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Harris Zafar Headshot

Muslim Without Sharia?

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On Jan. 17, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich said that the only way he would ever support a Muslim for the presidency of the United States is if that person would "commit in public to give up sharia," thereby continuing his trend to exhibit his ignorance on the subject of Islamic law (sharia) as well as his ignorance of the United States Constitution.

To be fair, Mr. Gingrich did say that "a truly modern person who happened to worship Allah would not be a threat," thereby acknowledging the fact that there are indeed trustworthy and moderate Muslims. This statement expresses that he does not condemn all Muslims wholesale, which is encouraging, and I applaud him for those words.

On the other hand, I'm disappointed with his lack of understanding of sharia and the United States Constitution itself when he then continues to say "a person who belonged to any kind of belief in sharia, any kind of effort to impose that on the rest of us, would be a mortal threat." This is in line with his previous comments, calling sharia "totally abhorrent to the Western world" and "a mortal threat to the survival of freedom in the United States and in the world as we know it." He suggests there are "violent jihadis" who use violence to spread sharia, as well as "stealth jihadis" who use cultural, religious and intellectual means to manipulate sharia into legislation. So whether the Muslim is violent or not, apparently we all have sharia on the mind.

The hysteria around sharia continues to grow, especially with the GOP presidential primaries in full swing. The message is that we better do something fast before sharia usurps the American Constitution. This exposes their absolute ignorance of sharia and the American Constitution itself. The Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution suffices to protect the Constitution as "the supreme law of the land." Furthermore, the Establishment Clause prohibits the federal government from establishing or preferring any religion (including Islam) in the United States. No law can trump the Constitution of the United States.

Besides, there is nothing in Islam's teachings about taking over the law of the land. The Quran, Islam's holy scripture, instructs that absolute justice, not religion, must be the ruling government's guiding principle, irrespective of different faiths, races, etc.

For Mr. Gingrich to ask Muslims to publicly "give up sharia" is akin to asking them to publicly give up the Quran because sharia is simply the Islamic code that guides everyday Muslim beliefs and actions. Sharia is far from merely a set of punishments or legal obligations. Rather, it is a set of obligations of a personal and private nature dictated by faith. A religious legal system cannot be imposed in the current global society with people of different faiths in all countries.

People like Mr. Gingrich cite some countries to assert that Muslims want to institute harsh punishments for certain crimes. There is no doubt that countries that claim to follow sharia have used it as an excuse to gain power and sanction religious extremism. No country in the world today has implemented a system of government that truly follows Islamic sharia.

When the Prophet Muhammad became the de facto ruler of Arabia, he required all residents be allowed to worship in peace and without oppression. Sharia teaches freedom of conscience and religion. The Quran goes as far as to oblige Muslims to fight on behalf of Jews, Christians and people of other faiths and to protect their churches, synagogues and temples from attack.

The Islamic system of punishment must be examined in the context of Islamic moral teachings, and the atmosphere of high moral standards that Islam first wishes to establish in a society. When that happens, society rises to such heights that crimes become very rare and unnatural. Without creating that society first -- where everyone's needs are met, where honesty, integrity and safety are accepted principles and crimes are an anomaly -- no attempt can be made to institute criminal punishments. Islam does not command us to enact punishments. That's putting the cart before the horse.

Although some exploit the sharia hysteria to rally the base in this election year, accusations levied against sharia are patently absurd. The nearly two dozen proposed bills to ban sharia in the United States are an exaggerated response to a non-existent and manufactured problem. I invite Mr. Gingrich, as well as lawmakers at all levels of government, to meet with us to better understand sharia's role in the life of American Muslims.

Originally printed in the Washington Post on Jan. 21, 2012, and online at WashingtonPost.com on Jan. 19.