There is a growing hysteria about "Sharia" across America with groups organizing marches and States passing "Anti-Sharia" bills. Some sixteen US states including Alabama (two bills), Arkansas, Florida (two bills), Indiana (two bills), Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi (four bills), Missouri (two bills), North Carolina, Oklahoma (seven bills), South Carolina (two bills), Texas (six bills), Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wyoming (two bills) have already banned Sharia Law.
It seems the anti-sharia law advocates are not sure about the strength and stability of the US constitution, as they tend to believe that a religious minority, divided into sects and various juristic schools of thought, with less than one percent of the US population can undermine the legislative process that has kept the Republic going on for the last two and half centuries and change its direction.
Anti-Sharia marches are seen by the supporters as an act of patriotism and by opponents as an act of Islamophobia.
A divisive politics and anti-Muslim sentiments resulting from the tragic and horrible acts of terrorism on 9/11 have created a climate of uncertainty where it is easy to sell hatred and promote misunderstanding.
Sharia is one concept that is wrapped in mystery in a maze of semantics both for Muslims and those opposed to sharia. While those opposing sharia law believe that Islam promotes certain primitive laws that rob human beings of their dignity, degrades women, ostracizes non-Muslims and encourages harsh penalties for adultery, stealing and murder, those using the term argue that it is the core of their faith as the whole life of a Muslim revolves around it.
Sharia, literally means the way to water for all. Implied in the term is the idea that God’s guidance is useful for all regardless of their orientations and backgrounds because God is neither a Muslim nor a Christian nor a Jew nor a Hindu or Buddhist or Sikh. He is the creator of all, hence his message is for the welfare and well-being of all. In one of the verses that appear in chapter forty-two of the Quran, Muslims are reminded the following:
In matters of faith, He has ordained for you (sharia) that which He had enjoined upon Noah - and into which We gave thee [O Muhammad] insight through revelation as well as that which We had enjoined upon Abraham, and Moses, and Jesus: Steadfastly uphold the [true] faith, and do not break up your unity therein,[And even though] that [unity of faith] to which you call them appears oppressive to those who are wont to ascribe to other beings or forces a share in His divinity, God draws unto Himself everyone who is willing, and guides unto Himself everyone who turns unto Him. Quran 42:13
Thus, Sharia in the words of the Quran, the Muslim scripture, is the way that must ensure the safety and security of all according to what is prescribed and rooted in the monotheistic traditions of Judeo-Christian traditions. In Islamic thinking, sharia must address five major concerns of human beings pertaining to life, dignity, freedom, family, and property.
Freedom of Religion
The purpose of sharia, first and foremost, is to protect freedom of religion as mentioned in the Quran: “Unto you, your moral law, and unto me, mine!” 109:6. There is no such thing called apostasy or blasphemy as each and everyone is entitled to practice his/her own way of life fearlessly.
Dignity of all People
The second purpose of sharia is to protect individual dignity as the Islamic scriptures categorically states “NOW, INDEED, We have conferred dignity on the children of Adam, and borne them over land and sea, and provided for them sustenance out of the good things of life, and favored them far above most of our creation.” - 17:70. People cannot be discriminated on the basis of their ethnicity or race or language as their dignity is their fundamental rights.
Protection of Life
The third purpose of sharia is to ensure that all human life is protected. As explained in the Quran “Because of this did We ordain unto the children of Israel that if anyone slays a human being unless it be [in punishment] for murder or for spreading corruption on earth it shall be as though he had slain all mankind; whereas, if anyone saves a life, it shall be as though he had saved the lives of all mankind. And, indeed, there came unto them Our apostles with all evidence of the truth: yet, behold, notwithstanding all this, many of them go on committing all manner of excesses on earth.”- 5:32
The fourth purpose of sharia is to ensure the right to have a family with all protections to the rules of marriage, divorce, love and relationship.
The fifth purpose is to secure the protection of property through legitimate means including the right to bear arms from any attack.
If a state claiming to follow the divine guidance uses the legislative process to make laws to ensure these five essential rights for all and not just for one religious or ethnic group, it can claim to be following Sharia in the manner it is described in the Quran. Otherwise, it would only be considered autocracy with laws adopted to protect certain interests group.
Often Muslims have defended those laws as Sharia compliant and non-Muslims have taken them as representing the divinely revealed laws.
The marches or bills denouncing the sharia or conferences supporting everything in the name of sharia would create more tension and confusion. It is time that a genuine attempt is made by both to understand what sharia is in its real sense. In the words of the Quran Sharia is a call to develop a paradigm of relations based on Judeo-Christian-Islamic value.