Earlier this week, the Center for American Progress and the Institute for Social Policy sponsored a forum entitled “What Sharia is –and Isn’t: Examining the Anti-Sharia Movement in America.”
Since I received an invite to this well in advance of the tragedy in Norway, I know this event was not put together in reaction that incident. There is a need for more dialogue about surrounding the clash of culture when Muslims’ desire to live out their faith is seen as a threat. I was actually on the waiting list for this event because it filled up quickly; I later was told that I made it in, but I imagine many more people who wanted to attend could not.
Members of the panel were: Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, President, Interfaith Alliance; Faiz Shakir, Editor, Think Progress, and Vice President, Center for American Progress Action Fund; Professor Asifa Quraishi, Fellow, Institute forSocial Policy and Understanding and Assistant Professor of Law, University of Wisconsin Law School. Shireen Zaman, Executive Director of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding gave opening remarks. Matthew Duss, Policy Analyst, Center for American Progress moderated the panel and Sally Steenland, Director of the Center’s Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative welcomed attendees.
One of the questions raised by panelists was: Why is what should be religious discourse now part of the political discourse?
When the pressures facing Muslims in America were compared to that which faced other religious groups (Catholics, for example), one panelist said that this time it is hyperpolitical. The Muslim faith and uninformed ideas about sharia are being used as a divisive political wedge.
Gaddy said that this has negative implications for democracy: some people are willing to give up the essential nature of democracy to restrict the practice of sharia because they are afraid.
During the question and answer session a member of the audience who characterized sharia as “brutal,” described the panelists as “apologists for sharia” said he wished the panel had included someone who was against sharia. He had a point, but when he went on to use one of the most divisive examples of sharia (that of how women of the Muslim faith dress differently in different countries), the audience got agitated.
Quraishi described sharia as “complete code of life” so that example is just one tiny facet of it. She had earlier stated that sharia includes The Ten Commandments because Muslims believe in the prophets who are a part of Judeo-Christian beliefs. She also discussed how we are viewing things with a Western prism. In our societies, the state governs in ways that it did not in the societies where the Muslim faith and sharia have their roots.
Rather than try to explain sharia myself, I’ll refer you to “Understanding Sharia in an American Context,” written by Quirashi.