religious obligation.  Islam prescribes the veil or hijab because of its emphasis on modesty. The Quran commands modesty for both men and woman, and says in regards to women “Say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty. They should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty.” (24:31)

Does Shariah encourage killing apostates?

The Qur’an specifies no punishment for apostasy. Hadith, or the prophetic tradition, refers to only those cases that involve political treason, not apostasy. Also, these hadith are not mutawatir (hadith that have been narrated in exact words through many different chains so that any possibility of forgery or manipulation is precluded), and thus do not yield certainty of knowledge. In addition, there is no consensus on this penalty; on the contrary, even some classical jurists have rejected such punishment.

Of greater importance is the fact that the Qur’an is explicit and insistent about the freedom of faith for all. Islam upholds the freedom of choice in faith and the Qur’an says: “Let there be no compulsion in religion.” There is no ambiguity about it. And most assuredly there is no provision for compulsion of faith in Islam – before embracing the faith or after.

How does Islam treat minorities?

Muslims are taught to treat minorities with honor and respect. Places of worship (churches, synagogues) for example, are not only to be preserved, but to be maintained with funds from the state.

How do Muslims view Christians and Jews? How are Muslims taught to relate?

Muslims, as followers of the Abrahamic tradition, are taught to respect people of all faiths (or no faith at all). Further, Jews and Christians enjoy a special status in Islam as ‘People of the Book’ because they received divine revelation such as the Torah, the Psalms and the Gospel. Muslims specifically are taught to believe in all the prophets beginning with Adam all the way through Moses, David and Jesus (who Muslims believe was a prophet). “Those who believe (in the Qur’an), and those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Christians and the Sabians – any who believe in God and the Last Day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve” (2:62). Mary, the mother of Jesus is mentioned in the Quran (3:42). Islam believes in the virgin birth of Jesus and the Quran recognizes the miracles of Jesus. An entire chapter in the Quran is dedicated to Mary.

Prophet Muhammad hosted about 60 Christian clergy in his mosque for three days and had a mutual dialogue with them in faith related topics. He personally looked after their accommodation.

Does Islam suppress other religions and beliefs?

Allah Almighty mentions in the Qur’an that if He so wished He would have made all of mankind into one nation, but it is His Wisdom that people have different beliefs and that there is no compulsion in religion. Evidence is presented in the Qur’an: “And say, “The truth is from your Lord, so whoever wills – let him believe; and whoever wills – let him disbelieve…” (18:29).

Every human, the Qur’an affirms, is responsible for his or her own personal deeds. On the Day of Judgment, Allah Almighty shall produce openly the record of everyone and he/she will be given a fair trial.