In recent years the New York Times has published more than its share of slippery apologias for Islam, but the op-ed it ran on September 2 in defense of sharia law was not only slippery but curiously feeble as well. Eliyahu Stern, an assistant professor of religious studies and history at Yale, harshly criticized the attempts currently underway in over a dozen U.S. states to pass legislation prohibiting the introduction in those jurisdictions of sharia courts. “Some of these efforts,” Stern lamented, “would curtail Muslims from settling disputes over dietary laws and marriage through religious arbitration….”
What to say about this? First, let’s be clear that even a sharia court whose authority was strictly confined to dietary and marital questions would be a matter for concern. Take marriage, for example. Under sharia, marriage is a very lopsided affair, rights-wise. A man can divorce his wife at will — all it takes is saying the words. (One sharia judge recently ruled that a brief text message from husband to wife is sufficient to end a marriage.) By contrast, a woman who wishes to split from her husband must submit to a lengthy and often very expensive process of litigation that may very well end with her being turned down and forced to return home. Under sharia, she has no automatic right to a divorce. (Indeed, under sharia she hardly has any right to anything.)
That said, however, to pretend that sharia law is concerned only with such relatively innocuous matters as dietary laws and marital quarrels is disingenuous in the extreme. Yes, some of those who are trying to introduce sharia courts in the U.S. indeed insist that they wish only to employ sharia to resolve disagreements in these and other harmless-sounding areas. But don’t fool yourself — once the door is open, the sky’s the limit. The whole premise of sharia, after all, is that it applies to everything in life — not just food and domestic quarrels. The notion of separating the state from religion is utterly alien to the spirit and the letter of sharia, which, as most readers of this site are already well aware, prescribes the death penalty for apostates, homosexuals, and adulteresses — and that’s just for starters.
Just take a glance at these excerpts from the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam, ratified in 1990 by representatives of most of the world’s Muslim nations. They make it clear that, in Islam, sharia is all — its authority is universal and eternal, and it trumps any non-Islamic notion of human rights:
- Safety from bodily harm is a guaranteed right. It is the duty of the state to safeguard it, and it is prohibited to breach it without a Shari’ah-prescribed reason.
- Every man shall have the right, within the framework of the Shari’ah, to free movement….
- Everyone shall have the right to enjoy the fruits of his scientific, literary, artistic or technical labour of which he is the author; and he shall have the right to the protection of his moral and material interests stemming therefrom, provided it is not contrary to the principles of the Shari’ah.
- There shall be no crime or punishment except as provided for in the Shari’ah.
- Everyone shall have the right to express his opinion freely in such manner as would not be contrary to the principles of the Shari’ah.
- All the rights and freedoms stipulated in this Declaration are subject to the Islamic Shari’ah.
- The Islamic Shari’ah is the only source of reference for the explanation or clarification of any of the articles of this Declaration.
The Cairo Declaration, it should be noted, was a response to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Muslim countries rejected because it was inconsistent with sharia law. If Muslim leaders acknowledge that sharia is incompatible with Western concepts of human rights, why can’t Professor Stern acknowledge it, too?
Anti-sharia laws, claimed Stern, would “stigmatiz[e] Islamic life.” No, they would recognize the reality of sharia law. Stern dismissed Newt Gingrich’s description of sharia as “a mortal threat to the survival of freedom in the United States,” claiming that “[t]he crusade against Shariah undermines American democracy, ignores our country’s successful history of religious tolerance and assimilation, and creates a dangerous divide between America and its fastest-growing religious minority.” But how does a crusade against a blindingly un-democratic system of law undermine democracy? How can banning a law built on intolerance and religious separatism constitute a blow to tolerance and assimilation? One object of sharia is to reinforce the “divide” between Muslims and infidels — how would prohibiting it create “a dangerous divide”? Every one of Stern’s arguments is precisely 180 degrees away from the truth.
If Stern had wanted to make a serious case that concern about the introduction of sharia in the United States is without foundation, the natural approach would have been to set out to demonstrate that sharia law is nothing to worry about. But, apparently recognizing that sharia is, in fact, very worrisome indeed, Stern took a different, and familiar, tack: He contended that to be concerned about sharia is, quite simply, to be a bigot. “The suggestion that Shariah threatens American security,” he wrote, “is disturbingly reminiscent of the accusation, in 19th-century Europe, that Jewish religious law was seditious. In 1807, Napoleon convened an assembly of rabbinic authorities to address the question of whether Jewish law prevented Jews from being loyal citizens of the republic. (They said that it did not.)” Stern proceeded to go on at length about the history of nineteenth-century European concern about Jewish law — all of which was utterly irrelevant to the issue at hand. It seemed obvious that Stern was focusing on this history because he knew that if he had, instead, taken an honest look at sharia law, he would have defeated his own case.
Of course, what Stern was serving up here was the familiar (and absurd) conceit that in the Western world today, Muslims are what Jews used to be — the supreme victims of unjust prejudice from all quarters. No, Muslims are not the Jews of today; on the contrary, in both Europe and North America, everybody from writers, journalists, and professors to politicians, judges, and police officials tend to tiptoe around explosive truths about Islam in order to avoid offending adherents of the faith — a courtesy that these same parties extend to no one else, certainly not Jews. (Consider, for example, the staggering refusal of military officials and others to recognize the Fort Hood massacre as an act of jihad.) Meanwhile, these same parties who are so worried about offending Muslim sensitivities do not hesitate, at least in Europe, to lash out at Jews and Israel at every opportunity. Anti-Semitic bigotry — both by Muslims and by ethnic Europeans — is, now as then, Europe’s prejudice du jour.
Stern went on to celebrate the fact that twentieth-century America was built on “a Judeo-Christian ethic, respecting differences and accentuating commonalities among Jews, Catholics and Protestants,” and to argue that today that Judeo-Christian ethic needs to be expanded into “an Abrahamic ethic that welcomes Islam into the religious tapestry of American life.” All of which sounds very lovely — until you actually read the Koran and understand that Muslims are expected to regard it as having literally been dictated by Allah, expected to consider even the most brutal of its directives as binding on believers for all eternity, and expected to take to their hearts the repeated injunctions not to befriend infidels and the multitudinous exhortations to exult in the eternal torment that awaits Christians and Jews in the afterlife.
Stern further argued that forbidding sharia law in the U.S. would amount to “legally sanctioned discrimination.” No, what would amount to discrimination would be accepting the idea of one law for Muslims and another law for everyone else. (And sharia law itself, of course, with its systematic subordination of women to men — in a sharia court, a women’s testimony is worth half a man’s — is by its very nature discriminatory.) And he suggested that this campaign against sharia courts in the U.S. is rooted in the notion “that American Muslims are akin to certain extreme Muslim groups in the Middle East and in Europe.” Stern dismissed this concern, arguing that “American Muslims are a different story.”
But this, too, is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter whether a given set of Muslims are terrorists or the most peaceable of people; sharia is sharia. A majority of American Muslims may well be well integrated and personally tolerant — but sharia law neither assimilates nor tolerates. Stern appeared to be admitting as much when he maintained that American Muslims, in time, “will adjust their legal and theological traditions, if necessary, to accord with American values.” Well, let’s wait and see. But until it happens, why allow sharia courts to operate within the borders of a free and democratic republic?
“Anti-Shariah legislation,” Stern warned, “fosters a hostile environment that will stymie the growth of America’s tolerant strand of Islam.” But he’s got it precisely backwards. There’s nothing whatsoever “tolerant” about sharia. Why should banning a system of law that is intolerance itself hinder the growth of a tolerant Islam? Stern concluded: “The continuation of America’s pluralistic religious tradition depends on the ability to distinguish between punishing groups that support terror and blaming terrorist activities on a faith that represents roughly a quarter of the world’s population.” Once again, Stern was avoiding the real subject: this isn’t about terrorism, it’s about sharia law. And yes, while only a tiny minority of Muslims commit terrorism, sharia law applies to everyone.
Stern’s article, as it happens, came a day after the website of the Norwegian journal Minerva reported on a debate about Islam and secular society that had taken place on Facebook and been reposted on the website of IslamNet, Norway’s largest Muslim organization. The debate began with a posting by one Mohamed Abdishazan to the effect that much of sharia “belongs to a specific time in our history (during the prophet’s life)” and that today there is a need to separate “religion and politics” and to “reform” Islam’s approach to human rights.
This brought a furious reply from Fahad Qureshi, head of IslamNet: “so you think that Allah (PBUH)’s religion in its original form does not possess human rights? You know that this is kufr [infidel thinking]…and if this is so then you are a kafir [infidel] according the ijma of Ahlus Sunnah wal Jama’ah [i.e. according to Muslim scholars].”
Qureshi was far from alone in being enraged at Abdishazan. Somebody calling himself Al Suhaymin rejected the idea of a country not ruled by sharia; Fatima Al-Noor warned that “one can NOT deny Allah’s laws just because we do not see the wisdom behind these laws, or perhaps because these laws don’t suit a kuffar [infidel] society. Allah’s laws are meant for all time….to say that I am against them and want a change is KUFR!”
For good measure, Qureshi cited a fatwa in which the Saudi Arabian salafist Shaykh Ul Islam Abdulazeez ibn Baaz (1910-99) had written that sharia laws “may not be rejected by anyone, nor may they be altered…whoever claims that something else is better is a disbeliever, as is the one who claims that it is permissible to act in defiance to it…it is a duty of those placed in authority to order him to turn to Allah in repentance if he is a Muslim; he either does so or he should be killed as a disbelieving apostate from Islam.” Ibn Baaz’s fatwa quoted from the hadith (sayings of Muhammed): “Whoever changes his religion, kill him.” That’s sharia in a nutshell, folks.
The IslamNet debate was illuminating in several ways. Abdishazan’s postings made it clear that there are Muslims in the West who do indeed want to be free of the dread yoke of sharia; the postings by Qureshi and his supporters made it clear that there is, at the same time, a good deal of support for sharia in Western Muslim communities. (A survey a few years back showed that no fewer than forty percent of British Muslims would like to see sharia law implemented in the UK.) And all of the postings showed that the participants on both side of this debate know very well what sharia law is. Whether they support it or not, they recognize very clearly that it’s incompatible with secular democracy and with a Western conception of human rights.
What’s Professor Stern’s problem, then? Surely he doesn’t fail to understand the truth about sharia that all these Muslims on IslamNet obviously understand? Surely his comment about Muslims “adjust[ing] their legal and theological traditions…to accord with American values” indicates that he is well aware of the incompatibility of sharia with secular democracy? Why, then, go to such awkward and feeble lengths to argue for its introduction into the U.S.? The answer lies in the inscrutable motives of the dhimmi — the bemusing readiness to betray the very best of the West in order to placate the very worst in Islam. How fortunate for the New York Times to have found yet another kindred spirit in the hollowed halls of old Eli!
Editor’s Note: See PJ columnist Barry Rubin for more on this story.