Monday, March 20, 2017

Selling Sharia

Image result for institute of knowledge in diamond bar

On March 18, I attended a day-long seminar on sharia law at the Institute of Knowledge (IOK), an Islamic center In Diamond Bar, California. The event was sponsored by the Council of Islamic Scholars and ran from 10:30 to 4:30 with an hour and half lunch break. There were approximately 75-100 people in attendance, overwhelmingly Muslims. The females in the audience sat on the left and the males on the right. At the beginning, the audience was asked not to photograph  or videotape (something about the fact that they were live-streaming the event). The presenters were sheikhs and chaplains at IOK, almost all American-born.

Here is the schedule of topics:

First session

Introduction to Sharia by Sheikh Shahid Ali and Sheikh Alia Dada

Second session: 

Objectives of Sharia

 Sheikh Osman Umarji and Sheikh Mustafa Umar

Third Session

 Misconceptions of Sharia: Furhan Zubairi:

Fourth Session 

Sharia in US- Sheikh Jamaal Diwan

Final Session

Panel Questions and Answers

Questions and answers were submitted by the audience using written cards passed to the front at the end of  some of the sessions and the final session involving the entire panel of speakers.

First session: Sh. Shahid Ali and Alia Dada

Shahid Ali is the director of outreach at the IOK. Alia Dada is a graduate of Al Azhar University in Cairo, the world's most renowned Islamic university.

Ali stated that sharia, which means the direct path (to water), is more than just Islamic law . He described the scope of sharia as being:

1 Religious practice

2 Civil/criminal laws, which includes the rights of people in matters such as marriage, dress codes and penal law. He added that penal law is the smallest fraction of sharia and he used a pie chart overhead to illustrate items such as worship, etiquette, belief, transactions and penal law. He compared it to talking about capital punishment in the US as being a tiny part of the whole scope of America.

As for sources of sharia, they are:

1 Koran, which is the direct word from God

Alia Dada added that less than 10% of the Koran-some 350 verses- is dedicated to "direct legal implications".

2 Sunnah (statements, actions and approval of the Prophet Mohammad)

3 Analogy (qiyas).

This refers to new laws as the world changes over time. An example would be a prohibition on marijuana. Since alcohol is prohibited in the Koran as an intoxicant, marijuana would also be prohibited for the same reason.

4 Consensus of scholars Of course, the obvious question stressed by Ali is how do you get all these scholars spread out all over the world to agree. That is handled by Fiqh councils in regions like the US, Asia, Europe etc.

It was also mentioned that there are disagreements and ambiguities. For example, is the language metaphoric or literal? What is the strength of proof? My question, which I sent up front, was if sharia were implemented in the US, would it apply only to Muslims or to everyone? That question was held for a later session.

Ali asked how sharia got such a bad name in the West and blamed the media (specifically Fox News). He added that, yes, Islam had capital punishment and added that Muslims don't hide that fact. He stated that you also find references to cutting off of hands and stoning in the Bible.

Second Session: Objectives of Sharia

Sh. Mustafa Umar, former imam of Anaheim mosque and Sh. Osman Umarji. Both are UC Irvine graduates . Umarji was a past president of the Muslim Student Union at UCI and graduate of Al Azhar University. He was also imam at the Islamic Center of Corona, Calif.

In this presentation, there were references to Islamic dress codes. Umar told  how the Prophet Mohammad had decided not to rebuild the Kaaba in Mecca as the Pagans had previously done. (The Kaaba was believed to have been built by Abraham.) Mohammad felt that it would be wrong to rebuild it. (That struck me as ironic considering the mosques built over previous churches and Jewish temples.)

There was also mention of "concessions from hardships"; that is, for example when Muslims are traveling and unable to completely fulfill the prayer requirements or are physically unable to kneel down.

The principal objectives were listed as:

Preservation of life, faith, intellect, lineage or honor, wealth. This is covered under the term, Maqasid (goals or purposes), which they cautioned Islamic jurists must fully understand in order not to make serious errors ( I am paraphrasing.)

My question was how apostasy fits into the 5 "preservations". Umarji answered that it fit into the preservation of faith and explained how apostasy could be considered as treason. The specific (and only example) he used was if a person feigned conversion to Islam in order to infiltrate and gain knowledge then leave the faith. Then, he added, death would be appropriate punishment. (Again, I am paraphrasing.)

Third session- Misconceptions of sharia

This was led by Furhan Zubairi, a director at IOK.  He was born in India and graduated from UC "Irvine. He began by showing a film clip of a movie entitled, " Escape: Human Cargo, which shows a mob scene in which a man's hand is amputated for some transgression. Zubairi told us that this was a common perception of Islam and sharia in the West. He said this contributed to an irrational fear that has led to several states passing anti-sharia laws to stop "creeping sharia", which he termed as ridiculous.  He referred to a misconception that sharia consists of harsh punishments specifically in reference to hudud sharia. Zubairi said that hudud (fixed punishments for crimes against God) was a tiny portion of sharia. Less than 20% of Islamic law is devoted to punishment, most of it is devoted to rules of worship, and 30% is devoted to civil matters. According to Zubairi, 5% is devoted to criminal law and less than that would be hudud.

Zubairi went to say that societies need a system of government and laws. All societies have both civil and criminal law.

Comment: Yes, but do laws have to be religiously-based?

Continuing, Zubairi said that criminal law in sharia concentrates on prevention, punishment, rehabilitation and forgiveness.

As for hudud, this, according to Zubairi, is based on the Koran and the Sunna. It is fixed and divinely ordained punishment.

Hudud is the plural of hadd, which means "boundary". There are 5 main punishments under hudud as explained by Zubairi.

1 illicit sex
2 falsely accusing one of illicit sex
3 theft
4 drinking alcohol
5 highway robbery

More in detail:

1 Illicit sex

There are two categories, according to Zubairi, adultery involving sex outside of marriage by one or both who are married, and fornication by unmarried persons.

According to Zubairi, the punishment for fornication is 100 lashes each, which is mandated in sura 24: verse 2.

Adultery is punished by stoning.

2 False accusation of illicit sex- 80 lashes per sura 24: verse 4.

3 Theft- Punishment is cutting off of hand per sura 5: verse 38.

4 Drinking- 80 lashes

5 Highway Robbery: death- especially if accompanied by killing.

Zubairi then addressed the question of how these punishments are carried out in practice.

A key here is the concept of God's mercy. As a result, there are three elements to consider:

1 Burden of proof, which is very high
2 doubt or the slightest ambiguity
3 Concealing private affairs. (Muslims should not be spying on the private affairs of others.)

First, the greater the crime, the higher is the burden of proof. It requires confession and 4 male witnesses. In addition, the confession must be done before the judge 4 separate times. Zubairi also said that a judge will actively lead the defendant away from his or her confession. This is based on an incident with the Prophet Mohammad in which a man came to him and confessed to adultery. Mohammad reportedly sent the man way repeatedly until the 4th time when the man again came and confessed his act. At that time, the man was stoned.

Zubairi also added that in cases of illicit sex, having four male witnesses is practically impossible. Zubairi also told of a pregnant woman who came to Mohammad and confessed to adultery. He sent her away until she had her child. When she returned and repeated the confession, he told her to go and care for the child. Later, after she returned and confessed again, the punishment (stoning) was carried out.

Interestingly, prostitution was not subject to hudud because of what Zubairi described as structural similarities between marriage and prostitution (exchange of money).

As for people who could not be convicted because of the high standards required,  judges have what he called "discretionary punishments", which were lesser punishments that could be meted out.

So, if such high standards existed, why have these punishments at all, Zubairi asked.  Deterrence.

Zubairi conceded that in the modern mind, these punishments seem cruel and barbaric. He then referred to a paper written by Georgetown Professor of Middle East Studies Jonathan Brown. (also of the Talal Canter for Understanding at Georgetown University). Brown stated  it  is all subjective and related to a person's culture. The Western world shows arrogance in that they feel they have reached the highest levels and that others are primitive. Brown asked why corporal punishment is considered barbaric but long prison sentences are considered normal. Zubairi brought up the outrage in the US years ago when an American college student was sentenced to caning for spray painting cars in Singapore. An overhead above asked, "Who defines cruel and unusual?"

Zubairi then went on a rant criticizing the US "Prison Industrial Complex" in which disproportionate numbers of blacks and Hispanics are imprisoned, He described it as "racist" and "unjust".  He also referred us to a book called, "The New Jim Crow".

Jonathan Brown has been the subject of recent controversy when he spoke in Herndon, Virginia and seemed to justify slavery and rape within Islam.

Session Four - Islam in the US

by Sh. Jamaal Diwan

I have met Diwan on previous occasions. He is a graduate of UC San Diego, comes from Canadian-Pakistani parentage, and studied at Al Azhar University. He was previously imam at the Irvine Islamic Center. He is currently a  chaplain with IOK and serves a similar function at UCLA, USC and other universities.

Diwan's talk was based on a paper by Dr. Sherman Jackson, who is the departmental chair at USC. It concerned a Muslim's identity in the US, the US Constitution, and Shariah. In summary, Jackson embraced the US Constitution, while still being fully committed to sharia and renounced violence
except in case of self defense. Rather than recount everything Diwan quoted  from the paper, "Who am I and What Do I Want as an American Muslim?", it can be accessed here (Alim Program).

Panel Q and A

The speakers then returned as a group and answered questions from the cards. Among them were:

"Do you see a future for sharia courts in the US?'

That was something that would have to be negotiated, answered Diwan.

"Would sharia apply to all people or only Muslims?" (my question).

It would depend on the issue. Financial matters would apply to all. Diwan added that different religious groups in fact have their own family laws.

One of my questions about blasphemy and apostasy was also addressed. Zubairi said that apostasy is not a hudud crime and would apply only in a country governed by sharia. In a non-Muslim country, it would be between the apostate and God. In my question about the compatibility of sharia and the US Constitution as to apostasy, blasphemy or adultery, he also said that if an apostate "undermines the state or stirs up trouble",  it would be considered treason and death could apply. He did not address blasphemy. Zubairi later stated that there is no death penalty for apostasy or blasphemy. He did not address adultery. Later, Zubairi seemed to want to clarify that in regards to apostasy, everyone had the right to choose. In a Muslim state, if a person quietly converts but does not proselytize or threaten the security of the state, there should be no problem. (I am paraphrasing.) Mustafa Umar told us that the idea of a nation-state is relatively new, and that people previously did not identify by a nation, rather by their religion. Thus, Muslim scholars considered leaving Islam as harming the land they lived in.

Comment: That strikes me as outdated today.

Another questioner asked, if under Trump, what if the "worst things" happen in the states (to Muslims). Mustafa Umar addressed this question by referring to state anti-sharia measures. He said if sharia were banned, Muslims couldn't pray in their homes or bury their dead according to Islamic tradition.

My reactions

I have no negative information as to any of the persons who presented. In all, they represented their cause well with some exceptions I could nit-pick (and will).Zubairi's comments about American prisons were not appropriate to the time and place. In addition, quoting Jonathan Brown is problematic given some of his recent comments and writings. Zubairi conceded that Islam had harsh punishments (for things that are not even considered crimes in the West), a fact that could have been brought out had the audience had a chance to present their questions orally. In this country, we don't lash people or put them to death for adultery, fornication, drinking, apostasy or blasphemy. Those are all covered in sharia. That point should have been a point of discussion. In fairness, one of the speakers stated that Muslims are commanded to obey the laws of the land.

In addition, the fact that the burden of proof for convicting people of such "crimes" strikes me as irrelevant. There is no room in Western jurisprudence for such a system. The fact that 95% of sharia
may be  benign is also irrelevant. It places woman at a lower level. The fact that 4 male witnesses were required for conviction of certain crimes was repeated many times. How can we fit that into our law?

In addition, I think Umar's predictions of what would happen to Muslims if anti-sharia laws were passed were exaggerated and alarmist. Of course, they can pray in their homes and in the mosque as many times as they like. It is the issues I pointed out above that cannot be exercised because they are in contravention to our laws. Muslims can live very well in the US without punishing apostasy, blasphemy, drinking or adultery.

Here's another question from another person who attended: If sharia is coming from God and is perfect, should it not supplant US law? That question was never addressed. It goes to the entire question of a separation between religion and the state.

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