Thanks to the "march against Sharia law" last weekend, I decided to take the time to better educate myself on these terms. What I didn't know was that Sharia and Sharia law are two different things, not interchangeable. Thanks to Muslims for Progressive Values for publishing part of a book on these ideas for everyone to read.
In Arabic, the word “shari’a” means “way” or “path”. It is pronounced SHA-ree-ah. Shari’a is not a legal system. It is the overall way of life of Islam, as people understand it according to traditional, early interpretations. These early interpretations date from 700 to 900 CE, not long after the Prophet Muhammad(PBUH) died in 632 CE. Shari’a can evolve with Islamic societies to address their needs today.
Sounds to me kinda like the Christian Gospel, only much more flexible and progressive by definition.
Shari’a isn’t a legal system. It includes Islamic principles to help guide people to new answers, and it includes common cultural practices that had to do with a specific time and place in history. Muslim rulers wanted a way to make Shari’a into law. To do that, they decided which rules needed to be laws, first. Then they used interpretations of Shari’a to show people that the new laws were Islamic. The result was what we call Islamic Law.
Islamic Law is always based on someone’s interpretation of the Shari’a (which is an interpretation of the Qur’an and Hadith). Because it is a human interpretation, Islamic Law can mean different things in different places and at different times in history.
And this part is real important to hysterical Islamophobes:
Shari’a, whether called Islamic Law or not, contains religious obligations for Muslims—but they must be observed voluntarily. When the government enforces Shari’a rules as law, Muslims lose their freedom to choose from different views—and since they can’t choose, they also lose the chance to be rewarded by God for making good choices. Enforcement by the government encourages hypocrisy (saying or doing one thing, while believing another) and takes away freedom of belief.
By definition, Shari'a cannot be imposed on anyone, and certainly not on non-Muslims. So until the day that radical Islamic warlords take over the U.S., which will never happen, you don't have anything to worry or march about.
It's alarming that even Wikipedia gets this wrong. It's no wonder people are so confused and misinformed about Islam and Shari'a. But the fact is that legal codes that are influenced by Shari'a in majority Muslim countries are, in the vast majority of cases, only imposed on Muslim communities. So when Islamophobes break out survey results showing that the majority of the population in these communities want Shari'a to be "the law of the land," they're really just saying they want their lives to be guided by an important part of their faith. It's not much different from Christians who say they live their lives according to the Gospel. And much less alarming than Christians trying to make same-sex marriage and abortion illegal because their God says it's bad even though their God doesn't.
Who's trying to impose religious law upon those who don't follow that religion? Hmm? Project much?
I'm going to be doing more reading into Shari'a and Islam in general. If there's even another Islamophobe march, I'm going to be ready.