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Keith Ellison and the Tea Party's View of Sharia

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Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips stated this week that Keith Ellison should be voted out of Congress because, among other reasons, he is a Muslim. (He also stated, erroneously, that Ellison was the only Muslim member of Congress.) But now, according to Salon, he's put up a new post "clarifying" his views.

The erroneous assumptions he makes while "clarifying" are that (a) Islam decrees that people should be killed if they disagree with Muslims, (b) that Islam supports the imposition of a theocracy, and (c) that Islam urges killing Jews and infidels.

I think there's some projection going on here. "Infidel" was the word that Christian Crusaders used for Muslims, not vice verse. Muslims traditionally have not referred to Christians and Jews as "infidels." In 1099, Christian Crusaders attacked Jerusalem and killed thousands of "infidels" -- i.e., Jewish and Muslim men, women, and children.

Jews and Christians have an exalted status in Islam, as people who received an earlier revelation from God. The Qur'an never urges Muslims to kill Jews. In contrast, the Qur'an says that Muslims can marry Jews and Christians. The ridiculous accusation that the Qur'an calls Jews and Christians "dogs" is nonsense, too, and results from distorting a verse that doesn't even refer to Jews and Christians.

The Qur'an does contain a verse that reads "Do not take Jews and Christians as your saviors [or political patrons]." It's not an antagonistic verse, but refers to tensions of the historical place and time. It has been erroneously interpreted by minority extremist Muslims to mean, "Do not take Jews and Christians as your friends." But this is an extreme interpretation, and even then, this verse doesn't mandate any killing.

In contrast, Islam establishes that Jews and Christians can go to heaven. According to Islam, you don't need to be Muslim to go to heaven -- you just have to do good works. So frankly, all these accusations about infidels are a little silly, when mainstream Islam never considered itself the only pathway to heaven, anyway.

The verses of the Qur'an that refer to fighting occur in the historical context of ongoing warfare, and they refer to 7th-century enemies of the early Muslims. Even then, the fighting verses are always accompanied by verses that are completely ignored by the Islam-haters. Why? Because these accompanying verses say, for example, "but do not attack them unless they attack you first," and "if they incline to peace, you must incline to peace" and "God loves not the aggressors."

Am I saying that Muslims have never been the aggressors? Of course not. All of us have co-religionists who have used religion to justify violence. What I'm saying is that Judson Phillips's assertion is wrong; mainstream Islam does not advocate fighting except in self-defense.

As for killing people who disagree with me - excuse me? Murder is prohibited in Islam. Killing is prohibited in Islam without a trial, due process, and conviction (sound a lot like American law?) or in legitimate warfare. In fact, the opposite of Judson Phillips' assertion is true, because God in the Qur'an says, "We made you into different nations and tribes so that you could learn from one another." We're not supposed to kill dissenters, we're supposed to learn from them.

Finally, in my blog post entitled "Who's Afraid of Shari'ah?" I dismiss the idea that Muslims must live in a so-called "Islamic state." The Qur'an contains no model of government. The phrase "Islam as a religion and a state" only became widespread in the 1920s, as a reaction to Western colonization of Muslim countries. Islam does, however, contain democratic concepts: the idea of a constitution (aqd), consultation (shura), and the public interest (maslaha).

In fact, many Muslims consider the United States to be the country that is closest in the world to the Islamic ideal - because it is a democracy in which people are free to practice their religions. The idea that Muslims must have an "Islamic state" in which everyone must be Muslim is supported neither historically nor theologically. And yes, though second-class status for non-majority classes was certainly the norm all over the world a thousand years ago, and as late as 19th-century England (when Catholics paid a tax to the Church of England) and 20th-century America (before the Civil Rights Act), it is considered a historical mechanism that is now irrelevant.

Judson Phillips, the head of 30,000 Tea Party members, is -- along with a troubling number of Americans -- demonizing one-fifth of the world's population without knowing the first thing about their beliefs and practices. Indeed, he paraphrases a sentence I've seen all too often: "I learned everything I needed to know about Islam on September 11th." That's like me saying I've learned everything I need to know from Christianity from the KKK. Evidently, Judson Phillips is part of an increasing Embrace Your Ignorance movement. Now that's scary.

Sumbul Ali-Karamali is an attorney with an additional degree in Islamic law and is the author of "The Muslim Next Door: the Qur'an, the Media, and that Veil Thing."