Rather than post this comment in response to a commented on a religion dispatches article, I thought it might be more relevant to post this to my blog.
Sharia is either demonized or idealized. Both are a detriment to understanding that any system is going to be nuanced. As someone who practices Halacha (Jewish Law), I am keenly aware that while messianic ideals are clearly found within our laws, there are laws that are problematic. Same goes with Sharia. We should be honest about the fact that there are conflicts going on in the world that have to do with Sharia. Religious laws can be used to bring about political conflict and we should lament this fact. In my own Judaism, settlers on the West Bank find religious justification for the marginalization and oppression of the Palestinian natives. The Israeli government and the American government both ignore the issue with the settlements or tacitly critique it, but do very little to actually stop the process from continuing. However, we also be cognizant that there are bloody battles in the world because of America’s attempt to spread “democracy” to the world. In other words, the doctrines that we find so sacred (democracy, human rights, liberty, freedom, etc.) are being used to oppress other people in the world, and they have contributed to a fare share of conflicts.
This debate about Sharia glorifies the constitution while degrading Sharia without being aware of our own history. The United States Constitution has been used to oppress our own people at various times: non-land owning men, the religious Other (think Catholics and Jews), women, Native Americans, and non-White people. Of course, the Constitution has been interpreted differently at various points in history. There were people using the Constitution to argue for segregation while others using it to argue that segregation was unconstitutional. Nevertheless, we should be aware that the constitution has contributed to oppression of many of America’s people and it likely continues to do so, in some way.
This brings up another point. Which groups of Muslims are we referring to? Are we talking about Shia Islam, Sunni Islam, or Sufi Islam? Are we talking about modernists, traditionalists, or fundamentalists? Furthermore, What school of Sharia are we discussing in our political discourse? Are we talking about the hanbali school or the hanafi school (and there are certainly more schools of thought)? I would honestly like to know the answers to these questions. Am I wrong to assume a plurality of Muslims and schools of Sharia within the world?
Furthermore, should we assume that one Muslim speaks for the entire community? Does Hitler really speak for the entire body of Catholics? Does Fred Phelps represent every Baptist within the United States? Does Saddam Hussein speak for all Iraqis? Does George W. Bush, or Barack Obama speak for all Americans?
The question comes, can we reason with anyone who argues that Muslims are coming to America to bring their Sharia and impose it on us? I am not sure. My experience with Muslim-Americans is a positive one. I worked at Youth Farm and Market Project for years alongside Somali immigrants who left Somalia due to civil war. They came to America for a better life, and for the hope to escape the violence within their homeland. The Somalis that I befriended were dedicated to helping create a community in the Lyndale neighborhood. We wanted to help at-risk kids learn the values of community and responsibility though urban agriculture. In all honesty, I think they were more dedicated to community-building than I was. Not to say that I wasn’t but I think their hearts were sincere about making our neighborhood a beautiful place to live. I can’t see Muslims trying to take over the world here. Nor can I see them trying to impose their values on our nation. What I see is collaboration to make a better world together.
What I really hope is that the views that depict Muslims in such a derogatory manner are really the views of a minority, or a view that Right-wing politicians are socially constructing. It does not represent the view of the majority of Americans. I hope it’s the case that the majority of our people see the image of God in Muslims and the contribution that Islamic discourse has in our society.