SHARIAH: Are Opponents of Shariah Anti-Islam?

Farzana Hassan-Shahid

Posted Feb 8, 2005      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Are Opponents of Shariah Anti-Islam?
By Farzana Hassan-Shahid

The controversy over the introduction of Shariah law in Ontario, Canada, continues to divide the Canadian Muslim community in ways that are unprecedented. The friction between the proponents and opponents of Shariah is now being perceived as a battle between devout Muslims, and those who are “Muslim only in name,” whose sole objective according to the former group, is to denigrate Islam and vilify Muslims. Unfortunate as this sentiment may be, it is only symptomatic of a much wider and deeper schism within the Islamic world, as there has now emerged a bipolar community of Muslims as “Liberal Muslims” and “Fundamentalist Muslims.” Constantly at war with each other over doctrinal, social or political issues, these warring camps have developed a deep suspicion of each other’s motives, often resulting in acrimony.

This is especially true with regards to the Shariah controversy. For example, a striking parallel can be drawn between what conservative Muslims suggest about the opponents of Shariah, and what Mr. Bush stated about those opposed to his “war or terror” as being “either with us or against us.” According to this line of reasoning, Muslims opposing Shariah are being accused of hypocrisy, apostasy or pandering to the West. Members of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, the organization spearheading this opposition, have often been questioned about their commitment to Islam, in spite of the fact that they exhibit both a love of their faith, as well as a desire to abide by its principles. Other progressive Muslims have been rebuked by traditionalists simply for advocating reform within Shariah law.

Both Bush and our conservative brothers and sisters need to understand, that there is a wide spectrum of opinions between the two extremes of being “either with us or against us”. While some Muslims may be leery of certain applications of Shariah law pertaining to women and minorities, they nonetheless remain committed and dedicated Muslims. They may primarily be concerned about the misrepresentation of Islam due to narrow, misogynist and outdated interpretations. Even those opposing Shariah outright, such as Professor Taj Hashmi of the Muslim Canadian Congress, are nonetheless motivated by a desire to portray Islam as a religion of justice and equity. In one of his recent articles, he stated:

“The moral principles of the Qur’an outweigh its legal principles (for example, while slavery concubinage and polygamy are tolerated in Islam for a specific historical era, the Qur’an does not promote or encourage these practices)”

Besides Professor Hashmi, there are a number of Muslims who desire to bring Shariah in conformity with its over-arching principles of justice and equity, before they are comfortable with the idea of introducing Muslim tribunals in Canada. The Shariah models prevalent in countries such as Pakistan and Nigeria cannot accommodate this possibility at present. Although the penal code based on the Nigerian or Pakistani models is not being imported into Canada, even the slightest injustice in the name of Islam is likely to further alienate Muslims from mainstream Canadian society. We are after all, a community under tremendous scrutiny. This is precisely what Tariq Ramadan had alluded to in one of his recent pronouncements when he suggested that “Canada’s battle to set up Shariah courts to settle disputes is another example of lack of creativity. Within the normative law of Canada, they have huge latitude for Muslims to propose an Islamic contract. These courts are not necessary. All they do is stress the fact that Muslims have specific laws and for the time being this is not how we want to be perceived. We need to show that our way of thinking is universal, that we can live with the law and there is no contradiction.”

Most do not doubt Tariq Ramadan’s sincerity, but it is just as likely that other Muslims opposing “Shariah” are doing so precisely because they view its present applications as being antithetical to Islam and therefore detrimental to Muslims. By so doing, they are only acting in the interest of the Muslim community, and to characterize them as anti-Muslim or anti-Islam is both unfair and unwarranted.

Farzana Hassan-Shahid is President of Muslims Against Terrorism, Canada.

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see alsoThe Legacy of the Prophet: The Role of Human Rights in Islamic Law
By Dr. Robert D. Crane  and Are Sharia Rights and Human Rights Compatible in this issue