Sharia and the left: between fundamentalism and xenophobia?

Oklahoma’s constitutional amendment that bars the state’s judges form considering sharia law is heading to the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, after Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange ruled it unconstitutional, saying “the will of the ‘majority’ has on occasion conflicted with the constitutional rights of individuals.” Oklahomans voted up the amendment last year by 70%, but Muneer Awad from the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) filed a suit to keep it from going into effect. The district court found that the amendment amounted to an official disapproval of Islam by the state of Oklahoma, curtailing Muslims’ political rights and violating the First Amendment. Oklahoma’s Attorney General has appealed the decision. (KFOR, Oklahoma City, Sept. 9; WP, Sept. 8)

In the past year, similar anti-sharia measures have been passed or introduced in more than a dozen states. Louisiana, Arizona and Tennessee are among the states that have passed bills restricting judges from consulting sharia in their rulings, and Michigan is the most recent to introduce a similar bill. The controversy also reached New Jersey, when Republican Gov. Chris Christie was blasted for appointing a Muslim to the state Superior Court. Christie called a press conference where he blasted back: “The folks who criticize my appointment are ignorant. I nominated Sohail Mohammed because he’s a good lawyer and an outstanding human being.” Christie praised Mohammed as “an extraordinary American” who helped build bridges between the Muslim American community and law enforcement agencies after 9-11.

Asked if he was concerned that Mohammed would bring sharia law to the bench, Christie bristled: “Sharia law has nothing to do with this at all. It’s crazy! The guy’s an American citizen who’s been admitted to practice law in New Jersey, swearing an oath to uphold the laws of New Jersey, the Constitution of the state of New Jersey and the Constitution of the United States of America…. This sharia law business is crap! It’s just crazy, and I’m tired of dealing with the crazies!”

Clearly highlighting the xenophobia behind these measures, most of them (including that in Oklahoma) also bar judges from considering international law—even though treaties are constitutionally the law of the land. The weekly Indian Country Today notes concerns that these measures could be used to bar judges from considering the customary or tribal law of Indian nations—which the US ostensibly has a sovereign-to-sovereign relationship with.

The National Native American Bar Association (NNABA)…is so concerned that the ban on Sharia and international law in state courts could lead to the prohibition of states’ consideration of tribal law that it passed a resolution in April opposing any such law. Amidst a flurry of “whereas” clauses, the resolution says, “NNABA hereby denounces any state law or effort that seeks or operates to outlaw a state court’s consideration of tribal law, or to forbid a state court from honoring the laws or decisions of other states in which courts consider tribal law.”

We share this concern, and we applaud Judge Miles-LaGrange’s decision. But we have to point out some strange contradictions behind the politics of this question. For starters (and most obviously), some of the most vociferous anti-sharia voices in the US openly embrace biblical law—and the prescriptions in Leviticus (e.g. stoning homosexuals to death) are as hideous as the worst that the most reactionary interpretation of sharia under the Taliban has to offer. In vivid contrast, struggles against the real (not imaginary) imposition of sharia over society are being waged by progressive secularists in the Islamic world. This paradoxical juxtaposition causes progressives both in the US and the Muslim world to become confused on the question. We’ve already noted the American left’s paradoxical flirtation with reactionary political Islam—e.g. in its shameless cheerleading for the Iraqi “insurgents” and Iran’s ayatollah state. This is an absurd betrayal of solidarity.

Some secularists in the Muslim world are in danger of making the equal and opposite error of blocking with the reactionary right in the West against reactionary political Islam. We were recently dismayed to find that Iranian feminist Azar Majedi—who opposes the oppression of women in the ayatollah state while also opposing US intervention—was interviewed by the right-wing Islamophobic FrontPageMag. To her credit, she makes clear—towards the end—that she rejects her interviewer’s enthusiasm for war against her country. But she appears to have her own page on IslamWatch, a website of “Muslim apostates” that promotes FrontPageMag, the paranoid JihadWatch and the problematic Phyllis Chesler. Is she aware of this? Has she protested it? Is she, if unwittingly, loaning propaganda to the xenophobic and war-monger right?

Another Iranian feminist, Maryam Namazie, has warned against the spread of political Islam to Europe, with reactionary interpretations of sharia being imposed in Musilm communities. She has launched a One Law for All Campaign to advocate for a secular Europe. But—to her great credit—she has just released a report entitled “Enemies Not Allies,” warning secular progressives against blocking with the right. This is noted approvingly by the progressive blog Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion—and with outrage by FrontPageMag, in a screed dubbed “When Marxist Anti-Semitic ‘Anti-Jihadists’ Attack.” Note the scare quotes around “anti-jihadists,” implying that she really isn’t. And “Anti-Semitism”? We are told that Namazie has “attacked Israel and spread Palestinian jihad propaganda.” Yet the link for this quote goes to a page on Namazie’s blog entitled “Stop the Genocide Perpetrated by the Israeli ِArmy against the Civilians of Gaza.” It contains not a word of “jihad propaganda” (unless you think protesting Israel’s war crimes is “jihad propaganda”), and in fact decries “the religious Right-wing on both sides of the conflict.” So much for that red herring.

And another Iranian feminist, Shirin Ebadi, has also forthrightly rejected US intervention—a good inoculation against her exploitation by the right. Egyptian feminist Nawal El Saadawi likewise remains intransigently anti-imperialist and anti-Zionist. Canada’s Irshad Manji, the self-declared “Musilm Refusenik,” has dangerously equivocated. Most disappointingly, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-born opponent of political Islam, has completely capitulated—after being forced by threats to leave Holland, she crossed the Atlantic to take a position with the neocon American Enterprise Institute.

It is critical to understand that those fighting efforts to enshrine sharia in the Iraqi constitution—and now the Egyptian constitution—and those fighting efforts to ban sharia in the US are fundamentally on the same side. They are both defending secularism, equal rights and separation of church and state.

The question gets a bit more complicated in moves we have seen by authorities in Canada and in Britain to officially embrace sharia, potentially creating Maryam Namazie’s feared dual-law system. Cases such as the supposed “honor killing” in Buffalo, NY, three years ago, when a Muslim businessman beheaded his wife, fuel such fears (although such prescriptions are only called for in the most extreme interpretations of sharia, and would presumably never be embraced by authorities in the West). Azar Majedi is among those who support the European initiatives to ban face veils (although not, that we have heard, the Swiss measure to ban minarets), calling the veil “a symbol of women’s subjugation.”

Those who fear that stateside anti-sharia measures will be a precedent for attacking the cultural rights of Native Americans should also recall that in the Muslim world, political Islam violates the rights of indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities. As we pointed out in our commentary on the Geronimo-bin Laden controversy, the fundamentalist jihadis, with their ideology (and often their foot-soldiers) imported from Saudi Arabia, are committing acts of brutal cleansing against indigenous Somalis, against Yazidis in Iraq, against the Fur in Sudan, against Berbers in Algeria, against Kuchi nomads in Afghanistan—against indigenous, land-rooted peoples throughout the greater Middle East.

The anti-sharia measures in state constitutions in the US are about the imposition of an Anglo monoculture, with political Christianity in the wings. Measures that officially enshrine sharia in national constitutions in the Muslim world are about the imposition of an Islamic monoculture and the rule of political Islam. Failure to grasp this plays into a global divide-and-conquer trip that warms the hearts of fundamentalists and reactionaries East and West.

See our last posts on Islamophobia and the struggle within Islam.

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  1. Ignorance over Sharia
    Nearly all of the anti-sharia hysteria in the U.S. and some other Western countries, is founded on ignorance over what it is and represents. For one thing, Sharia is not “Islamic Law.” It is believed to be God’s perfect law that human beings must strive to realize on earth. It takes on a mythological role for Muslims. The striving to understand and implement God’s law is called Fiqh. The reason for the two words is because while Sharia is viewed as the perfection of God’s law, Fiqh is regarded as the human attempt to realize that law in this life, which means that it will be imperfect and in need of constant striving to gain better understandings of it.

    Likewise, not everything in Fiqh has to do with social laws. A lot of it has to do with “mundane” things like how you should wash yourself, pray, make ablutions, how to act when you attend services at the Mosque, etc. These sweeping calls to “ban all Sharia” would effectively ban the religion of Islam, because it would technically be illegal for a Muslim to pray, make ablutions, attend the Mosque, say certain prayers while eating, washing, before going to sleep, etc. The only way that that could be accomplished is if the States were to constantly surveillance Muslims, even in their homes – which would be blatently unconstitutional. Given the hatred some of them have for Muslims, though, I wouldn’t be surprised if they had that in mind. But realistically speaking, they are probably just really ignorant.

    Many in the Muslim “world” are also ignorant of Sharia, and think that it is simply about implementing harsh penalities for various religious crimes, when that is not the case. Even if a person was a hardcore traditionalist Muslim who didn’t believe any reform or progressive approach to Islam was necessary, would have to admit that a person can’t justly be stoned to death for committing adultery unless four (male) witnesses clearly saw the penis penetrate the vagina. But then they would be questioned as to why they were so close to the act to begin with, and if it is decided that they were spying on the couple, the case would be thrown out and they would be punished for spying while the original couple on trial would be dismissed. Subsequently, their (spies’) testimony would never be accepted again. Furthermore, if a person originally admitted to committing adultery and was about to get stoned, he/she could say, “I changed my mind” and the execution would have to be forever canceled.

    I am not pointing this out to suggest that this is the pinnacle of progressive values, but to say that even a really conservative Muslim who knows the history of Fiqh would have to concede that he/she can’t just randomly mete out harsh punishments to people for breaking certain religious laws. But this history has been lost to many Muslims, and even some Muslim scholars (particularly those from Saudi Arabia or who received a Wahabbi bent education) don’t dig deep into these nuanaces, so they believe it is best to simply implement a literal reading of the Qur’anic and hadithic laws, and “let God sort it out.” So, at the end of the day, I agree with the secularists in the Muslim world to stay on the safe side – and I would even say that Islamically speaking, this is also the best thing to do because it will lead to less suffering and more prosperity, which is what the Shariah’s entire purpose for human being was meant for.


  2. Ask RAWA about sharia…
    From Roddy Newman on the website of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), Oct. 2. It gets sticky towards the end…

    Sharia Law has led to the legislation of child marriage in 6 countries
    Saudi wives can be not only pre-pubescent, but even babies, because Saudi Arabia has no minimum marriage age at all

    While Sharia law courts have created a lot of controversy in Britain, they would be even more controversial if people found out that Sharia has led to the legalisation of child marriage in 6 countries. As the vast majority of people seem to be unaware of Sharia’s child marriage dimension, this article only uses mainstream media articles, the UN, a major opinion poll company’s Sharia law polling data, and the early biographer of Mohammed who Muslims say is the most reliable, and who states unequivocally that that Mohammed married one of his wives, ‘Aisha, when she was a child as its sources.

    For example, this 2008 “Times” article about forced child marriages in Nigeria, reveals that there is “fierce resistance” in its mostly Muslim states to a ban on child marriage, because they see such a ban as contrary to Sharia, which is why only one of them has agreed to a modified form of the ban (which outlaws marriage to pre-pubescent girls):

    So why do Nigerian Islamists support child marriage?

    Sharia is based on “The Koran”, and the “Sunnah” (the words and deeds of Mohammed), and according to Sahih al-Bukhari, who is regarded by Muslims as the most reliable early biographer of their prophet, the founder of Islam married one of his wives, ‘Aisha, when she was 6, and consummated that marriage when she was 9, as volume 7, book 62, number 64 of this University of Southern California Center for Muslim-Jewish Engagement translation of Al-Bukhari reveals:

    These 4 BBC News, “New York Times”, UN, and “Wall Street Journal” articles mention Islamists in Yemen, Niger, and Saudi Arabia who say that Mohammed’s child bride is the reason why they are in favour of child marriage:

    The “Views of harsh punishments” section of this 2010 Pew Research poll, revealed that most Muslims in Nigeria support 3 grotesque, and extremely violent Sharia punishments (stoning adulterers to death, cutting off the hands of thieves, and executing people who abandon their Muslim faith), and that Muslims in Pakistan, Jordan, and Egypt are even more strongly in favour of those 3 punishments, so it is not surprising that, for the same obvious Sharia reason, grotesque child marriages are legal in 4 other mostly Muslim nations, and were until recently legal in another mostly Muslim country:

    Saudi Arabian law is based entirely on the harshest of the 3 Sunni schools of Sharia jurisprudence (the “Hanbali”), so it is no surprise that as this 2010 “San Francisco Chronicle” article explains, child marriage is still legal in that country, although the Saudi justice minister said in 2009 that the minimum marriage age should be raised to 18:

    Saudi wives can be not only pre-pubescent, but even babies, because Saudi Arabia has no minimum marriage age at all, as this 2008 Associated Press article reveals:

    That article quotes Saudi marriage official Ahmad al-Muabi’s opinion that fathers can legally sell their 1 year old daughters to husbands if they wish.

    Moreover, once a Saudi girl or baby has been sold to a husband, she can then find it difficult to divorce him, as the just cited “San Francisco Chronicle” article pointed out that a Saudi court would not allow an 8 year old girl to divorce her middle aged husband.

    In another case which this BBC News story discusses, a 12 year old Saudi girl asked for a divorce from the 80 year old husband she had been sold to, after he allegedly raped her, but she then dropped the divorce case, because her father wanted her to stay married:

    Nor is it a surprise that in Islamist run Northern Sudan, 10 year old girls can legally be sold to a husband by their fathers, as this 2010 “New Republic” magazine article shows:

    People tend to think of Turkey as a relatively secular Muslim country, but the “San Francisco Chronicle” article about Saudi Arabian child marriage which I cited a moment ago, also mentions the fact that Turkey’s Islamist government reduced the minimum marriage to 12 in 2009. The result of that law change, was of course the legalisation of forced child marriages, which is why this Turkish newspaper article discusses the case of a Syrian 12 year old girl whose family sold her to a middle aged Turkish husband, who then raped her and forced her to take drugs, which led to Turkish police having to rescue her after her Syrian family complained:

    There has also been controversy over child marriages in Yemen in recent years, but because of Islamist opposition to outlawing them, they are still legal, which is why a 2009 ban on them was overturned after just 1 day:

    Yemen’s child brides can be sold to men when they are as young as 8:

    Moreover, in Iran, where the minimum marriage age is now 16 for women and 18 for men, Sharia law recently led to the age of consent for girls being 9 within marriage, as this 2006 BBC article about a 16 year old Iranian woman who was executed for having sex outside marriage explains:

    Finally, even when child marriage is illegal in mostly Muslim countries, Islamists often simply ignore the law. For example, child marriage is illegal in Afghanistan, but this 2011 “Time” magazine article about Afghan wives being jailed for fleeing violent husbands, points out that, “Nationwide, more than half of all girls are married before they turn 15, usually to settle disputes.”:,8599,2039564,00.html

    This “New York Times” article about Afghan child marriages discusses an 11 year old girl who was sold to a 40 year old man:

    So will Britain’s Sharia courts lead to Britain’s Islamists ignoring British democratic law by selling young girls to men? After all, as this 2011 article points out, polygamy, which like selling girls to men is a product of an extremely male dominated Sharia culture in which males have a far higher status than females, is already widespread in Britain, despite the fact that polygamy is illegal under British democratic law:

    And here’s the dilemma once again. The abuses Newman litanizes here are real, and it is true that progressives have largely dropped the ball on this issue for fear of playing into the hands of Islamophobes. So in his final link, he turns for vindication to Britain’s reactionary Daily Mail, which extensively quotes Baroness Flather—a Tory member of the House of Lords who (although born in Pakistan and of subcontinental background) plays into England’s demographic paranoia about how immigrants from South Asia are supposedly breeding too fast…

  3. Honor killing in Ontario?
    The basic facts from AP, dateline Kingston, Ontario, Jan. 29:

    A jury on Sunday found three members of an Afghan family guilty of killing three teenage sisters and another woman in what the judge described as “cold-blooded, shameful murders” resulting from a “twisted concept of honor,” ending a case that shocked and riveted Canadians.

    Prosecutors said the defendants allegedly killed the three teenage sisters because they dishonored the family by defying its disciplinarian rules on dress, dating, socializing and using the Internet.

    The jury took 15 hours to find Mohammad Shafia, 58; his wife Tooba Yahya, 42; and their son Hamed, 21, each guilty of four counts of first-degree murder. First-degree murder carries an automatic life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years.

    After the verdict was read, the three defendants again declared their innocence in the killings of sisters Zainab, 19, Sahar 17, and Geeti, 13, as well as Rona Amir Mohammad, 52, Shafia’s childless first wife in a polygamous marriage.

    Their bodies were found June 30, 2009, in a car submerged in a canal in Kingston, Ontario, where the family had stopped for the night on their way home to Montreal from Niagara Falls, Ontario.

    The prosecution alleged it was a case of premeditated murder, staged to look like an accident after it was carried out. Prosecutors said the defendants drowned their victims elsewhere on the site, placed their bodies in the car and pushed it into the canal…

    The months leading up to the deaths were not happy ones in the Shafia household, according to evidence presented at trial. Zainab, the oldest daughter, was forbidden to attend school for a year because she had a young Pakistani-Canadian boyfriend, and she fled to a shelter, terrified of her father, the court was told.

    The prosecution said her parents found condoms in Sahar’s room as well as photos of her wearing short skirts and hugging her Christian boyfriend, a relationship she had kept secret. Geeti was becoming almost impossible to control: skipping school, failing classes, being sent home for wearing revealing clothes and stealing, while declaring to authority figures that she wanted to be placed in foster care, according to the prosecution.

    Shafia’s first wife wrote in a diary that her husband beat her and “made life a torture,” while his second wife called her a servant.

    The prosecution presented wire taps and mobile phone records from the Shafia family in court to support their honor killing allegation. The wiretaps, which capture Shafia spewing vitriol about his dead daughters, calling them treacherous and whores and invoking the devil to defecate on their graves, were a focal point of the trial.

    “There can be no betrayal, no treachery, no violation more than this,” Shafia said on one recording. “Even if they hoist me up onto the gallows…nothing is more dear to me than my honor.”

    There appears to be some controversy about whether it is politically correct to refer to this as an “honor killing,” despite Shafia’s own use of the word “honor.” From the Toronto Star:

    Canadians are debating how to correctly describe the Shafia murders — is it domestic violence or honour killing?

    The debate represents a fundamental divide in the way the Shafia trial is being interpreted.

    Some, like Saleha Khan, board member of the London-based Muslim Resource Centre for Social Support and Integration, believe that domestic violence is the issue in this case.

    “The essence is that it’s the man’s sense of control,” said Khan. “It’s unfortunately something that could be anywhere,” she said.

    “In certain communities, it will be called a crime of passion,” she said, “but for others it will be an honour killing.”

    Many agree with her.

    MP Rona Ambrose tweeted, “Honour motivated violence is NOT culture, it is barbaric violence against women. Canada must never tolerate such misogyny as culture.”

    Similarly, Laura Babcock, president of Powergroup, a communications firm, tweeted, “Killing women and girls because they are female is femicide NOT Honor Killing.”

    Yet others say the Shafia murders are honour killings.

    “This is a real issue,” said Tarek Fatah, founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress, a non-profit advocacy group.

    “Honour killing is the logical extreme of the belief that suggests men are the guardians,” he said.

    Fatah says his concern is that Canadian political correctness is getting in the way of a frank discussion of the problem: that some Muslims consider women the possession of men.

    “If these four women were white women, they would still be alive today,” he said.

    There seems to be some zero-sum thinking at work here… As if the notions of “domestic violence” and “honor killings” were mutually exclusive…

  4. Sharia, abortion and high irony in North Carolina
    Now this takes the proverbial cake. Mother Jones informs us that a measure is making its way through the North Carolina state house that would shut down most abortion providers in the state—attached to an unrelated bill aimed at banning sharia law! This is apparently being done with no (intentional) sense of irony.

    Do we shit or go blind?