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How Islam Apologists Like John Esposito Dupe Americans About Sharia

Does Islam itself promote hostility for and violence against non-Muslims, or are all the difficulties between the West and Islam based on secondary factors such as “radical” interpretations of Islam, economics, and other grievances?

This is the fundamental question.

Obviously, if “anti-infidel” hostility is inherent to Islam itself, then the conflict becomes existential -- a true clash of civilizations with no easy fixes and lots of ugly implications along the horizon. Because of this truism, those who whitewash Islam’s image in the West insist on the opposite: that current difficulties are temporal, and not rooted to innate Islamic teachings.

Enter Shariah: What Everyone Needs to Know, co-authored by John Esposito and Natana J. Delong-Bas. The authors’ goal is to exonerate Sharia -- which they portray as enshrining “the common good (maslahah), human dignity, social justice, and the centrality of the community” -- from Western criticism or fear, which they claim is based solely on “myth” and “sensationalism.”

In their introductory chapters, they define Sharia as being built upon the words of the Koran and the Sunna (“example”) of the Muslim prophet Muhammad as contained in sahih (canonical) hadiths. They add:

Shariah and Islamic law are not the same thing. The distinction between divine law (Shariah) and its human interpretation, application, and development (Islamic law) is important to keep in mind throughout this book …

Whereas Shariah is immutable and infallible, Islamic law (fiqh) is fallible and changeable.

Next, the authors highlight how important Sharia is to a majority of Muslims. They cite a 2013 Pew Poll which found that 69% of Muslims in the Middle East and North Africa, 73% in South Asia, and 55% in Central Asia believe that “Sharia is God’s [Allah’s] divine revelation.”

Pew found that even larger numbers “favored the establishment of Shariah as official law”: 99% in Afghanistan, 84% in South Asia, 74% in the Middle East and North Africa, and 64% in sub-Saharan Africa.

So far so good: The authors’ introductory claim (that Sharia is fundamental to Islam) and statistics (that hundreds of millions of Muslims revere Sharia and wish to see it implemented) are correct.

Now, the aforementioned question: Is Sharia itself behind the intolerance, misogyny, violence, and terrorism committed in the name of Islam?

Here, the hitherto objective authors shift gears and take on the mantle of apologists. Their thesis is simple: Any and all negative activities Muslims engage in are to be blamed on anything and everything -- as long as it’s not Sharia.

In order to support this otherwise unsupportable position, and as might be expected, the remainder of the book consists of obfuscation, dissembling, and lots and lots of contextual omissions and historical distortions. A small sampling follows.