Let’s Get Our Islamic Terminology Straight

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Playing off of Mark’s post against the Oklahoma ban on sharia law, it’s important to note that most of the contemporary debate over Sharia law in the United States seems to be operating under a huge misconception over what Sharia actually is. I think a lot of its detractors, and maybe even some defenders, imagine it as a single bound volume of set-in-stone proclamations and prohibitions — sort of like a Muslim Talmud, I guess.

It’s not like that at all, though. Whereas Talmudic scholars disagree with one another of the interpretation of their holy text, there’s vast disagreement within Islam about what constitutes the text itself. There’s a reason why you’ll never find a single volume or collection of volumes everyone can agree makes up the whole of Sharia.

And in fact, while some understandings of Sharia are quite stringent — the most extreme example I can think of being the Taliban’s — others are so benign that it’s amazing anyone could find them remotely controversial or threatening. Take Park 51’s Imam Feisel Abdul Rauf’s interpretation: in his book What’s Right With Islam, he argued that “the American political structure” was already Sharia compliant because it protects and furthers basic God-given rights. Under Rauf’s definition of Sharia, Oklahoma — and, in fact, any state in any liberal democracy — has every reason to desire compliance.

Really, all of this fear-mongering about encroaching Sharia only demonstrates how terrifying Islam can seem when you decide to take the most extreme possible reading of every single concept in the faith. We’ve seen a similar thing happen with “jihad,” which can mean both “holy war against the infidels” and “[a]n individual’s striving for spiritual self-perfection.” Guess which definition is the only one you’ll ever hear cited on cable news?

Let's Get Our Islamic Terminology Straight
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8 thoughts on “Let’s Get Our Islamic Terminology Straight

  1. This is a point that should absolutely be made again and again. What makes it even more important here is that prohibiting courts from recognizing private contracts that call for Islamic arbitration or for the contracts to be interpreted in accordance with the Koran is a guaranteed way to both encourage the more illiberal versions of sharia and discourage more liberal versions thereof. Under existing law, a decision based on a more liberal version of sharia is clearly enforceable by the courts, but a decision based on a more illiberal version is probably not since it would be a violation of equal protection and/or anti-discrimination law or principles of arbitrator neutrality. This encourages parties and prospective litigants to favor or rely upon more liberal forms of sharia.

    But prohibiting courts from enforcing any such decisions or agreements has the opposite effect – decisions under a liberal form of sharia are just as unenforceable as decisions under an illiberal form, but people who prefer to have their agreements interpreted under sharia law or to submit their disputes to Islamic arbitrators will continue to do so….except now, those proceedings will be entirely underground, overseen by individuals who have sufficient lack of respect for the American courts as to operate an underground system. Generally such individuals are not likely to have terribly liberal views of the West.

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  2. I have long said that we need to find the hippie-dippy Muslim leaders who say stuff like “you say ‘God’, he says ‘Brahman’, I say ‘Allah’… they’re all facets of the same celestial diamond, man! They’re just lampshades on the light of the Divine!” and put them on television and give them mosques at ground zero and show scandalous pictures of them smoking “something” at the local hookah restaurant.

    You *KNOW* they’re out there.

    We just need to find them and put them on television.

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    • Hmmm… Yeah, I agree. But I posted a video here of the Imam who supposedly wants to build a victory mosque on the rubble of the World Trade Center and drink wine from the skull of Ronald Reagan and… he sounded like Deepak Chopra. In fact, he told that Rumi story that I was trying to find the origin of- basically, everyone is talking about God in different languages and fighting over the differences in terminology but, wow man, we need to realize we’re all talking about the same thing! It was pretty hippie dippy, and the argument I heard from everyone I asked about that was, “He’s lying to trick the infidels and then he’s gonna decapitate us!” So, limited utility.

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  3. We don’t need no stinkin’ Sharia Law.

    With that said, Islam, by it’s teachings exists as an open system pointing forever to the so-called ‘extreme’ interpretation. That’s why you can’t live with these people. One never knows when they will go Jihad.

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  4. I’m not a Muslim, and having read the Quran a few times, I was not inspired to become a Muslim. It’s a problem of tone for me. There are a lot of religious books that read, to my mind, like a wimp telling a bully that they’re going to get it when they’re dead, oh boy. Yep, you’re gonna burn in hell for ever and ever! God being love and all. So, when people say they find it disconcerting, I know what they mean.

    What bothers me is that the majority of Americans don’t read books, ever, and they sure as hell aren’t going to start with the Quran. But, they did read three passages on EvilMuslimWatch dot com, so they have no shame about making sweeping statements about the religion that they hope will make them sound authoritative. “No one can possibly be a true Muslim unless he cuts the heads off of Christians! It’s in the Quran!” What’s even more irritating is when you explain why it doesn’t actually say in there whatever they’re claiming it does, and they tell you you’re a blind fool who hasn’t reached their level of Islamic scholarship. Of course, I’m pretty sure Pamela Gellar is now claiming that all English translations are false and there’s a secret Arabic Protocols of the Elders of Islam that Muslims don’t let the rest of us read. So there’s no possible end to this.

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