The Islam Dichotomy, Part 2: Sharia in America

Terrorism is one thing that non-Muslims fear about Muslims, but there is another Arabic word besides “jihad” that has begun to make the rounds. Is the implementation of Sharia in the United States a credible threat?

Sharia in the UK

The fear of Sharia taking over the West is one that stems from the words and actions of certain Western European Muslims, notably those who reside in what is known as Londonistan. Although they are far from a majority, there is a vocal minority of Muslims in Western European countries who want to implement Islamic law in the areas in which they live. Western born, raised, and educated, many of them see what their parents think of as “back home” as not home at all and want their home, i.e. whichever part of Western Europe in which they live, to better reflect their version of Islamic values.

The Muslims that call for the implementation of their interpretation of Sharia law are a problem not only for non-Muslims, but for anyone who isn’t the exact same sort of Muslim that they are. All people who are interested in maintaining a society with religious and social freedom would likely not want to live in the type of country that people like Anjem Choudary would like to run. Naturally, just because people like Choudary call for Sharia law in Western countries does not necessarily mean that they are a credible threat.

One real issue is the implementation of legally-recognized tribunals in the United Kingdom that abide by Sharia rather than British law. Such tribunals exist for other religious groups as well, but there are some valid concerns over Sharia-based tribunals’ potential for human rights violations, especially against women. Though some prominent Britons have argued that allowing for them means more transparency and potential for integration for British Muslims, the fact that Islamic law especially discriminates against women is cause for concern–

for members of the Muslim community. Such tribunals’ decisions do not apply to non-Muslims (unless those non-Muslims were to seek them). Even with the real implementation of Sharia to some extent in the UK, then, alarm over the potential for Sharia being applied to non-Muslims with no affiliation to the Muslims community is a tad overblown. It is far more of an intracommunity issue  and one worthy of addressing in the interests of protecting more secular Muslims and ex-Muslims, but not quite as much for the people who seem most invested in being frightened of it.

Sharia in the United States?

The trouble with Islam is that to most Westerners, especially Americans, think of Islam as if it were some monolithic body, and, by extension, that Muslims have unanimous and identical opinions, when the reality is that there is quite a bit of diversity among Muslims. It’s also very stereotypically American to espouse an us-and-them point of view when it comes to issues, not to mention the fact that things have worsened post 9-11. Part of the problem for Islam in particular is that, for a variety of reasons, most Muslims like to present a united front for non-Muslim eyes, a topic worthy of its own (yes, upcoming) post.

People conflate British and American Muslims when they accuse the latter group of implementing Sharia just for wanting to build an Islamic center (remember Park51?).

The statistics on American Muslims show a population that is well-educatedmonied, and professional. Generally speaking, then, American Muslims are people who left countries with laws based on Sharia in order to flourish in a country where the laws are (ostensibly) based on secular values.

Logically speaking, why would people like that support the implementation of Islamic law? Short answer: they don’t. Despite fear-mongering over reality television and unconstitutional efforts to ban Sharia, there has not been any documented effort on the part of American Muslims to implement Sharia in the United States. As even someone who protested the aforementioned reality show admitted, non-Muslim Americans are not called infidels nor discriminated against for disbelieving in Islam.

Furthermore, even if American Muslims were to rally for Sharia implementation in the United States, they would find no way to do so outside of outright disobedience of the law or influencing the government in a way that would be out of reach for their particular demographic. Unlike the United Kingdom, the United States does not allow for separate legal tribunals, so even policing the Muslim community internally using Sharia would not be legally viable for American Muslims.

Fear of Sharia implementation by American Muslims can blind Americans committed to secularism to a real threat. The most powerful force in favor of the implementation of religion-based law in the United States is the Christian Right, not Islam.

Conclusion: Neither Peace Nor Pieces

None of the Abrahamic faiths can claim to have a fully peaceful history and implementation; Islam is no exception.

While terrorism affects non-Muslims and there do exist some Muslims who wish to implement Sharia law over non-Muslims, the biggest threat certain interpretations of Islam present is to Islam’s current and former followers. Most terrorist acts committed by Muslims, including 9-11, kill Muslims. In the case of Al-Qaida in particular, eight times as many Muslims as non-Muslims are killed in its attacks. The Sharia-based tribunals in the United Kingdom disadvantage Muslim women and potentially endanger ex-Muslims, given Islam’s traditionally harsh stance on apostasy and the potential for an ex-Muslim to be considered a part of the Muslim community and thus under the jurisdiction of such a tribunal.

In other words, I have far more to credibly fear from not-so-peaceful Muslims than do the protesters who helped to get Lowe’s and Kayak to pull their ads from TLC.

Arguing that Islam is all violence — or all peace — not only is untrue, but causes harmful inaccuracies in the fight for a world with less in the way of terrorism and theocracy.

Main image via.

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The Islam Dichotomy, Part 2: Sharia in America
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15 thoughts on “The Islam Dichotomy, Part 2: Sharia in America

  1. 1

    As long as Halakhic courts are allowed, I don’t see why Sharia courts shouldn’t be. Same with Canon Law courts.

    The very fact that any recognition is given (often going directly against the law) to any of these is ridiculous. But to focus on Sharia courts at a time when Canon Law courts around the world and in the US are busy trying to shield child molesters is a little too rich for my blood.

  2. 2

    Heina,

    I agree with everything you wrote. Islam like Christianity has had a less than pleasant history, especially when it comes to women. That said, People need to understand that people like Anjem Choudary, as bad as he is are in the minority. As bad as Sharia Law maybe as a legal system, there’s little chance of it being fully implemented in the west, especially given the fact that the demographic jihad, or “Eurabia” conspiracy is myth.

    Islamification Myth
    http://yellow-stars.com/blog/islamification-myth/

  3. 3

    My understanding is the UK situation is actually fairly similar to the US, at least on paper. Arbitration is strictly voluntary and can’t make decisions against public policy or deal with criminal matters. You can hire a religious arbiter in the US and this is common when dealing with employment disputes for religious institutions, but generally far less popular.

    The issue in the UK is that people are being pressured into accepting arbitration. Sometimes the arbiters issue illegal rulings that against public policy. This in itself isn’t a unique problem. (For instance, see B.M. v. D.L., where a family court overturned a Judge Judy ruling because she ruled on a child custody matters, which arbiters can’t do.) The problem comes when these illegal rulings stand because the loser is unaware of their rights or is strong-armed into not exercising them. These problems are not directly related to Sharia arbitration and would just take a slightly different form without it.

    A public information campaign and some court supervision of arbitration would fix this. From what I can tell, arbiters can do family law in the UK (it’s hard to sort through the right-wing alarmist bullshit and find the truth), which I think is a bad idea. Minors can’t give consent to arbitration and kids are as much party to these things as parents. Thankfully, this is already the law in the US.

  4. 4

    Heina, thank you so much for this series of articles on Islam. The portrayals of Islam and Muslims in atheist spaces usually leave a heck of a lot to be desired, as they so often reflect the hatred and fear-mongering of larger society. I’ve also noticed quite a bit of ignorance among atheists surrounding Western imperialism and how that dovetails with all of these issues.

    So, again, thank you so much. This is a much-needed breath of fresh air. And thank you to Skepchick as well. This blog has become one of my favorite skeptic/atheist blogs on the internet.

    1. 4.1

      exactly. My problem with the standard atheist conception of Islam is that it rather unskeptically accepts the general western public conception of Islam- which is far from unbiased. Christianity is a big part of western cultural tradition and the us-vs-them mentality had centuries to steep. (That goes for both sides.) Untangling it will take some time.

  5. 5

    You accurately note that the idea of a religion of total peace or a religion of total terror are both straw man arguments used to create a false dichotomy which doesn’t help anyone get any closer to the truth. But then you take that and seem to say “And because that argument is BS, there can be no real difference between Abrahamic faiths.” To me that’s a non sequitur, but I regularly miss important details and misunderstand what people are trying to say. What am I not getting here?

    1. 5.1

      I really don’t see where you’re getting that from. Could you elaborate on the no difference between Abrahamic faiths thing a little more?

      While I agree that, generally, there are few differences of note between the three different Abrahmic branches, I don’t think anything of that sort was really brought up here outside the comparison to American Christians wanting a theocratic government as opposed to Muslims.

    2. 5.2

      I’m guessing you’re referring to this statement: “None of the Abrahamic faiths can claim to have a fully peaceful history and implementation; Islam is no exception.”

      I just meant that all of the Abrahamic faiths have their own violent histories and that Islam is one of them, not that they are all the same. I don’t see any ambivalence on the statement and am wondering where you read any.

  6. 6

    I’m glad you almost but not quite pointed out that the US’s reactionary stances are born out of fear, like somehow the US far-right conservatives are afraid that Isam will replace Christianity as the One True Conservatism.

    Is there any functional difference to an Islamic Center and a Mosque? I really only know what ‘Christian Centers’ are, and that’s a glorified Sunday school, church, and small religious library. Wonder if Islamic centers are much different.

    1. 6.1

      Generally speaking, a mosque is a place of prayer, and an Islamic center is a place that often includes a place to pray (i.e. a mosque) but whose function is not limited to that.

      There are overlaps, of course, but there it is.

  7. 7

    ” don’t see any ambivalence on the statement and am wondering where you read any.” Because I don’t get enough sleep and have poor reading comprehension is certainly an option.

    I guess I misunderstood the overall tone of the two parts. It seemed to me that you were saying all the Abrahamic faiths are roughly the same in their histories of violence, and no real real harm X from faith Y comparison can be made, and the reason people think Islam is much worse or much better is because they just don’t know the subject very well.

    Apparently, judging for the responses to my comments on both, I’m consistently misunderstanding what you are saying.

    1. 7.1

      “It seemed to me that you were saying all the Abrahamic faiths are roughly the same in their histories of violence, and no real real harm X from faith Y comparison can be made, and the reason people think Islam is much worse or much better is because they just don’t know the subject very well.”

      I think you’re reading far more into what I wrote than what I put in there.

      I didn’t say that they were the same at any point. I just meant precisely what I said: that all of the three Abrahamic faiths have a violent history. No more, no less.

  8. 8

    The whole thing about “creeping Sharia” is so silly it’s beyond words. You could have replaced every instance of the word “Islam: in this post with “Jews” or “Judaism” and you’d have had the same thing.

    The issue of presenting a united front is also rather similar, in that regard. It is only recently that Jews in the US became “white” (and I think it is similar in the UK, though I understand there’s a bit different history there). For Muslims, the fact that it is “browner” people practicing in the US hasn’t helped matters. Same in the UK.

    There is a class difference, tho. In the US most of the immigration — at least until the last few years — was a relatively small class of professionals, the kind of people with degrees (or who knew how to navigate the systems and get them). In the UK as I understand it it is a more working-class crowd. Religious practice in the working class group tends to be more conservative on some issues (see Catholicism in the US as exhibit A — Bostonian Irish Catholics whose people came post-famine are still ticked about Vatican II). But even with that, there are reasons that people choose — yes choose — to be that way, and they aren’t all good reasons, but they are at least understandable.

    I’d also argue that the issue of integrating Muslims of any stripe into ordinary life in any country has less to do with “them” and more to do with “us.”

    That is, if you make someone feel absolutely unwelcome, if you tell them their faith is just evil, that their people are the enemy, that they are subhuman savages and too bad the Brits aren’t still ruling, and deride them as primitives, well, why the hell should they be invested in the society at all? Essentially, you’re stuck in a place that even if you were born there, tells you every day you are worthless. So you say “wow, I want to assimilate with these people who hate my guts?” That makes no sense whatsoever. Treat people like garbage and they will return the favor.

    (As an example, ever notice that whenever the news people are discussing Yemen or Libya or Iraq, it’s all about “tribes.” When the white Yugoslavians were busy killing each other, they were “nationalist.” So the message is: you are a bunch of primitives).

    Christ on a cracker, has it occurred to anyone that unless Muslims were a solid majority in a western country, there really is no way to impose anything on anyone? And they would have to be a huge majority — like 80 percent at least. (In countries more evenly divided than that, nobody has been able to impose much on anyone for long, without the whole thing crashing into violence. See: Lebanon, where first a Christian minority tried to impose itself on a Muslim majority, then the reverse happened. Neither worked). For that majority to happen will take a long while, even if birth rates among Muslims translated exactly into an increase in practitioners, and even if there were no immigrants from anywhere else, and even if every other demographic were shrinking at an equal rate.

    The whole creeping sharia meme is based on a movie-plot level of understanding of politics and the way social change happens.

    I mean WTF? Do people think one day the US will approve a sharia court somewhere and suddenly everyone will be getting married at 12 and forced to go to a mosque five times a day? That Congress and the local cops will suddenly say “bwahahahaha! Our sleeper cells will now arise! and a bunch of bearded dudes will come running out of some secret base? It’s an ahistorical and cartoonish understanding of the world, at an even lower level than a Superfriends plot, and the fact that Heina has to explain this to anyone scares me more than anything else.

  9. 9

    Heina –

    Very interesting post, and I appreciate the time and effort that went into writing it and compiling the sources. One quibble – and that is with your premise.

    Your conclusion, and that of many of the commenters, is correct in my view – there is no chance of sharia implementation in the United States. And while some ignorant (but likely well meaning) people may be suggesting that as a possibility, as long as we are a nation governed by a our constitution, separation of church and state prevents that possibility.

    You also correctly note that many westerners see Islam as a monolithic body, however they get that idea from Muslims themselves. If I had a dime for every “Muslim scholar” I’ve heard say “Islam is not about X” or “Islam is Y” I could buy an iPhone without a 20 year AT&T contract.

    All good stuff, and for those who haven’t studied Islam or been to a Muslim country for any period of time, it’s probably newsworthy. But here’s my quibble – no serious person is concerned about Christians/Jews/atheists in the US being subjected to sharia law. They’re concerned about Muslims being subjected to sharia law in the US.

    It’s interesting, however, how you spin the salient point “there are some valid concerns over Sharia-based tribunals’ potential for human rights violations, especially against women.” There are “concerns”…is that right? Every time I click to this blog I’m reading about patriarchy and privilege and awkward incidents in elevators. Those are what I would term “concerns”. Sharia law’s treatment of women is an abomination, and absolute affront to feminism and all the progress that has been made in the name of women in the US and elsewhere in the past 100 years.

    Your bio says you grew up a practicing Muslim, and while I did not, I have spent years in Muslim countries and firmly believe in telling the full truth about what happens to women. As you allude to, treatment of women is not uniform throughout the Muslim world but in large swaths of it, women are second or third class citizens not only by culture and custom but also by law.

    That they are not treated as such in the US is a victory of our liberal democracy and values. The people you describe as worried about sharia are worried about US citizens being beaten, raped, denied basic rights, and perhaps even murdered as a result of a law written in sharp contrast to our values.

    It continues to amaze me that the “feminists” writing for this website fail to acknowledge this. (And here I’m not criticizing you, but your other colleagues on this site who focus their criticism exclusively on Judeo-Christian religions.)

    To me the real Islam dichotomy is that the values of most of the Muslim world are in stark contrast to not only Judeo-Chirstian values, but secular humanist values as well. We’re arguing about gay marriage here in the US, while in Saudi Arabia all women are required by law to have a male guardian who decides for the woman issues of marriage and divorce; travel, if under 45; education; employment; opening a bank account; elective surgery, particularly when sexual in nature (but good news! As of 2008, women no longer need a man’s permission to get a job).

    One final note – something else you try to spin in its best possible light. It is true that Muslims are by and large the victims of Muslim religious violence, but that is a non-sequitor. Save one lone idiot in Norway, there are no coordinated, financed, organized groups of religious fanatics killing innocent people in the name of Christianity, or Judaism, etc. That particular dysfunction is at the moment solely Muslim. The answer is not to downplay or spin it, but understand and combat it. And to understand it means Muslims and everyone else must confront what’s written in the Koran – the primary source Bin Laden used for his speeches. You can argue he and other Islamists interpret the text incorrectly, and I might agree. But you must confront the actual words themselves because they’re there, and they’re not going away.

    1. 9.1

      “no serious person is concerned about Christians/Jews/atheists in the US being subjected to sharia law. They’re concerned about Muslims being subjected to sharia law in the US.”
      I wasn’t addressing those people, and I agree with them

      “It’s interesting, however, how you spin the salient point “there are some valid concerns over Sharia-based tribunals’ potential for human rights violations, especially against women.” There are “concerns”…is that right? Every time I click to this blog I’m reading about patriarchy and privilege and awkward incidents in elevators. Those are what I would term “concerns”. Sharia law’s treatment of women is an abomination, and absolute affront to feminism and all the progress that has been made in the name of women in the US and elsewhere in the past 100 years.”
      I was speaking to a particular instance of sharia, i.e. sharia tribunals in the UK, not sharia in general.

      “As you allude to, treatment of women is not uniform throughout the Muslim world but in large swaths of it, women are second or third class citizens not only by culture and custom but also by law.”
      I don’t disagree with that assessment; I wasn’t addressing those countries.

      “One final note – something else you try to spin in its best possible light. It is true that Muslims are by and large the victims of Muslim religious violence, but that is a non-sequitor. Save one lone idiot in Norway, there are no coordinated, financed, organized groups of religious fanatics killing innocent people in the name of Christianity, or Judaism, etc. That particular dysfunction is at the moment solely Muslim. The answer is not to downplay or spin it, but understand and combat it. And to understand it means Muslims and everyone else must confront what’s written in the Koran – the primary source Bin Laden used for his speeches. You can argue he and other Islamists interpret the text incorrectly, and I might agree. But you must confront the actual words themselves because they’re there, and they’re not going away.”
      I wasn’t trying to “spin” or “downplay” anything. My point is that those who hand-wring most about terrorism and sharia are the ones least likely to be personally affected by it.

      We agree more than you think. My piece here is about sharia and terror in a particular and highly specific context. There are lots of other ex-Muslim bloggers (Maryam Namazie, for one) who cover the atrocities of Islam in foreign countries. As a born-and-raised American who has spent a lot of time in London, I focused my writings on the American and British part of Islam. Maybe I will write about what’s wrong with Islam in some other article, but I feel that you’re criticizing me for addressing something that I wasn’t addressing at all.

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