Monday, October 18, 2010

The Idiocy of the Anti-Sharia Crowd

For those following the idiotic allegations that Sharia is creeping into American society and wonder who speaks for Islam, I think the answer is obvious. Western extremists are now the new hijackers of Islam. They have adopted the language of Islamic terrorists, interpreted the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) into something unrecognizable to Muslims and cherry-pick aspects of Sharia to offer interpretations in a vacuum.

Muslims may think that Osama bin Laden perverted the true meaning of Islam, but Newt Gingrich, Geert Wilders and their slavish sycophants Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller make Al-Qaeda look like amateurs in the art of deception.

Recently, a peculiar document titled the "Shariah: The Threat to America" was published by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Security Policy. The Center for Security Policy purports to be a non-partisan group, but only ultra-conservatives authored the 352-page report. The report's objectives are to explain how Muslims are conspiring to supplant American jurisprudence and the U.S. Constitution with Sharia. Yet not a single Muslim or non-Muslim Islamic scholar was consulted. Only one of its 19 authors claims to have a degree in theology. His biography, though, makes no mention of what kind of degree. We are supposed to take their word that they are the experts.

These self-proclaimed experts ignore the principles of Sharia that make Islamic values compatible with democratic societies. Indeed, the principles of Sharia are also found in the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights and predate these documents by more than a millennia. These Sharia principles ensure the freedom of religion, the preservation of human life and family, the guarantee of an education and the pursuit of economic security and justice through commerce.

Rather than focus on what Sharia has in common with American values, the report gives considerable space to a 19-year-old Muslim Brotherhood document that reportedly seeks to implement Sharia in the United States. Although the authors give much credence to this document, most American Muslims view the Muslim Brotherhood in the abstract with little relevance in their lives. The report fails to address the question of how the Muslim Brotherhood, which struggles for credibility in Muslim countries, can have a foothold in Podunk, Idaho.

The report cleverly addresses the more sensational aspects of Sharia: stoning, amputations, lashings and taqiyya. Taqiyya, according to Western extremists, means that Muslims can lie with impunity to hide their true agenda of global domination. I must admit that this is a clever tactic because anyone believing in this nonsense can conveniently disregard as a lie any Muslim argument that is contrary the western extremist position. Interestingly, the Robert Spencers of the world insist we denounce terrorism and renounce Sharia. Yet their position is that all Muslims are liars, so what's the point of making these futile arguments?

Taqiyya refers to a single incident in the Qur'an in which a man concealed his religious faith when forced to renounce Islam while being tortured. If anything, recent history has taught us that anyone will lie under the threat of torture. But we are led to believe that this single incident in this context is the foundation of an Islamic strategy to impose Sharia.

The Center for Security Policy wants Americans to think that stoning and amputations are around the corner, but the report can't quite explain why stonings are so rare and the streets of Saudi Arabia and Iran are not filled with one-armed thieves.

The Qur'an never mentions stoning as a punishment and there are conflicting interpretations of the Prophet's involvement in implementing it. The most common interpretation is of a woman consumed with guilt over an adulterous affair that resulted in a child. She pestered the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) literally for years for him to wash away her sins with a death sentence. He refused, but when he could no longer find an excuse to send her away, he reluctantly agreed to punish her. What non-Muslim Sharia "experts" fail to mention is that stoning a person who commits adultery requires four eyewitnesses to the actual act of sexual intercourse. This fantastical burden of proof is almost impossible to fulfill. And rightly so. It's designed as prevention, not an actual punishment. Allegations of adultery are easy to make but virtually impossible to prove. Sharia makes stoning extremely unlikely to carry out.

The threat by the Iranian government to stone to death Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani on a conviction of adultery is not based on the evidence of four eyewitnesses, but on a judicial authority determined to inflict fear and intimidation on the Iranian population. It's not Sharia.

The anti-Muslim contingent points to wobbly examples that Sharia has infiltrated western judicial system. In 2009, a New Jersey judge denied a Muslim woman's request for a restraining order against her estranged husband because the abusive husband was following his Muslim beliefs. A similar case occurred in Germany in which a judge cited Qur'anic Verse 4:34 that permits husbands to strike their wives. The higher courts overturned the rulings in a clear message that the rule of law supersedes religious principles.

Another example of creeping Sharia, according to the anti-Muslim crowd, is the use of Sharia as private arbitration in domestic and civil cases. In these cases, Muslims agree in advance to the decision made by a panel of community leaders. This method of justice, almost identical to Beth Din employed in Jewish communities for more than a century, is permitted in England under the Arbitration Act of 1996. Outlawing Sharia as private arbitration would also require governments to ban Beth Din and administrative arbitration hearings enjoyed by private businesses and public agencies in the United States and the United Kingdom. The judicial system will collapse under the tens of thousands of additional domestic and civil cases added to the calendar and deprive individuals of their day in court.

What's more disturbing than judges making erroneous rulings is westerners lacking confidence in their own laws and constitutions. Implementing Sharia is impossible yet somehow is a hairsbreadth away from becoming a new constitutional amendment.

As a Muslim, I adhere to Sharia in my personal life. However, I see no need to impose it on anybody else, especially if they live in a non-Muslim country. As an individual, I don't dedicate my life to the advancement of Sharia while living or traveling in the west. But I also do not represent Muslims in the west. I do, however, live my life according to its principles to practice my religion freely, revere human life, pursue an education, remain loyal to my family and work hard to earn a decent living. When I hear people say that Muslims don't share American and British values, I have a feeling they would be embarrassed to recognize they are rejecting basic human rights that Sharia shares with democratic countries.

Of course, non-Muslims may have reason not to believe a word I write. This may be my idea of taqiyya

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Only a woman minister for proposed Ministry of Women's Affairs will work

The talk of establishing a Ministry of Women’s Affairs in Saudi Arabia raises exciting possibilities for Saudi women, particularly businesswomen who need unfettered access to the international business community. Yet the proposal could lead to further marginalization of Saudi women.

The idea of a governmental women’s department may sound quaint in the 21st century, but in Saudi Arabia where every progressive step comes in the smallest increments, it makes sense.

Dr. Basmah Umayr, the executive director of Al-Sayyidah Khadijah Bint Khuwaylid Center at the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce, told Asharq Al-Awsat that a Ministry of Women’s Affairs would contribute to "the transportation of women to (the level) of decision-making.”

She added that, "Globally, we found upon studying the situation that many developed countries still reserve a ministry for women. Women's affairs are limitless, and there are many issues related to them." Turkey, Italy and France have similar ministries dedicated to women and family issues.

Perhaps the most important aspect of forming a women’s ministry is to help Saudi businesswomen remove obstacles to conducting business within and outside the Kingdom. A ministry will also implement programs to aid unemployed women. Although Saudi women comprise of 45 percent of Saudi Arabia’s population, more than 28 percent are unemployed. Yet we should consider that Saudi women also control an estimated $11.9 billion (SR 44.6 billion) in funds.

The female business community has grown so large in the past decade that the current set of rules no longer effectively regulates commercial interests operated by women. For example, Asharq Al-Awsat reports that 72.6 percent of the Saudi female-registered businesses are conducted outside the home and 92 percent have employees on the payroll. However, conducting business outside Saudi Arabia is virtually impossible given guardianship issues, travel restrictions and the archaic requirement that a business must be registered in a man’s name.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here. We can’t assume that a Saudi Ministry of Women’s Affairs will solve any of these issues. Like so many novel proposals in Saudi Arabia, there is usually a high degree of window-dressing. A women’s ministry will not only fail miserably, but it will be an embarrassment to the Saudi government if doesn’t appoint a woman to run it. Not only must she possess the decision-making privileges enjoyed by all ministers, but also have full Shoura member status and all the authority that goes with it.

Similarly, men must also be part of the minister’s team to ease the path of communication between other ministries. From a practical standpoint, it’s important to have men support, encourage and help integrate women into the highest levels of Saudi government. If inexperienced Saudi women think they can run a ministry on their own, expect to be taken seriously and have productive relationships with other ministers without a male team in place, then they are kidding themselves that they will accomplish anything.

Parity in the workplace is a vital issue for women, but it shouldn’t be the primary goal for a women’s ministry. Without question the sticky issue of male guardianship needs attention. Thought must be given whether to abolish the existing patently unfair system or overhaul it to reflect our true Islamic values. While the Saudi judicial system has made some strides in recent years to address the minimum marriage age for women, this is a job for a women’s ministry. In addition, the ministry must have the authority to deal with individuals who abuse their guardianship responsibilities by refusing their daughters and sisters their religious right to marry who they please or by forcing them to work and taking their salaries.

Curbing domestic abuse, establishing women’s shelters and providing medical outreach programs to low-income families without males in the household are necessities that come under the purview of a women’s ministry.

The idea of a Ministry of Women’s Affairs comes at the right time. We’ve seen the Saudi government appear serious in giving women a greater voice. The appointment of Nora Bint Abdullah Al-Fayez as deputy education minister in 2009 was a great step in the right direction. It’s too early to tell whether Al-Fayez is effective in her job, but indications after nearly two years on the job point to her positive influence.

If a women’s ministry is in Saudi Arabia’s future, let us hope it’s given a mandate to make a positive change in the role of Saudi woman and not an effort to satisfy Saudi Arabia’s critics.

Back in the UK

Hello everyone,

As you may have noticed, I've been out of action this past month. I've been busy spending Ramadan with my family in Madinah and Jeddah and just returned to the UK to continue with my studies and set up my new apartment. But now it's back to business!