A recent article in USA Today addressed a claim going viral on social media — that defunding police departments will lead to Muslim groups hitting the streets with “Shariah patrol forces.”
Such a claim, which the paper debunked, would be truly laughable if it weren’t for the depressing fact that some Americans actually believe canards like this.
No American Muslim organization has ever advocated imposing “Shariah law” in the United States. No group attempting to do so could ever be successful, because the U.S. Constitution prevents the establishment of any religious law in our country. These social-media posts have become virally successful only because so few Americans know what Shariah actually means.
”Shariah” literally means “the path to water.” In religious terms, Shariah means “the righteous path” or “the path of God.” Shariah also, loosely, can just mean “Islam.” Shariah also refers to the religious guidelines in Islam. These are derived from the Quran, the words and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad, and scholarly interpretations thereof. Therefore, Shariah is not law the way we think of law — rigid and enforceable — but a mass of varying interpretations on Islamic texts, concerning mostly personal religious conduct.
That’s why it makes no sense that militias would be “imposing” Shariah. Imposing what? The path of God? The opinions and debates that make up the scholarly interpretations of the religious texts? Islam?
A far-right think tank pushed model bills on sharia law and terrorism in dozens of states. Civil rights groups say the goal was to stoke fear.
Dustin Gardiner and Mark Olalde, The Arizona Republic, USA TODAY and the Center for Public IntegrityUpdated 2:20 p.m. CDT July 21, 2019
A lawmaker in Idaho introduces legislation to prevent traditional Islamic law from infiltrating U.S. courts.
In Florida, a legislator proposes striking at the foundations of terrorism with a bill bolstering victims’ ability to sue its supporters.
The lawmakers’ efforts are seemingly unrelated, their statehouses almost 2,000 miles apart.
But both get their ideas, and the actual text of their bills, from the same representative of the same right-wing think tank.
And when they introduce the bills, the same activist group dispatches supporters to press for passage.
Eric Redman of Idaho and Mike Hill of Florida are among dozens of legislators who have sponsored copycat bills written and pushed by a network of far-right think tanks and activists.
The legislation was developed by the Center for Security Policy, which was founded by Frank Gaffney, a Reagan-era acting Assistant Secretary of Defense, who pushes conspiracy theories alleging radical Muslims have infiltrated the government. Once the copycat bills are introduced, local chapters of the Washington, D.C.-based ACT for America, which describes itself as the “NRA of national security,” encourage their supporters to show up at legislative hearings and flood lawmakers’ inboxes and phone lines in support of the bills. ACT’s founder, Brigitte Gabriel, has claimed that up to a quarter of all Muslims support the destruction of Western civilization.
ACT and the Center for Security Policy are at the center of a broader network that over a decade has waged a successful campaign that has reached every statehouse and led to the bills they’ve written and supported being introduced more than 70 times. Six states – Arkansas, Florida, Kansas, Louisiana, North Carolina and Tennessee – have passed both the anti-Islamic-law and anti-terrorism measures.
In June, Americans in about two dozen cities joined a “March Against Sharia.” For these protesters, the Arabic term is a code word for the oppression of women and men in the name of God — horrors like stoning and beheading. Since such brutalities do indeed happen in the name of Shariah, they may have had a point. But there were also points that they missed.
In Arabic, “Shariah” literally means “the way.” More specifically, it refers to the body of Islamic rules that Muslims see as God’s will — based either on the Quran or on the Prophet Muhammad’s reported words and deeds. It is conceptually impossible, therefore, for a Muslim who is serious about his faith to condemn Shariah. But the implementation of Shariah, which is called “fiqh,” or jurisprudence, is open to interpretation and discussion.
Much of Shariah is about personal observance: A good Muslim should pray five times a day while turned toward Mecca, for example, or should fast daily throughout Ramadan. Of course, there is no problem with these acts of personal piety — unless they are coerced. They should be welcome in any society with religious liberty.
However, a part of Shariah is about public law, including the penal code. And there are clear conflicts here with modern standards of human rights. First, Shariah lays out corporal punishments, such as chopping off hands, stoning, flogging and beheading. The Islamic legal code also proscribes crimes like apostasy, blasphemy and extramarital sex — none of which can be a crime at all in any liberal society.