All over the liberal media, most notably at HuffPo, the drive continues to argue that Islam is not responsible for anything bad. Frequently this is done by saying that it’s merely a flawed interpretation of Islam, such as the way ISIS construes it, that leads to bad stuff. This presumes, of course, that there’s a “correct” way to interpret the words of the Qur’an and the hadith.
But that’s mendacious, for if religion causes people to do bad things that they wouldn’t have done otherwise, then one can pin those bad things on religion. Yes, I recognize that sometimes religion is just a convenient excuse for people to work out their hostilities that arise from other causes. But some acts, like trying to get creationism taught in the schools, trying to ban abortions, and valuing the worth of a woman’s testimony as only half of a man’s (a staple of sharia law that comes straight from the Qur’an) are so closely tied to religion that you’d have to be a blinkered apologist to deny the influence of faith.
But denial is the order of the day, and when that denial comes from the Left it represents collusion with oppression and irrationality. The leftish newspaper The Washington Post has just published a piece that would fit very nicely over at HuffPo, whose religion page is such a model for whitewashing Islam that its editor could have been Resa Aslan.
The new and Aslan-ian Post piece, “Five myths about sharia,” is by Asifa Quraishi-Landes, an associate professor of law at the University of Wisconsin law school, specializing in “comparative Islamic and U.S.constitutional law, with a current focus on modern Islamic constitutional theory.” As her website notes:
Currently, she is working on “A New Theory of Islamic Constitutionalism: Not Secular. Not Theocratic. Not Impossible.” This project seeks to articulate a new constitutional framework for Muslim majority countries that will answer both the Muslim impulse for a sharia-based government, as well as secular concerns that a non-theocratic system is important in order to respect human and civil rights.
Good luck with that, Dr. Quraishi-Landes. Given the clash between sharia law and human and civil rights, your task will be a hard one.
At any rate, Quraishi-Landes’s piece in the Post, with its five “myths” about sharia law, is an exercise in both confirmation bias and mendacity, flying in the face of all the data on sharia—particularly that revealed by the 2013 Pew Poll on the beliefs of Muslims worldwide. Her overall tenet is that sharia law, which most Muslims see as the revealed word of God, differs from its human interpretation, called “fiqh.” So therefore, sharia isn’t really a “law.” In the following discussion of the five “myths” about sharia, which I’ve put in bold, Quraishi-Landes’s words are indented, while my comments are flush left.
- Sharia is “Islamic law.”
But sharia isn’t even “law” in the sense that we in the West understand it. And most devout Muslims who embrace sharia conceptually don’t think of it as a substitute for civil law. Sharia is not a book of statutes or judicial precedent imposed by a government, and it’s not a set of regulations adjudicated in court. Rather, it is a body of Koran-based guidance that points Muslims toward living an Islamic life. It doesn’t come from the state, and it doesn’t even come in one book or a single collection of rules. Sharia is divine and philosophical. The human interpretation of sharia is called “fiqh,” or Islamic rules of right action, created by individual scholars based on the Koran and hadith (stories of the prophet Muhammad’s life). Fiqh literally means “understanding” — and its many different schools of thought illustrate that scholars knew they didn’t speak for God.
Fiqh distinguishes between the spiritual value of an action (how God sees it) and the worldly value of that action (how it affects others).
This is a distinction without much difference. It’s as if you can’t blame Christianity for denying rights to gays or leading to the murder of abortion doctors, because that’s just one human interpretation of scripture, and others dissent. But of course some adherents to Christianity do interpret the Bible in a way that fosters discrimination and bigotry.
The problem is that the difference between fiqh and sharia seems to be lost on many Muslims, who want the principles of sharia to indeed be the law in their land—or elsewhere. Granted, sometimes Muslims don’t think sharia should apply to non-Muslims (but often do), and sometimes they think it should be restricted to family affairs, including inheritance and marriage (but many argue it should go beyond that, into criminal law involving stoning for adultery, corporal punishment for criminals, the killing of apostates and non-Muslims, and so on). Are the Muslims in the Pew graphs below simply confused?
Why is everybody ignoring these data, which were collected by an organization sympathetic to religion? Further, the data don’t include countries like Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Yemen, and Iran—countries that have put sharia law into force.
- In Muslim countries, sharia is the law of the land.
I am baffled as to why this is a “myth,” for what Quraishi-Landes says implies that it’s often a fact, though she seems to blame the implementation of sharia law on—yes, you guessed it—colonialism! Her words:
While it’s true that sharia influences the legal codes in most Muslim-majority countries, those codes have been shaped by a lot of things, including, most powerfully, European colonialism. France, England and others imposed nation-state models on nearly every Muslim-majority land, inadvertently joining the crown and the faith. In pre-modern Muslim lands, fiqh authority was separate from the governing authority, or siyasa. Colonialism centralized law with the state, a system that carried over when these countries regained independence.
When Muslim political movements, such as Jamaat-e-Islami in Pakistan or the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, have looked to codify sharia in their countries, they have done so without any attention to the classical separation of fiqh and siyasa, instead continuing the legal centralization of the European nation-state. That’s why these movements look to legislate sharia — they want centralized laws for everything. But by using state power to force particular religious doctrines upon the public, they would essentially create Muslim theocracies, contrary to what existed for most of Muslim history.
But what we’re concerned with is not what existed over most of Muslim history (although Muslim-controlled states historically disenfranchised non-Muslims), but what is happening now. And what the data show is that many, many Muslims want sharia enshrined as the law of the land, and a non-trivial subset of these want it applied to both Muslims and non-Muslims.
- Sharia is anti-woman.
Seriously? That’s a myth? I reproduce Quraishi-Landes’s section in its entirety, with my emphases put in bold:
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali American, former member of the Dutch parliament and one of the most visible critics of Islam, says that Islamic law “is inherently hostile to women” because of its marriage laws, among other reasons. Many Westerners see Muslim women’s headcover as a kind of oppression. This year, for instance, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls endorsed his country’s effort to ban the hijab on university campuses, calling it a symbol of the “enslavement of women.” There is a verse in the Koran that holds that men are the “protectors” of women, but many contemporary scholars dispute the notion that this suggests women must obey men or that women are inferior.
While it’s true that many majority-Muslim societies have laws that treat women unfairly, many of these laws, like Saudi Arabia’s ban on female drivers, have no basis in fiqh. In instances where there is a fiqh origin for modern legislation, that legislation often cherry-picks certain rules, including more woman-affirming interpretations. And on a range of issues, Islam can fairly be described as feminist. Fiqh scholars, for instance, have concluded that women have the right to orgasm during sex and to fight in combat. (Women fought alongside the prophet Muhammad himself.) Fiqh can also be interpreted as pro-choice, with certain scholars positing that although abortion is forbidden, first-trimester abortions are not punishable.
Fiqh doctrine says a woman’s property, held exclusively in her name, cannot be appropriated by her husband, brother or father. (For centuries, this stood in stark contrast with the property rights of women in Europe.) Muslim women in America are sometimes shocked to find that, even though they were careful to list their assets as separate, those can be considered joint assets after marriage.
To be sure, there are patriarchal rules in fiqh, and many of these are legislated in modern Muslim-majority countries. For example, women in Iran can’t run for president or attend men’s soccer matches. But these rules are human interpretations, not sharia.
To be sure, to be sure, to be sure. . . And of course yes, some scholars are more pro-women than others, but does that mean that the entire Muslim world under sharia law would be a paradise of feminism? Somehow I doubt it.
And, of course, Quraishi-Landes continues her insistence that it’s not sharia, but fiqh that oppresses women. And that’s only the human interpretation, not the god-given laws of sharia!
With that, though, Quraishi-Landes turns black into white by saying that “on a range of issues, Islam can fairly be described as feminist.” There is no word about the many feminists who fight against the oppression of Islam, about the forced genital mutilation approved or mandated by many imams, about the morality police in Afghanistan and Iran who beat women not properly clothed or veiled, about the inability of women to go out alone without a male relative or guardian, and so on. But even if that’s true, well, that’s just fiqh!
As for beliefs about divorce and inheritance, do the data below show that sharia is pro-woman? You’d have to squint pretty hard to get that interpretation:
- Islam demands brutal punishments.
Myth? Yes, of course, because it’s not sharia to blame, but fiqh. Read and weep (my emphasis):
The faith’s reputation for savagely punishing lawbreakers — with stoning, flogging, etc. — is so prevalent that even Disney’s 1992 film “Aladdin” made light of cutting off thieves’ hands. It doesn’t help that the Islamic State routinely kills innocents for all sorts of perceived transgressions, despite the Koran’s prohibition of wanton violence: It forbids attacks on civilians, property, houses of worship and even animals.
In the same way that the Ku Klux Klan’s tactics are a poor representation of Christian practice (despite its claims to be a Christian organization), the Islamic State is the worst place to look to understand what sharia says about punishment and the treatment of innocents and prisoners. It’s true that sharia permits harsh corporal punishment, including amputation of limbs, but fiqh restricts its application. Theft, for example, doesn’t include anything stolen out of hunger or items of low value. (That piece of fruit Jasmine “stole” in “Aladdin” certainly wouldn’t qualify.) Adultery? Yes, corporal punishment for extramarital sex is Koranic in origin, but it comes with an extremely high evidentiary burden of proof: four eye-witnesses. It’s a sin but not one that is the business of the state to punish.
Look at the Pew data below, which of course do not come from the Islamic state, but from surveys of Muslims—in this case, Muslims who want sharia as the law of the land! (And don’t forget, data from Saudi Arabia, Iran, Yemen, Sudan, and Syria weren’t included.)
The most offensive part of Quraishi-Landes’s argument is the part in bold above: “Yes, corporal punishment for extramarital sex is Koranic in origin, but it comes with an extremely high evidentiary burden of proof: four eye-witnesses. It’s a sin but not one that is the business of the state to punish.” You can read the relevant law here. It may be true that to convict someone for extramarital sex you need to have the testimony of four witnesses (for some reason Qurashi-Landes omits that these must be male witnesses), but it’s also true that to convict a man of rape you also need four male eyewitnesses. That is a huge evidentiary burden, especially since Islamic law gives priority to eyewitness testimony over forensic evidence such as DNA. What’s even worse is what has happened recently: if a woman says she was raped, and there are not four male eyewitnesses to support her and testify on her behalf (good luck with that!), then she is in effect testifying to having either premarital or extramarital sex, and can be convicted on those grounds! You can get jailed or lashed for saying you were raped! Such is Qur’anic law.
By pretending that sharia law promotes feminism, Qurashi-Landes gives up all pretense at objectivity. She is simply an apologist for Islam, and a liar as well. The distortion of Islamic law about adultery is perhaps the worst example of her leaving out relevant information in the service of her faith—if she is indeed faithful).
The last myth is this:
- Sharia is about conquest.
And fiqh scholars have always insisted that Muslims in non-Muslim lands must obey the laws of those lands and do no harm within host countries. If local law conflicts with Muslims’ sharia obligations? Some scholars say they should emigrate; others allow them to stay. But none advocate violence or a takeover of those governments.
It’s possible that Quraishi-Landes is right—that no Muslim fiqh scholars advocate governmental takeover. But certainly many Muslim theologians and religious leaders advocate a caliphate and jihad, urging takeovers of non-Muslim land and the imposition of sharia law. Who do the Muslims of Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and other Muslim-majority lands listen to: scholars or imams?
Frankly, I don’t care much whether sharia is about conquest. What I’m concerned with are those branches of Islam that are about conquest, and there are too many of them.
Quraishi-Landes is, in my view, contemptible, for she simply distorts sharia law to make it seem friendly to Enlightenment and Western values. That’s not scholarship but propaganda, and confirmation bias. More important, it’s dangerous.
If only Hitchens or Orwell were hear to read and denounce this kind of apologetic doublespeak!