Sharia: What You Need to Know

I frequently talk about Islam and my experience with good, American loving Muslims. And whenever I tell those stories, someone inevitably says, “What about Sharia? Muslims are trying to take over the United States with Sharia Law!”

Sharia is a big buzz word for many who fear Islam. They claim that Sharia is a divine law code from the Qur’an and so Muslims are forced to live by its violent and archaic standards. Not only that, but they assert that Muslims are trying to force Sharia on the world! Sure, many claim, some Muslims are nice. But you can’t trust them, because they are only being nice so that one day they can take over the world.

This fear-mongering is based on ignorance. We fear what we don’t know. When it comes to Islam and Sharia, there’s a lot of ignorance to go around.

So, what is Sharia? I asked this question to author and Islamic historian, Safi Kaskas, in my interview with him last year. Sharia refers to how Muslims live their lives. It’s primarily about performing the spiritual practices of Islam, including the daily prayers and ablution.

According to Islam, Sharia is NOT the Word of God. The Qur’an is the Word of God. Sharia is made by humans, not by God. Sharia is not a divine mandate; it’s a human creation. It was originally created to help Muslims get closer to God. In fact, there are different interpretation of Sharia among Muslims. Sharia is different from culture to culture. As Safi says in the interview, this means that Sharia is time and place sensitive.  As such, Sharia continues to adapt over time and culture.

Safi says that the fear mongering against Muslims and Sharia is a form of scapegoating. He’s exactly right. The truth is that we have nothing to fear from American Muslims implementing Sharia.

Let’s take an example of how Sharia works in the United States. There is a Sharia court in Arlington, Texas. Interestingly, the court shares building space with a physical therapist and a yoga studio. A Sharia court sharing space with a yoga studio??? If Sharia was so scary and religiously violent, there’s no way this court would share space with a practice rooted in Hinduism. Some have accused this Sharia court of imposing Sharia law on Americans. But these Muslims play nice with their neighbors. They are not out to take over the Yoga studio. No one in the Yoga studio is forced to practice Sharia.

In fact, the Imam doesn’t force his views upon anyone, not even Muslims. Muslims voluntarily come to the court for arbitration. The Imam and the other leaders at the court see themselves as counselors and mediators who help Muslims solve their disputes.

Isn’t that strange? The Imam sees himself more as a counselor and mediator than a judge. How could that be? It’s because Sharia isn’t “law” as Americans generally understand the term. Sharia is guidance for how Muslims live their lives. And, according to the guidance of Sharia, Muslims must “be loyal to their nation of residence. Therefore, American Muslims must adhere to the US Constitution as the supreme law of the land.”

So please, the next time you hear someone say that Muslims are trying to take over the world with Sharia, don’t believe them. Instead, gently ask them what they know about Sharia. If they say Sharia is a divine mandate of laws, you now know that someone has given them false information about Sharia. If you are comfortable, you can tell your conversation partner that Sharia was made by humans, not by God, and that Sharia is always changing depending upon the culture. You can also assure them that American Muslims don’t want to impose Sharia on anyone; in fact, Sharia requires them to respect the US Constitution.

We all need to do our part to stop the cycle of scapegoating Muslims. That scapegoating is fueled by misinformation regarding Sharia. It’s up to us to learn more about Sharia so that we can confront the distortions.

If you want to learn more, I invite you to watch my full interview with Safi Kaskas and read this article, “Sharia Law: The Five Things Every Non-Muslim (and Muslim) Should Know.”


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