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Black Church News in Virginia

The Ink of the Scholar: The True Meaning of Shariah

By Imam Vernon Fareed

Every now and then some political extremists or religious zealots will being stoking the coals to incite the fire of fear in the minds and hearts of the American people. Some of the instigators behind the fear mongering are speaking out of ignorance, and many of those targeted are unsuspecting victims of their ignorance!
One grossly misunderstood Islamic concept is that of Shariah (pronounced sha-ree-ah), and it is the lack of knowledge of this term that makes it easy for some to use it to instill fear.

The American people have been made to believe that Muslims want to make shariah the law of the land and that they will in turn be forced to live under it. I’m going to use similarities to help explain the concept of shariah. The Roman Catholic Church has something called “canon law” and among other things it lays down the structure for the government of a Christian church or organization. In the faith of Judaism there is what is known as “halakhah” (Jewish law) and it lays out the rules and practices affecting virtually every aspect of their lives.

It is my understanding that correct interpretation and application of these laws sometimes requires input of the rabbis and learned people in Judaism. The term halakhah is said to mean, “the path that one walks or the way of walking.” The point here is that Jews and Christians have laws that have been extracted from higher authorities in their religion and these laws help to govern their lives with respect to conduct, rituals, diet and many other things. Likewise there are laws that serve a similar purpose in the life of a Muslim, and it is called shariah. Shariah laws are those which are extracted from four main sources in the religion of Al-Islam. The Qur’an (sacred scripture) of Muslims is the first and foremost source and authority for shariah law. The second source and authority is sunnah (life example) of Muhammad the Prophet (prayers and peace be upon him). In other words sunnah is how the Prophet demonstrated the manner by which Muslims should live their lives. Next is something called ijma’ (consensus of the good and knowledgeable people in the religion). Whenever there is an ambiguous or unclear matter in the religious teachings, the scholars look at the issue and come to a consensus regarding its meaning and application. These individuals (scholars) can’t just be persons who have knowledge, they must also be good people with honorable intentions. The last of these four sources is qiyas (analogy by reasoning and utilizing legal precedent). This process involves making comparisons with that which is before you to that which has some similarity (from the past). Shariah laws form a basic legal system and they are sometimes supplemented by legislation adapted to the conditions and circumstances of the day.

To summarize the position of a Muslim regarding shariah law there are a couple of things that should be made clear! First, if you were to ask me (a Muslim), “do I want shariah law” the unequivocal response would be “yes.” On the contrary if you were to ask me, “do I want shariah law imposed on you” the response would be no! Shariah law is there is to guide and instruct the Muslim with regards to the character, rituals, etc. of his faith, just as the laws for Jews and Christians does for them. To suggest to a Muslim that they should reject and denounce shariah law is synonymous to suggesting that we all take off our clothes and walk through the streets nude! Shariah laws are the clothes that cover the body of our religious community.

Having stated this, if we ask the question “are there some Muslims that want everyone to eat, drink, live and believe as they do”; the answer is yes! I’m sure that this can be said of some people of every faith. One of the things that I have not yet mentioned is that the word shariah in everyday spoken Arabic language means, “street” i.e. 9th street, 42nd street, etc. So the implication is that all Muslims are not always on the same street with regards to the application of shariah law, but it is authority in the religion of Al-Islam that lets us know if we are on the right street! These authorities in the faith settle the matter whenever there is disagreement regarding what is and what is not shariah law. There are definitely some on a dead end street and there are some on the wrong street heading nowhere!

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