The president of the North American Council for Muslim Women, Sharifa Alkhateeb, estimated in a 1998 study that physical violence occurred in about 10% of Muslim marriages in the United States. “The rates of verbal and emotional abuse may be as high as 50% based upon international studies and preliminary research in the US,” Alkhateeb’s website states. It is no surprise that the efforts of Alkhateeb and other Muslim advocates for women’s rights get little help from Muslim clergy. “Certainly, it is wise for our religious leaders to be cautious in not passing quick, superfluous judgment when counseling couples on domestic matters,” the al-Muslimah website complains. “However, when a Muslim sister approaches the masjid [mosque] for help, in fear of her life and that of her children, our leaders need to seriously consider the repercussions, and possible legal implications, of their advice. It is never enough for sisters in abusive relationships to be told to ‘be patient’, ‘try harder’, or ‘your reward is with Allah’.” To direct these women to Sharia courts would be a betrayal; in many cases it would reinforce the abuse.
What are we to do about an epidemic of violence against women in which the violent offenders consider themselves legally and theologically justified in their criminal behavior? Conservatives surely do not want more government intervention in family life, but the government nonetheless has an obligation to protect women against domestic violence. Even in cases where devout Muslim women acquiesce to domestic violence on Koranic grounds, the state has an obligation to protect their children against the spectacle of an abused mother. To the extent that local courts may turn a blind eye to Muslim domestic violence on the spurious grounds of cultural relativism, legislatures have an interest in directing that the dilution of individual rights under American law is unacceptable.
These are difficult questions, and it is easy to find fault with specific proposals in the anti-Sharia movement. Conservative legal scholars like Prof. George are the authorities from whom we would solicit help on such thorny matters; it is all the more distressing to hear Prof. George denounce the anti-Sharia movement, rather than advise it.
I find Prof. George’s position baffling. He wrote on the First Things website on June 5th:
Catholics have two reasons to speak out in defense of the religious freedom of Muslims, Jews, Protestants, Latter-Day Saints, and other non-Catholics, as well as their own religious freedom. The first (and more important) reason is simply that it is the right thing to do. Faith and reason bear common witness to the profound truth that religious liberty is a right held equally by all. The second reason is that the denial of religious liberty for any one group erodes the foundations of religious liberty for everyone. If you value your own religious freedom, it is prudent to defend the other guy’s religious freedom when it comes under attack. A precedent established by people in, say, Murfreesboro, Tennessee who despise Islam and see it as a pernicious force, may prove very handy to people in, say, San Francisco who have a similar attitude towards Catholicism. (I hope it goes without saying that not everyone in Murfreesboro is hostile towards Islam and not everyone in San Francisco despises Catholicism.
I stand shoulder-to-shoulder with my Catholic friends on the infringement of their religious liberty by the Obama administration. But it is very strange to see a threat to Catholic or Jewish liberty in the anti-Sharia movement, which is supported by conservatives, and disproportionately by evangelical Christians. Evangelicals are enthusiastic allies of Catholics on the matter of religious freedom against the depredations of the Obama administration. Where the religious freedom of the LDS is concerned, it should be remembered that the government continues to suppress polygamy among deviant Mormon-derived sects, asserting the protection of individuals under the law over and above a religious doctrine. If the LDS had to abandon polygamy, Muslims a fortiori should abandon wife-beating.
Here is a challenge to Muslim religious leaders: Publicly abjure Surah 4:34 of the Koran, and I personally will join you in opposing the anti-Sharia movement. Any takers? I won’t hold my breath; no Muslim religious authority has ever abjured Surah 4:34, because Muslim theology states that it is the uncreated word of God, dictated to Mohammed by the Archangel Gabriel, and to abjure this one passage would call into question the divine nature of the Koran as a whole.