CIP's "Truth About Shariah" Program
by Stephen Schwartz
On June 22-23, the Center for Islamic Pluralism (CIP) coordinated print media and public-speaking efforts in the U.S., Britain, and Canada to publicize our opposition to Islamist demands for introduction of Shariah, i.e. Islamic religious law, into Western public law. CIP's program on this important and controversial topic is based in the Center's study published last year, A Guide to Shariah Law and Islamist Ideology in Western Europe, 2007-2009.
The CIP events began on June 22 when the National Post, the major Canada-wide daily newspaper, devoted a full page to my essay, "The Truth About Sharia." The article was an abbreviated version of a longer text of mine, "Shariah in the West," published in a recent multi-author volume, New Threats to Freedom, edited by Adam Bellow and issued by Templeton Press.
In the National Post, I wrote, "What, then, is the threat of shariah to Western liberty, and what should be done about it? The problem is not one of a sudden radical Muslim takeover of the West. Rather, it resides with a small, unpopular, but powerful Saudi-financed layer of top Muslim leaders who seek to undermine Western canons of legal equality by introducing 'parallel shariah.' While it may seem innocuous to some, such a conception is pernicious in seeking to unduly increase the influence in Western institutions of a single religion, Islam, while driving Western Muslims apart from their non-Muslim neighbors. This is a radical and seditious notion even if it does not call for a violent assault on Western society.
"Relations between religious communities and government authorities in the United States are based on a legal principle known as 'reasonable accommodation'… Under reasonable accommodation, for example, employers are required to allow their workers to observe religious holidays if they do not conflict with business needs.
" 'Parallel shariah' exemplifies a demand for unreasonable accommodation of Islam in non-Muslim countries. Muslims living in the West should be reminded, whether by their authentically moderate leaders (who have played such a role in France), or by media — or, if necessary, by Western governments — that their own religion calls on them to accept Western law, to make no attempts to subvert it and to limit shariah to purely individual religious matters. All other 'Islamic' notions about shariah in the West are tropes intended to radicalize Western Muslims."
The same day, June 22, CIP international director Dr. Irfan Al-Alawi presented the full edition of our Euro-Shariah study to a British audience in Blackburn, Lancashire, a northern English town with a large Muslim population considerably influenced by radicalism. Blackburn has 40 mosques – one for every thousand people in its total population of 40,000. But Blackburn has also become a focal point for initiatives by CIP in the UK. In 2010, Dr. Al-Alawi delivered lectures on terrorism and its historic threat to Muslims at Blackburn College.
Dr. Al-Alawi's appearance at Blackburn Cathedral was described as follows by his hosts: "we at Blackburn Cathedral decided to ask a Muslim Scholar to come and tell us, the novice Muslims, the not-so-novice Muslims and non-Muslims what does Shariah actually mean… (and if) we really need another Shariah court in UK; we already have over 85.
"Approximately one hundred people, Muslims and non-Muslims, young and not-so-young sacrificed their world cup football and came to the Blackburn Cathedral, for two hour-long sessions, to listen to Dr. Al-Alawi last Tuesday. Questions ranged from women's treatment under Shariah, a hot topic for the Muslims and certainly for the non-Muslims, the veil, forced marriages and FGM [female genital mutilation]."
Dr. Al-Alawi explained that Shariah may segregate the community from the non-Muslims. He also gave examples: that of a girl of 15 who was tricked into a " 'telephone marriage' ceremony to a Sheffield man with a mental age of five... When the girl arrived from Pakistan expecting to meet the handsome man she had been shown in a photograph, she found that he was 40 years old, unemployed and disabled. To make matters worse, her mother-in-law decided to exploit her attractive looks by forcing her into prostitution. The family invited men to the family home to rape her before she managed to escape to the police by bolting through the front door."
A young man named Zahir from a Deobandi background – the fundamentalist interpretation of Islam that produced the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan – charged that Dr. Al-Alawi had labelled 95 percent of the Deobandi community in Blackburn as radicals. Dr. Al-Alawi replied, "We do not want radical Shariah, which will forbid girls from attending school, require veils for women and long beards for men, and bans music and television."
The Blackburn Cathedral authorities declared the presentation a positive one: "the main complaint was that we did not have enough time for questions, which we find is always the major hindrance on hot topics."
On Wednesday, June 23, CIP participated in a conference at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, entitled "Beyond Cairo: Visions of a New Decade in European Islamic Relations." CIP UK research director Daut Dauti, a Kosovar Albanian by birth and now a British citizen, devoted his time to introducing the CIP Euro-Shariah study. In a panel on "Implications for Human Rights: Ensuring Social Cohesion and Inclusion," Dauti paralleled the comments of Dr. Al-Alawi. As a contributor to our study, Dauti summarized it as follows: "About two-thirds of our interviewees expressed satisfaction with British civil law and articulated strong opposition to the introduction of Shariah… Interviewees were concerned that introduction of Shariah would put Muslims in a legal limbo or ghetto. Many expressed fear that Shariah agitation would worsen the suspicions of non-Muslims toward the Muslim community."
Islamic tradition forbids any attempt to export Shariah to non-Muslim countries, and in the Muslim lands today, only Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Sudan and small enclaves in Africa and southeast Asia have maintained Shariah as public law. The Center for Islamic Pluralism now includes associates and contributors to our work in more than 25 countries, in North America, Europe, and Muslim states from Saudi Arabia to Indonesia. Everywhere, CIP will continue its campaign to mobilize Muslims against the imposition of Shariah in place of civil law.