I don’t know much about the Muslim Writers Guild of America, but one member, Qasim Rashid, writes at the Huffington Post that Sharia law is woefully misunderstood or mischaracterized. Rashid offers the five things that everyone should know about Shariah law.
I understand Shariah law to be Islam’s version of Halakhah. But I’m not trained in Quranic hermeneutics, and I don’t know the details of Shariah law well enough to agree or disagree with any of Rashid’s points.
However, No. 5, addressing whether countries like Iran that claim to follow Shariah law but oppress their own people, caught my eye. Rashid writes:
Such countries have ignored the fundamental tenet of justice inherent in Shariah Law, and have instead used Shariah as an excuse to gain power and sanction religious extremism. To be sure, not a single example of a “Shariah compliant” country exists. In fact, the most “Muslim country” in the world is likely America, because America guarantees freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of expression and freedom of thought—all hallmarks of Shariah Law. Those nations that oppress in the name of Shariah are as justified in their claims, as the slave owners who claimed their right to slavery was based on the Bible.
As for the “violent” verses from the Qur’an that are cited by both extremists and critics—honest legal interpretation abhors quoting an excerpt as a means to understand the full law. Unfortunately, both extremists and critics refuse to adhere to this basic principle. In sum, Shariah law guides a Muslim’s personal relationship with God, just as the Old and New Testaments guide Jews and Christians in their personal relationships with God.
This past March, the Center for American Progress published a report (PDF) that provided support for Rashid and debunked myths about Shariah. For more on understanding Shariah, check out this audio from the Council on Foreign Relations.