Thursday, August 19, 2010

sharia law


‘Sharia’ is a much more abstract concept than ideologues—whether Mideast Islamists or Newt Gingrich—suggest

By Lee Smith
Aug 18, 2010 7:00 AM
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Wikimedia; Shah Marai/AFP/Getty Images

With a recent CNN poll showing that 68 percent of Americans oppose the plan to build a mosque in lower Manhattan, close to Ground Zero, it is difficult not to conclude that Americans have begun to take a referendum, not necessarily on their Muslim neighbors, but more generally on what they see as the problems posed by Islam to U.S. liberal democracy. In Washington, Newt Gingrich put a name to it in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute when he identified the problem as “sharia,” or what is commonly translated as Islamic law.

Stealthy jihadis and violent ones, said Gingrich, are “both seeking to impose the same end state, which is to replace Western civilization with a radical imposition of sharia.” After quoting the Gettysburg Address, Gingrich concluded, “I would argue that the victory of sharia would clearly mean the end of the government Lincoln was describing.”

You’d think the party of Lincoln was made of stronger stuff, but many on the right have taken up the former Georgia congressman’s call to arms. Gingrich, wrote Andrew McCarthy on National Review Online, “has crystallized the essence of our national-security challenge. Henceforth, there should be no place to hide for any candidate, including any incumbent. The question will be: Where do you stand on sharia?”

By making sharia the focus of his fulminations, Gingrich has taken an almost hopelessly abstract concept and weighted it with an existential presence that it has never had in 1,400 years of Muslim history. Sharia is not a concrete legal code; it is the idealized notion of God’s law. Because there is no way to approach what is ostensibly divine except through human agency, sharia as such does not exist except as interpreted by human beings over the long course of Islamic history. The word “sharia” necessarily means many things to many people. Even though Islam is very simple in its basics, including conversion—you are a Muslim if you testify there is no God but God and Muhummad is the messenger of God—the faith comes with a fabulously esoteric scholarly tradition.

The access that Muslims have to sharia is through jurisprudence, or fiqh al-sharia, the comprehension of sharia. In Muslim history there were at least six major Sunni schools of law, with only four remaining (Hanbali, Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i); in Shia Islam there are two major approaches, usuli, based on deriving principles, and akhbari, a scripturalist posture that believes all answers are already written down in the Quran and the sayings of the Shiite saints.

Of course, there is also difference of opinion as to the relevant texts. Except for the Quran, Sunnis and Shiites typically disagree about everything. As for the hadith, or sayings of the prophet, the Sunnis believe the relevant hadith are those of the prophet and his companions, the sahaba; for the Shia, the meaningful hadith are those of the prophet as well as the imams who followed him. To produce fiqh, the Shia also have aql, or intellect, whereas the Sunnis go by the principle of qiyas, or reasoning by analogy, and also ijma, or consensus.

It is doubtful that Islam’s scholastic legal apparatus is what the former House speaker was referring to when he said that sharia “is the heart of the enemy movement from which the terrorists spring forth.” Among other things, he is referring to the notoriously vicious corporal punishments associated with so-called Islamic law as exercised in many Muslim-majority countries. Known as the huddud, these punishments, like stoning and lashing for adulterers, beheading for murderers, and so on, are most famously meted out by Islamist outfits like the Taliban in Afghanistan and also by the terror-propagating Pashtun militia’s two senior state-sponsors, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. There is little doubt that both these countries have had a hand in terrorism, including spectacular operations directed against the United States, like the Sept. 11 attacks. But unless Washington intends to make war on them, rather than putting Islamabad on the dole and selling Riyadh 84 advanced F-15s, as it is planning to do, it is counterproductive to associate sharia with our enemy.

Gingrich is also referring to how Muslims tend to perceive of non-Muslims and the fact that Muslim societies have historically treated non-Muslims as second-class citizens, with the status of protected peoples, or dhimmis. While this principle obviously runs against the grain of American culture, it is hard to see how it possibly threatens non-Muslim U.S. citizens, or even American Muslims of the Shiite sect who, since they are considered heretics by the Sunnis, have usually suffered worse fates than Christians and Jews in Sunni-majority lands. When Gingrich argues that “radical Islamists want to impose Sharia on all of us,” I can’t imagine how he sees that happening, short of the largest land invasion in human history of foreign Muslim soldiers, administrators, and religious scholars with the connivance of millions of Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, and pagan American collaborators. And look out, Mitt Romney and the Mormons!

The stealth scenario is slightly less preposterous—jihadis insinuating their way through our legal and political systems to slowly Islamize a credulous U.S. public degree by degree—but many times more repugnant. It is necessarily premised on the idea of a United States that has lost all faith and confidence in its own values and an intellectual and political elite too stupid to tell the difference between our founding principles and Islamic obscurantism. In this scenario, the same nation that came out of its Civil War a more perfect union is now just a few headscarves and beards away from becoming a Taliban backwater.

If to Gingrich sharia stands for everything wrong with Islam, Muslims associate it with all that is best about Islam—justice, accountability, the rule of law, and even democracy. That is to say, it’s a highly idealized version of reality that has little basis in fact. For most Muslims (moderate and non-moderate alike), sharia is a catchall phrase for legal principles that have rarely, if ever, existed in actual Muslim societies, where the law of the land is not God’s but the ruler’s. It is not abstract notions of “sharia” but the actual application of the ahkam al-sultaniyya, or laws of the ruler, that have shaped the reality of most Muslim societies over the last millennium.

The notion that something called “sharia” was widely imposed throughout the lands of Islam is an Orientalist fantasy. If Gingrich’s Orientalism—sharia represents an all-encompassing totalitarian force—is of the negative variety, positive Orientalism asserts that Muslim societies were just and well-administered until Napoleon’s 1798 invasion of Egypt and the colonial legacy that ensued. The driving force behind this positive Orientalism is none other than the Islamist movement. For instance, the Islamists reasoned that the Arabs lost the 1967 war with Israel because they no longer practiced the true religion. Islam had taken a wrong turn somewhere, and Muslim societies needed to return to the essentials of the faith as practiced by the prophet of Islam and the righteous forebears, al-salaf. Those who adopted such ahistorical beliefs are known as salafists, whose ranks include a broad spectrum of Islamists including the Muslim Brotherhood. In the hands of the Brotherhood’s founder, Hassan al-Banna, sharia was another wedge used to divide Muslim populations from the ruling regimes. In time, the regimes adapted so that today the Egyptian constitution names sharia as its principle source of legislation, and the new Iraqi constitution cites it as a fundamental source; but this is essentially window-dressing to placate pious Muslims and ward off the Islamists.

The Islamists are hardly more specific about what sharia means. When Banna spoke of sharia to the Egyptian masses, he meant something similar to the empty Western left-wing mantra of “social justice.” In any case, the Islamist definition of sharia is something very different from the thousand-year-old enterprise that had devoted its scholarly energies to discerning how to understand and implement, if possible, God’s revealed word. Aside from notable exceptions like Youssef al-Qaradawi, almost none of the notables even vaguely affiliated with the Islamist movement are scholars. What they know about sharia is only slightly more than what Newt Gingrich thinks he knows about it.

It is surpassingly strange that a concept revived by Islamists as a political tool may now be serving a similar purpose in the United States, where sharia is no more likely to affect the American way of life than the burial rituals of the ancient Egyptians are likely to influence our funerary rites. When the organizer behind the lower Manhattan Islamic center, Imam Feisal Rauf, says that the U.S. legal system is “sharia-compliant,” he is not preparing the way for a regime of lashings and beheadings; he is engaging in a species of inter-Muslim apologetics—which are also pro-American, even if in a roundabout way.

There is no comparing the Islamic sharia and the U.S. Constitution. The idealized notion of God’s law as derived from the Quran and hadith does not guarantee freedom of religious belief, or freedom of expression, including blasphemy, as the United States does in practice. The same is true for concepts like freedom of association and political rights, including the right to form political parties. Americans have long enjoyed freedoms that many Muslims, including the Islamists, say they have aspired to for more than a thousand years. To claim that Muslim societies—in their idealized form—also promote the freedoms that Americans really enjoy is not a threat to the U.S. Constitution but a relatively shame-free way of engaging a subject that is embarrassing to a society extremely sensitive to shame.

But what’s more embarrassing is that the political leaders of a free country imagine that our freedoms are threatened, not by real men with real weapons who are supported by states that claim to be our allies, but by a scare word whose real-world applications are obscure to Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

More in: Cordoba House, Cordoba Initiative, Feisal Abdul Rauf, Ground Zero, Ground Zero mosque, Islam, Newt Gingrich, Park51, Sharia

46 Responses to “Lawless”

asherZ says:

Aug 18, 2010 at 11:18 AM

I think that when Gingrich saw a problem with Islam as it may affect U.S. liberal democracy, he was not using the term sharia in of itself as posing that threat. As Lee Smith points out, there are many interpretations of Islamic law, just as there are different practices in other religions. What those who are pointing to the dangers posed by Islam, are the Muslims who see as their goal the ultimate worldwide domination of Islam in a Caliphate that has as its basis the rule of sharia as they interpret it. An analogy to this could be the actions of the Inquisition by the Catholic Church and its relationship to the New Testament.

With a spiritual vacuum enveloping western civilization, the Islamicists hope to fill that void with their own beliefs. In certain parts of Europe they are beginning to meet with some success. Even in the U.S. there are those who are attempting to push the envelope and replace our constitutional rights with their own credo based on the sharia. We regularly read about such occurrences. Smith would do well not to minimize the threats that radical Islam poses on our way of life.

Michael Nutkiewicz says:

Aug 18, 2010 at 11:30 AM

Sharia and Halacha (Jewish law) share some common traits and similiar challenges. They both must navigate between tradition (the sacred old order) and accomodation (the technological, scientific, social and political changes). Those who adjudicate sharia/halacha feel that tension and both legal systems express the full spectrum of interpretations: extreme conservatives to extreme liberals. The adjudicators of the U.S. Constitution face the same tension: e.g., the debate between “original intent” vs. constructive change. The author is correct that sharia trumps universal human rights. The situation is the same in halacha. This does not mean that these traditions do not have a notion of human rights. They do. But they are circumscribed, and adjudicators in both traditions decide when these values are to be applied in particular cases.

Eve Rowell, MD says:

Aug 18, 2010 at 11:37 AM

This article uses ridicule and hyperbole, as well as obscurantism rather than information to make its point. In other words, the article is a political and ideological polemic.

First the author states that Sharia is not a concrete legal code. I’m sure that would be of interest to all the women who have been stoned to death based upon this un-concrete legal code.

Then the author attempts to denigrate the knowledge of Sharia of anyone who is opposed to efforts that are currently being made in the US to change laws and customs for the express comfort of Muslims. He argues it is an esoteric code that practically nobody except esoteric scholars, apparently like himself, is qualified to understand.

The author by his own admission fails to understand the concern on the part of Americans about Muslim organizations in the US. For example there is the Muslim American Society. It was founded in 1992 for the purpose of promoting “Islam as a total way of life.” Like the Muslim Brotherhood, it wishes to see the United States governed by sharia, or Islamic law. Given that the author does not understand or “can’t imagine” why this is of concern to Americans, what is the point of his article? Why write an article about something you do not understand?

Instead of advancing dialogue between Americans who are intelligent but disagree in their attitudes towards Sharia law, this kind of article creates ever more divisiveness and vindictiveness in our culture. This divisiveness seems to have mushroomed since the 9/11 terrorist attacks on our soil.

If Muslims or non-Muslims who advocate for Sharia law want to make a case for Sharia law to Americans, this kind of article is not the way to do it. The author indicates by his contempt for concerned Americans the derisive attitudes that Islamist individuals have for the West.

sharon gordon says:

Aug 18, 2010 at 12:03 PM

Honor killings are taking place in Europe, Canada and the US. I would like to see more about what is being done to prevent this – as it barely hits the news.

We have a constitution that was created by rational people, based on rational principles. Religion is irrational – based on made up fantasy’s created by men for power and control. Notice that in every religion, women are considered second class citizens – this also has to do with power and control. Unfortunately, this belief has invaded our society and has only recently been slightly mitigated. But with the newly found power of the religious Christian right in this country – we are slowly going backwards.

So yes, as a women, I fear sharia, and I fear religious fundamentalism of all kinds, be it Christian, Jewish or Muslim.

Alan Hoffman says:

Aug 18, 2010 at 12:35 PM

Comparisons of Jewish Halacha to Islamic Sharia are often misused and misunderstood. Halacha itself stipulates the priniciple of “Malchut Dina

Malchut” – that in exile, outside of Israel, the law of the land is law

(at least where it has nothing to do with Jewish Law per see). Sharia has

no such self-correction.

Normative Judaism understands the difference between full “rights” in its own

home nation, Israel, and of those in the “exile” among the nations. Since

Judaism has no proselytizing, forced conversion or imperialistic drives based on religion, it makes these distinctions easy. Sharia includes Dar-al-Islam and

Dar-al-Harab indicating all outside nations from Islam are the “Land of War”

and subject to Jihad, forced conversion, etc. That is an important difference.

Halacha does not even claim Jews are entitled to equal rights in exile nations, though it lauds such political developments. Sharia indicates that Islamic

rights (some of which do affect non-Muslims) have supreme rights if not sole

rights. I would overturn womens rights, minority rights, religious rights and

voting rights.

To imply there is no ideological conflict between Islam and Democracy, or a

similar ideology with Jewish Halacha is to be unlearned and superficial in

making religious comparisons.

rose tripp says:

Aug 18, 2010 at 12:56 PM

when in America obey American laws. If you don’t want to than stay away.

Natan Derwise says:

Aug 18, 2010 at 1:10 PM

The author of this article barely hides his contempt to those who oppose the creeping Islamization of the free society, be they informed or not. No “sophisticated” parsing of the meaning of Sharia can conceal the fundamental premise that Islam is an all encompasing totalitarian ideology of which the religion is a small part only. It is an existential threat to all freedom loving people, including the author residing in Dar el Harb. Newt Gingrich should be commended for raising the awarness to this threat.

Joshua says:

Aug 18, 2010 at 1:55 PM

You guys are funny. You were ready to run through a brick wall for Lee Smith a few weeks ago, but now you want to lynch him.

Charles says:

Aug 18, 2010 at 2:25 PM


Agreed. Just a few weeks ago, ignorant trolls harassed Lee as an Islamophobe, neocon, Arab hater when he rightly called out bastions of anti-Semitism. Now, commenters who likely agreed with his position regarding Walt, Greenwald, and the others are slamming him as uninformed and polemical, which once again, is not the case.

Never before had I thought of suggesting that the American Constitution and/or Bill of Rights might be a useful way to present America and its values to the Muslim world. The US does a great job criticizing itself in the international sphere and exporting mindless films and television shows (which, despite their immorality, etc. make more money outside the US than domestically), yet throughout most of the world we don’t have the same determination to export the very things we claim to value the most.

Bo says:

Aug 18, 2010 at 3:26 PM

The problem is that even though Newt is using an overly simplistic and incorrect interpretation of Sharia, the mere fact that he uses a word that is foreign to American ears, and Lee Smith uses a well-thought-out but highly-complex explanation of Sharia that even the responders to his column appear to have trouble understanding means that Newt wins and Lee loses.

Americans like simple explanations.

hiramo says:

Aug 18, 2010 at 3:32 PM

I love it when the readers are smarter than the writer.

Marian says:

Aug 18, 2010 at 3:39 PM

I am more afraid of the American version of Sharia than anything Newt can dream

up. Every year, Louisiana law becomes more and more restrictive on

women’s rights in this state. I don’t see where replacing ultra-conservative

Christians with ultra-conservative Muslims would be any different.

Carl says:

Aug 18, 2010 at 5:29 PM

This article is very misleading at best, while it resounds with philosophical explanation of Sharia it doesnt address the issue of Americam Muslim calls for a Muslim “Sharia” Court to decide Muslim issues such as divorce property settlement complaints against other Muslims … … these calls have been repeated across the US advocated by Imams and oppesed by Muslim women. These Islamic courts often use the principals set forth in the Koran that prohibit women from objecting to settlement that are unfavorable to them and are often viewed as discriminatory towards women. If American law is “Sharia Compliant” then why are there calls for a seperate justice system that would be applied to Muslims only that does not meet American standards of justice?

Barbara says:

Aug 18, 2010 at 5:55 PM

Alan Hoffman: Thank you for your intelligent and knowledgable comments.

TallDave says:

Aug 18, 2010 at 6:10 PM

But what’s more embarrassing is that the political leaders of a free country imagine that our freedoms are threatened, not by real men with real weapons who are supported by states that claim to be our allies, but by a scare word whose real-world applications are obscure to Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

Right, our rights aren’t threatened by sharia… except, you know, where sharia law has actually been used to take away people’s rights, such as in Canadian divorce proceedings. And it’s not like there are honor killings in Britain, or some nuts flew planes into the WTC or something.

These stupid insinuations that only weaklings need to defend their country’s principles aren’t convincing anyone. The cowards here are the ones who want to pretend the threat doesn’t exist in pursuit of some unattainable multi-culti utopia.

Bob G. says:

Aug 18, 2010 at 6:10 PM

Oh, BS.

How do you separate the theory of Sharia from the stoning of women, death penalty for homosexuals, and honor killings?

We, who are not blessed with great intellects, nor with degrees from elite schools, have to evaluate issues and situations on the evidence. There is plenty of evidence as to where Sharia law takes a society. You don’t have to focus on Iran, or other full-blown Theocracies, to find the evidence.

CK MacLeod says:

Aug 18, 2010 at 6:19 PM

The author of this article barely hides his contempt to those who oppose the creeping Islamization of the free society,

It’s very difficult to avoid the appearance of contempt when discussing the contemptible. The idea that 3% of the US population (half of them prison converts) are going to impose some version of “totalitarian Sharia” on the remaining 97% is pretty darn contemptibly dumb. The fact that significant sectors of the rightwing, and countless enraged talkradio types and e-mail list recipients are shaking in their boots and wetting their pants over Sharia (or what they think they know about it) in the U.S. is exactly what Smith says it is: embarrassing.

As is most of the rest of the “anti-mosque” movement.

Leonard Fein says:

Aug 18, 2010 at 7:01 PM


I may be mistaken, but my impression is that the calls for “Sharia Compliant” adjustments all stipulate that the separate justice system would be available only with the consent of the litigants. In that sense, it is not all that different from the more adventuresome Batei Din around the country. Here in Boston, for example, the Beth Din intervened in a very public way in a slum landlord case — the landlord was an Orthodox Jew and agreed to the proceedings, which took a full year to unfold. It dealt as well with selective conscientious objection and with the kashrut of food additives, and came up with rulings that people were free to accept or reject.

More important: Have we any data at all on the proportion of Muslim Americans who would favor the establishment of Sharia courts?

Robert says:

Aug 18, 2010 at 7:11 PM

I agree with Newt…..”When in Rome do as the Romans”…..”When in America do……..”……a free people are free when they act consistant with their nature and that nature is defined by their laws. We are a Judeo Christian country (wheather you like it or not)who wrote a constitution that unpacked that faith and its idea for community life. Live here and live in that system or find a place that will fit your desire….there are plenty of countries that will have you….

John says:

Aug 18, 2010 at 7:12 PM

Nice try Lee. Your lecture is just as patronizing as everyone elses. Too bad. For your education, check out

MomofFour says:

Aug 18, 2010 at 7:15 PM

If you do not believe that Sharia law is a threat to this country I urge you to visit those communities in Europe who are now having huge problems because of Sharia law. Our Declaration of Independence and constitution clearly refute anything resembling Sharia law. We are a country UNITED, not DIVIDED. The progressives seek to divide this country into voting blocks for their political advantage and educated Americans recognize the danger of this. Anyone who respects and understands what our founding fathers fought for would not ignorantly defend this bigoted law. It is oppressive, sexist, and has no place in this country of freedom. Educate yourself.

Cara C says:

Aug 18, 2010 at 7:37 PM

In which countries ruled by Sharia law of any sort are the people free, and non-Muslims and women treated as equals? Um, none. Some are more horrific than others, but all are oppressive. Islam demands submission, not liberty.

Sharia law IS being imposed here through stealth means. There is a strong Shariah banking movement. Christianity is under constant attack. And anyone following the case of Rifqa Bary saw a 17-year-old girl almost returned to her Islamic parents who had threatened to kill her for apostasy.

Ron says:

Aug 18, 2010 at 7:50 PM

Islam owes us an insurmountable debt. They need to gain our good graces. This is the only time I can recall the defenders of this mosque fiasco coming to defend a religion. I really think a lot of the defenders should look at a beheading video and then get back to us. I don’t care about being fair to Islam. They seem to create a world of trouble.When they root out their scum , repent and denounce violence and work to redeem the horrible things done in the name of their religion, they might be on the way to better relations. A lot of people are still very angry about the attacks on our soil.

Lynn says:

Aug 18, 2010 at 8:31 PM

Leonard Fein:

“I may be mistaken, but my impression is that the calls for “Sharia Compliant” adjustments all stipulate that the separate justice system would be available only with the consent of the litigants. In that sense, it is not all that different from the more adventuresome Batei Din around the country.”

Personally, I think access to voluntary courts shoud be limited to voluntary religions.

Steve S says:

Aug 18, 2010 at 9:19 PM

Blasphemy is punishable by death under Sharia. Apostasy is punishable by death under Sharia. Homosexuality is punishable by death under Sharia. Theo Van Gogh was murdered for having the temerity as an infidel to attempt to explain Sharia. Salman Rushdie continues to live under the threat of assassination for having made a bit of sport of Sharia. Comedy Central refused to run an episode of South Park because it included Mohammed. People were killed as Muslims world-wide rioted over the Danish cartoons, even though the cartoons were already six months old by then. 3,000 people died on 9/11.

But us dumb hicks don’t understand the finer points of Sharia, he states. Yet if confronted with the above, which he so studiously ignored in his diatribe, he will claim that these incidents are not Sharia. No? But their proponents claimed it was, and they were raised to it. Who then is the fool, Mr. Lee? You don’t get to cherry-pick your data.

Lynn says:

Aug 18, 2010 at 9:26 PM

The author may have difficulty understanding this, but what’s even more difficult for me is seeing other women stripped of their most basic rights over and over and over again by advocates for Shariah – and in countries and areas that were ONCE relatively free, like Iran, Iraq, Aceh prov., Pakistan, Afghanistan (at least in parts thereof where women were once surgeons and teachers – and in RECENT memory) & now parts of the CAUCUSES. Can anyone think of any other category of persons who have seen such violent erosions of their rights in so many places by an identifiable doctrine? And then to have guys like this author minimize and even ridicule those concerns is really frustrating. . . . Now, if I saw ANY recognition by our elites of the degree of intimidation and violence that must often be brought to bear in these communities to maintain those “islamic” standards, it wouldn’t be so troubling. What I see instead is an increasing willingness to accommodate “group” rights and the rights of “religions” – really “A” religion (though that religion just happens to operate like a state in a number of countries, completely with fascistic morality police whose primary charge is arresting and harassing WOMEN). In light of all this it’s truly frightening when someone like the Bishop of Canterbury talks about how accommodation is “inevitable” to preserve “community cohesion”. The only thing that’s inevitable is that any such accommodation will come at the expense of women and girls who apparently no longer merit the equal protection of the law.

Joseph Smith says:

Aug 18, 2010 at 9:57 PM

I can honestly say I’ve never read anything so pretentious in my life. You can call it whatever you want, and you can argue till your mother calls you to dinner, but the fact is when Muslims reach a certain percentage of the population of the country they are currently invading, be it Norway, Germany, France or America, they begin to demand the right to make and enforce the laws that effect their subpopulation. It is a reality. Stoning to death, cutting off limbs – not exactly enlightened.

mike shapiro says:

Aug 18, 2010 at 9:58 PM

I will disagree with Alan Hoffman on one thing. One only has to look at the havoc that the Haredi are wreaking in Israel to see the damage that Halacha, as practiced by a small minority (and yes, in Israel the Haredi are a small, if verbal, minority) can do to a democracy. So, on that basis, there is a valid comparison.

OTOH, Halacha has never been applied to non-Jews and would not be used to determine the “lifestyle” of non-Jews living in Israel. That is decidedly not the case in countries ruled by Moslems, particularly if their religious leaders (Suni, Shia, or any other) are providing a major influence in the justice system. Try to buy alcohol in Saudi Arabia. Non Kosher McDonalds are readily available in Israel (not commenting on whether I’d eat one, just on availability.)

As for creeping Islamism, one only needs to look at England, where a number of jurisdictions are now “advising” police not to dress or do anything that might violate the sensibility of the Islamic population. Forget English common law and rules.

I’m afraid that Mr. Smith is living in a dream world. By the way, while I’m normally not a fan of Newt Gingrich (somehow the level of ethics and morality that exists in a man who would have divorce papers served on a wife who was in the hospital is minimal, at best), he seems to have a much better grasp of conditions in Cordoba in the “Golden Age of Tolerance” than does Mr. Smith.

Joseph Smith says:

Aug 18, 2010 at 10:19 PM

Two other points: First, we are not a “liberal democracy” as the author claims, but a representative republic. There is a huge difference between the two. The author’s apparent wishful thinking on this point makes the rest of his piece suspect. Second, yes, we are a free people and free to practice religion as we see fit. However, that freedom is not unlimited. When any group, including a religious one, has as a purpose the overthrow of our way of life or nation, we have every right to oppose it and the government to sanction it. The so-called right wing understands that.

Rod Dowden says:

Aug 18, 2010 at 11:32 PM

Ah, yes one more diversion tactic. This not the real issue. would we even be having

this discussion if the media and our elected officials we upholding their sworn oath to uphold “THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.

And By the way, This COUNTRY WAS founded by intelligent and GOD fearing Americans.

Any one who thinks different can not read or have not read any of our founding documents.

Shariah Law just like the Spanish inquisition are the doings of men, not GOD

or religion.

When government take over religion, disaster occurs.

Our real issue is the lack “COURAGE TO BE FREE.”

Jonathan Usher says:

Aug 18, 2010 at 11:39 PM

This is nonsense. Sharia law is the law applied in Muslim countries. In theory, from an ivory tower, it might be hard to categorize it but in practice it is easy. It is the law applied in Muslim countries. English common law is similarly different in many countries but it is the law of England and former British colonies including the United States. It is obvious that Muslims can dominate countries by having more babies than the native population and by immigration. It is being successfully done in many European countries now. Islamism, jihad adn sharia law are a serious threat to the U.S. Congratualtions to Gingrich for recognizing it before we all become dimmnis

Contemplationist says:

Aug 19, 2010 at 12:00 AM

This is such a fantastic piece of high-brow propaganda to beat the proles over the head with that I’m really impressed. Ah the sleights of hand were fun to spot!

For example : When Gingrich argues that “radical Islamists want to impose Sharia on all of us,” I can’t imagine how he sees that happening, short of the largest land invasion in human history of foreign Muslim soldiers, administrators, and religious scholars with the connivance of millions of Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, and pagan American collaborators

So Mr Smith quotes what Mr Gingrich has claimed but does not refute it, but merely argues logistics! Oh, sir, do they want to impose Sharia or not?

And among all your self-congratulatory masturbation over “sophistication” is it or is it not a fact that whatever the nuances among variant theological schools of Islamic law (both Shia and Sunni) that blasphemy is to be punished with death, that adultery carries extremely stringent penalties, that rape victims need 4 witnesses to clear themselves?

What kind of faux-intellectual wankery are you engaging by not even mentioning these things or even TRYING to refute them?

The fortunate part, Mr. Smith, is that Americans are not stupid. They see the state of Islamic societies around the world, hear and read the words of Muslim spokesmen, and see videos of Prime time Arab television (thank you Internet!) discussing the nuanced notions of holocaust denial.

You, sir are either a huge fraud, or an ignoramus far far worse than Newt Gingrich whose simplistic language on this issue has far more accuracy than your undeserved snobbery.

Contemplationist says:

Aug 19, 2010 at 12:16 AM

hopelessly abstract concept

Apparently Mr Smith is so block-headed that the wide uniformity of the legal code in Islamic societies (which they themselves profess to base on Sharia law) does not negate his point about abstraction!

Oh and such hopelessly abstract concepts as specified by (as Mr. Smith himself notes) 4 schools of Sunni sharia and 2 schools for Shias! So abstract, my my.

“Reliance of the Traveler” or Umdat al-Salik also does not exist! And don’t worry Americans, Al-Azhar university, respected as the foremost center for learning for Sunni Islam endorses Umdat Al-salik means nothing either! Its all just such hopelessly abstract stuff. Like what? Like this:

“A manual of Islamic law certified by Al-Azhar as a reliable guide to Sunni orthodoxy says that ‘retaliation is obligatory against anyone who kills a human being purely intentionally and without right.’ However, ‘not subject to retaliation’ is ‘a father or mother (or their fathers or mothers) for killing their offspring, or offspring’s offspring.’ (‘Umdat al-Salik o1.1-2).”

Is Mr Lee Smith an ignoramus or a deceptive deconstructionist?

irumat says:

Aug 19, 2010 at 3:56 AM

Lee Smith, you’ve done well this time. The comments on this article are exactly what you describe. Bravo!

The hopeless simpleton Islamists and their Tea Party/GOP brethren deserve each other.

Halbstarke says:

Aug 19, 2010 at 5:41 AM

I think that since actions speak louder than words, maybe Newt Gingrich’s thought is about responsibility in a free society. After all It was several Sharia law abiding citizens from some middle-eastern religious communities who hi-jacked and flew planes filled with innocent hostages into buildings in a country not their own. Hmm, I have not seen too many US Supreme court wannabe’s do anything like that yet in my lifetime. From where I stand Sharia law sucks and does not appeal to me. But what do I know? I have yet to be brainwashed to the point of blowing myself up in my culture and laws. (sarcasm) For all of the seldom often thinkers.

Jon Garfunkel says:

Aug 19, 2010 at 7:34 AM

Do all of you critics have the depth of experience in reporting about the Islamic world as Lee Smith? Any of you understand Arabic?

Are any of you familiar with his work?

To think that he is some apologist for Islam would be a surprise to any of this regular readers.

I have one acute criticism of the article, this throwaway line here: “the empty Western left-wing mantra of ’social justice.’” — what is wrong with the notion of social justice that it is branded an empty mantra?

BillH says:

Aug 19, 2010 at 10:37 AM

Wow, of all the opinion pieces, and articles concerning the Ground Zero Mosque, and the dialog that the issue stimulated, this article is the worse. Tell the poor woman in Iran who is sentenced to death by stoning that her death is only theoretical. Also it might be good to mention it to the nine women & two men who were executed that way a year or two ago in that country. They only think they are dead. They must be lousy theologians.

Oh while you’re at it reassure Israel that all that “obliterate” talk is just talk.

caboose says:

Aug 19, 2010 at 11:18 AM

Can you believe we have people here who want to pontificate about the horrible torture of water boarding.

can you imagine any torture more hideous than being stoned to death? can you imagine the unendurable pain of being pummeled with sharp rocks over a period of time? I don’t know how long it takes to kill a person by stoning, but i imagine that those who really enjoy seeing a person suffer could stretch it out over several hours.

i once read of a person being burned to death by the spanish inquisition who lived for 18 hours while in the fire.

why is it that so many self-righteous people who profess to be religious can support and apparently enjoy torturing other people?

one important thing was said in these posts–America is a representative republic, not a democracy. in a Republic, the majority rules, but the rights of minorities are protected.

the people of America, through elected representatives, have granted protection for more rights, and for more groups and minorities, than any country in the history of the world.

now, we have an active movement trying to take those rights away.


Lynn says:

Aug 19, 2010 at 11:49 AM

Here’s my working understanding of the “nebulous concept” – kind of non-muslim’s guide to “Reliance of the Traveler.”

At a minimum:

1. If I proseytise openly for my non-muslim religion, I’ll be arrested/deported.

2. If I’m too open and flagrant in my non-muslim religious practice I’ll be arrested/deported – at least in most M.E. countries (I suspect they’re a bit easier going in Indonesia).

3. If I want to build a non-muslim house of worship, the permits will take decades to approve and it probably won’t happen.

4. If I stand on a street corner and say Mohammad was a jackass and it’s stupid to construct a society around the words of 7th century war lord, I’ll be arrested.

5. If I convince a muslim of #4 and he says so out loud, we’ll both be arrested.

6. If I kiss a boyfriend we’ll both be arrested.

7. If I marry a muslim my husband may have up to three other wives (In Indonesia he apparently needs my permission to do this but muslim clerics are working REALLY HARD to change that in accordance with SHARIAH). If I don’t like this, he will probably divorce me through some extremely simple procedure and the kids will automatically go to him – at least after a certain age, but he’ll probably just keep them, refuse to give me access, and I probably won’t have much recourse.

*While I have framed this understanding in terms of offical responses, the primary method of enforcing shariah seems to be through community and inter-familial violence, so if the gov. doesn’t get me someone else probably will.

This is my impression of what things are like in a shariah “lite” areas with moderating features. In a country actually GOVERNED by shariah, I’m also looking at forced veiling, strict gender aparteid, no access to high public office, death for apostates/open gays, triple talaq divorce, virtually no redress through the courts against ANY muslim and some form of male guardianship that will severely limit my freedom – including my ability to simply LEAVE THE HOUSE.

Joseph Smith says:

Aug 19, 2010 at 12:36 PM

Call it sharia, pretend it doesn’t actually exist, but…

8/19/10: Saudi Judge Considers Paralysis Punishment

CAIRO (AP) – A Saudi judge has asked several hospitals in the country whether they could damage a man’s spinal cord as punishment after he was convicted of attacking another man with a cleaver and paralyzing him, local newspapers reported on Thursday.

Saudi Arabia enforces strict Islamic law and occasionally metes out punishments based on the ancient legal code of an eye-for-an-eye.

The reports said Abdul-Aziz al-Mutairi, 22, was left paralyzed after a fight more than two years ago and asked a judge to impose an equivalent punishment on his attacker under Islamic law.

Hank says:

Aug 19, 2010 at 4:59 PM

Ronnie: your aricle is well reasoned and quite comprehensive. May I add some


–Since there is no clergy, or more acccurately no hierarchy in Islam, anyone–

as you have contended– may aregue for what he or she thinks is Sh’aria. It’s

one of the reasons there are such a multiplicity of fatwas.

– It is most unfortunate that a sunni muslim, Ismail Farrooqi, who spent his

life trying to present the humane and–dare I say, rational–aspects of Islam

was killed ( along with his family), in the early 1970’s. His voice is sorely


–The position you’ve expressed, argued by the Salafists, that all went wrong

after the Napoleonic invasions (by what some Muslims call ‘the Farangi’ or

Franks) can be found in Bernard Lewis’ ” What Went Wrong–whom despite his with the

the Neo Cons–has a profound knowledge of Islam in its world wide culture.

–As you’ve suggested,0ne of the problems with Sh’aria is not simply its content,

but that after the 10th century A.D. ” the door of itjadad” (pardon my spelling)

, or the door of interpretation has been closed. And so only the traditional

law interpretations are considered valid. This is Irjad Manjii’s argument

with islam.

yahudie says:

Aug 19, 2010 at 5:04 PM

A fine bit of academic hair-splitting and equivocation. It’s like saying Stalinism isn’t so bad – after all it didn’t implement the vision of Karl Marx completely but only “aspired” to it.

Gingrich and other critics of Islam,as idealized in Sharia, are precisely concerned – as we all should be – by the “concept revived by Islamists as a political tool”. If the author had versed himself in current Muslim rhetoric in the US and elsewhere, by various “clerics” of all Islamic sects, he would see the “Sharia Plan” in action: Burrow from within and use the West’s misapplied “principles” to ensure that “Islam is the solution”.

NB says:

Aug 19, 2010 at 5:56 PM

Your line of argumentation is basically similar to those who said that Jihad in Islam can mean a religious war just as well as internal struggle. The Jihad of Islamists is real and does not leave much space for misinterpretation. It’s the academic discourse on the subject that’s vague and abstract and has no practical value.

Basically what makes Sharia a sharia are Islamic courts and in this sense Sharia is a direct challenge to democracy. While it’s true that every Muslim has its own version of Sharia, it’s not hard to see that where it’s practiced, Sharia tends to be applied in a rather conservative manner. And there is some inconsistency in how you first argue that Sharia does not actually exist and then mention Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

Finally, while it’s true that some people go completely overboard with their alarmism against Islamic encroachment, people should not be that naive to confuse a lip service paid by a Muslim cleric to the “Sharia compliant” US legal system with the reality. Usually when Muslim communities in the West ask for recognition of Sharia courts, they are not asking for making the legal system Sharia compliant. They are demanding a parallel system, a state within a state, and they are not doing this with expectations that their Sharia courts would then start vigorously imitating the workings of Western legal system

jay says:

Aug 19, 2010 at 6:09 PM

“Abstract” in Smith’s case seems to indicate “Shariah” can mean anything to anybody.

Unfortunately, as other posters have pointed out, that’s not really true . Plenty of Middle Eastern countries have decided they can encode Shariah into their legal systems, and where it’s done, it’s a far cry from the jurisprudence practiced in our Western, Judeo-Christian based societies.

I dare say the “social justice” practiced in the West, while religion-based, is far more amenable and fair to most people (except maybe violent, sex-crazed, lunatic misogynists) than would be Shariah.

I really don’t know what Smith’s point is. Islam, practiced in some reformed mode, might be a beautiful religious experience, given it’s call to the one God, and submissiveness to Him.

That is not the Islam we see in too much of the world, as plenty of other posters have pointed out. I appreciate Mr. Smith’s efforts, but until the governments and religious leaders in majority Islamic countries decide the time has come for a reformation, we’re faced with the twin evils of the creeping of Shariah into our Western legal systems, as well as the violent jihad practiced by the terror wings of the Islamists.

We either face it now, or we face it later.

Yehudit says:

Aug 19, 2010 at 6:12 PM

“….I have one acute criticism of the article, this throwaway line here: “the empty Western left-wing mantra of ’social justice.’” — what is wrong with the notion of social justice that it is branded an empty mantra?….”

What does “social justice” MEAN? How is it different from “justice”? Tell me that and I’ll believe it’s not an empty mantra. To you, anyway. But from the “progressives” I’ve observed up close, it’s just a verbal fist-bump to identify other members of the clique, or a label to stick on anything they want to do so they feel righteous and superior about it.

Evan says:

Aug 19, 2010 at 11:16 PM

Did you all even read this article? Do you not get that there is no such thing as Capital-S “Sharia” law? Sharia is a concept not that different from our concept of “jurisprudence.” Sure, it’s often jurisprudence qua the Quran and other Islamic texts, but there’s no agreement in the Islamic world as to what texts are even canonical or even whether or not any given ruling to stone or lash someone fulfills lower-case-s sharia.

Think of any court case in American history that you find the rulings in detestable. Dred Scott? Roe v. Wade? Take your pick. You’re going to condemn our entire American legal system based on some miscarriages of justice? Because that’s essentially the philosophy you’re taking to lowercase-s “sharia” law.

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