The Sharia Muslim Americans live

Sharia literally means ‘way to water’—the source of all life

Sharia is an Arabic word commonly translated as Islamic law. It is a dynamic body of guidelines for Muslims on issues as diverse as food and diet to business transactions and marriage. Sharia is the Muslim universe of ideals. It is the result of the community’s collective effort to understand and apply the Quran and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad in order to earn God's pleasure, secure human welfare in this life, and attain human salvation in the life to come.

In the last few years, Sharia has become a lightning rod of criticism and contempt in the United States. At this writing, three states have banned Sharia and 44 bills against it are being discussed across the country. A number of politicians are considering a federal ban to outlaw the practice of Sharia completely.

These attempts to criminalize Sharia are nothing less than a campaign to criminalize Islam as the faith of one-fifth of humanity and close to six million American Muslims. They are also a violation of a principle that has been a cornerstone of our nation since its inception: non-interference of the state in matters pertaining to religion. Banning Sharia is like banning Islam, and it poses a danger to not only Muslims, but all religions and their adherents in America.

This brochure aims to explain in practical terms how Muslims in the United States practice Sharia, as well as why, contrary to the arguments being furthered by anti-Sharia campaigners, this is not a threat to America.

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ou might have seen a government-required sign at a McDonald’s restroom telling employees to wash their hands. Muslims do this as a part of living their faith, which is called Sharia in Arabic. The Prophet Muhammad encouraged Muslims to wash their hands before and after eating as well. Muslim parents raise their children on many such manners. The first chapter in almost all books on Sharia is about morals and manners of cleanliness which Prophet Muhammad said is half of the faith. God’s peace and blessings be upon him.

When Muslims begin anything they say “Bismillah“, In the name of God. That is Sharia. When they greet each other, they smile and say “Assalamu Alaikum“, which means peace be with you. That is Sharia.

Similarly, when Muslims take short breaks five times a day to pray, this is another example of practicing Sharia. Prayer is normally the second chapter in almost all books about Sharia.

Sharia does not present a comprehensive list of pure foods and drinks. It prohibits ten or twelve things and declares everything else to be Halal or lawful to consume. If a Muslim cannot find Halal food, they often eat vegetarian or Kosher food. This is all Sharia. 

When you see a Muslim woman wearing a headscarf and a loose dress, or a Muslim man with a headcover or beard, they are likely following Sharia manners of dress.

When in a marriage sermon you hear the Quran recited about piety, loyalty to each other, and God’s advice for clear communication between spouses, that is a Sharia wedding.

Muslims often avoid taking out mortgages due to the Sharia prohibition of Riba (usury/interest). This has led to the establishment of the worldwide Islamic financial industry and Dow Jones Islamic Market Indexes. The latter select companies which don’t deal in weapons, pornography, gambling, tobacco, alcohol, or interest-based financial services. These investments are similar to 30 other “faith-based” investment options, like the Catholic Values Index. These are examples of the practice of Sharia in the realm of business.

All of the above are real-life examples of the totality of Sharia practiced by the observant among the close to six million Muslims in America, and 3,000 formal Muslim congregations. They include Muslim doctors, entrepreneurs, professors, cab drivers, and the geek fixing your computer. Their service to their communities is also an example of practicing Sharia.

The Sharia Muslim Americans Don’t Practice

There are parts of Sharia Muslim Americans don’t implement in their daily life.

Since Muslims ran a civilization for over a thousand years, they naturally developed a body of laws to deal with governing society that deal with issues ranging from fighting neighborhood crime to international laws of war and peace.

Muslim Americans don’t practice these laws since they deal with the realm of government and state. Sharia emphasizes that the rule of law in a society must be implemented by state. It considers vigilantism a major crime and a sin. Therefore, Sharia prohibits Muslims from practicing this part of Islam on the individual basis.

The Quran, like the Old Testament, has not only ten commandments, but like the Torah it ordains punishments for serious crimes. Unfortunately, it is this penal law that many people wrongly think is exclusively Sharia. This is incorrect.

It is true that Islamic criminal law has been at times implemented harshly, and even wrongly, by some Muslims, void of God’s mercy, which is considered His primary attribute in Islam. But those nations or groups who do this do not speak for all Muslims, nor do they speak for the Prophet of mercy, Muhammad, who would turn his face away when a person confessed his or her crimes. This was to give them room for repentance and forgiveness.

About five countries among the 56 Muslim nations worldwide implement Islamic criminal laws. Virtually none of them implement Sharia in its totality in all spheres of life. Their laws are a combination of local custom, precedent in that particular country, as well as remnants of laws brought by European colonial powers that ruled these countries.

The primary purpose of Sharia is to preserve life and order in society, not incarceration and punishment. Many in the Muslim world, however, sick and tired of corruption and injustice, demand that the criminal laws of Islam be implemented in their countries. However, this is not what Muslims in America are demanding. Their practice of Sharia is limited to the personal sphere.

Sharia is Neither One Nor Static

Sharia is not one monolithic body, or a codified book of comprehensive law.

Sharia is based on Quran and the teachings of Prophet Muhammad, but not all of Sharia is God’s word. A good part of Sharia is made up of human contributions. There are literally hundreds and thousands of books written in the last 1,400 years in multiple languages in places as diverse as Timbuktu in Africa to Bukhara in Central Asia, with millions of opinions, judicial reviews, etc. on issues. Together, they form the body of Sharia.

Sharia also continues to evolve.

A recent development, for example, is a Sharia discipline called Islamic Economics and Finance. It now commands a trillion dollar market, thousands of scholarly works, graduate programs, and the establishment of Sharia boards at hundreds of Muslim and non-Muslim owned banks. This exercise in Sharia is essentially a human contribution of the last fifty years, aiming to offer Muslims guidance on how to conduct their financial transactions in a modern economy in line with their principles as believers.

Islam has cherished debates. An important early Islamic debate that continues today was between traditionalists and rationalists over whether the universal principles of God's law were to be known by revelation or reason, or both. These debates has resulted in dozens of school of thoughts in Islam.

Is Sharia a Threat to America?

When some American pundits call Sharia, “a growing threat to the United States,” Muslim Americans wonder what in the world are they talking about. Sharia is overwhelmingly concerned with personal religious observance, not with constitutions and laws. All observant Muslims practice Sharia. Defining Sharia as a threat, therefore, is the same thing as saying that all observant Muslims are a threat.

Unfortunately, three U.S. states have passed anti-Sharia laws and 18 others are actively considering bills against Sharia. Some politicians are now looking to pass a federal law against Sharia. Anti-Sharia bills are a part of well-funded campaign of fear mongering and intolerance, not unlike previous campaigns in America against Catholics and Jews.

To understand Sharia is to understand Islam. Criminalizing Sharia will criminalize the practice of Islam in America.

Sharia mandates that Muslims respect the law of the land. It is also against Sharia to impose Sharia on anyone. Muslims Americans are subject to the same laws and constitution as any other American.

Sharia is in some ways similar to the Jewish Halacha law or Catholic Canon Law with similar historic roots but far less complex. Unlike Jewish Halacha law which is practiced in Jewish American courts called Beth Din, there is no Muslim court system in the U.S., nor is the Muslim community demanding this.

To learn more about Muslim Perspectives on Sharia please visit www.Sharia101.org

Photo Attribution: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:ArboretumVolcjiPotok_path.jpg

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