By Aftab Borka
Every community has some secrets. The Muslims have them too. And these secrets are not like passwords or personal information that can compromise privacy or personal security. But they are answers to questions that are mostly not discussed in public. In this series of Muslim Secrets, we are going to ask some Muslims in southeast Michigan these questions. And today’s question is: do they want Sharia law in America?
Victor Ghalib Begg, co-founder of the Council of Islamic Organization.
Not surprisingly, every Muslim interviewed for this report had a different and not so straight answer. All of them had a different interpretation of Sharia law. But they did have one thing in common: don’t believe in what the opponents say.
“Don’t just go by random websites, what they post and what they tell you about Islam. There is far more to Islam than what people are propagating” said Shandana Shakoor, a Bloomfield Hills mother and Director of Pakistan American Association.
“Sharia law I think is a very misunderstood concept among Americans and even among Muslims I think”, another Bloomfield Hills resident Shahina Begg, co-founder of Interfaith WISDOM, said.
Her husband, Victor Ghalib Begg, co-founded Council of Islamic Organization in the community they live and spends much of his time working on ways to bring people of different faiths together. He, too, thinks that Sharia law is a very ‘misunderstood’ term.
So, to understand what Sharia law really means, one has to ask those who preach it. Dawud Walid is a famous Muslim leader of southeast Michigan, and chairman of Council of American Islamic Relations.
When asked ‘What is Sharia law? He said: “Well, Sharia and law will not necessarily be the best two phrases to conjoin or combine together. But Sharia simply means a path toward faithfulness of how a Muslim seeks to live a life holistically pleasing God. This ranges from our ritual worship to regulates how we are involved in ethical transaction of businesses,” Walid said.
But that’s not the problem. The real trouble for people in America, and in many parts of the world, is the kind of laws practiced in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan, and some laws in Pakistan.
People feel troubled when thieves get their hands chopped off in Saudi Arabia, when people get stoned to death for adultery in Iran, when Taliban shoot spies in the head, and when a Pakistani Christian mother faces death penalty for allegedly saying insulting words for Prophet Muhammed.
Is this what Muslims could eventually advocate in America?
“I think people are kind of generalizing that… oh if there is Sharia law people will be whipped and hands will be chopped off. That’s not in my opinion Islamic laws”, Chief of Oncology in Troy Beaumont Adil Akhtar said. Akhtar said Islamic laws are laws that ‘make sense’.
But what if what makes no sense to Akhtar would make sense to some other Muslims in the rest of America?
Dawud Walid rejects that too. “Certain punishments that are applied in Saudi Arabia and Iran, American Muslims in a unified way, or our Islamic scholars, have never advocated for these punishments in the United States of America”, Walid said.
He blames a ‘highly-funded, well-organiezed Islamophobia network’ for projecting a wrong perception since September 11, 2001.
“And unfortunately, there have been some politicians that have taken off running with the idea that American Muslims have been trying to impose a harsh type of judicial system or punishments that are applied in very few countries in the Muslim world and in particular in Saudi Arabia and Iran. That is absolutely not the case”, Walid said.
So, what is the case then? Do Muslims advocate no new laws in the US? That is not the case too.
Imam Achmat Salie, a prayer leader at the American Muslim Diversity Association in Sterling Heights and a professor at University of Detroit Mercy, said it’s the personal law that some Muslims have been advocating for.
“The Sharia law can never trump the government law that is out there. But if I divide my inheritance (property), I want to divide it the way Koran wants. If I want to get married, I want to get married by Muslim rites and go through a separation by Muslim rites. Jewish people want that. Muslims want it. Hindus want it. Catholics want that. There is Canon law for Catholics,” Salie said.
Victor Ghalib Begg makes a similar argument.
“There are courts in this country (arbitration courts) within the Jewish community, within the Mormon community, there is Canon laws that people are somehow using in Catholic churches to resolve issues,” Begg said
And Oakland University student Faiz Ahmed believes in raising his hands as long as it doesn’t touch somebody’s nose.
“As long as it does not harm somebody else’s rights. We are not saying anybody else should be forced to follow our law. No,” Ahmed said.
And for those who argue that Muslims want harsh punishments in the US, Dawud Walid has a challenge:
“If they can name five prominent Islamic leaders in the USA that have advocated for the legalization of polygamy or for chopping off hands of habitual thieves then I will retract my statement”, Walid said.