Louis Palme / May 12, 2014

A bizarre story last week got my attention:  California Governor candidate Tim Donnelly (R) accused rival Neel Kashkari (R) of being soft on Sharia because Kashkari spoke at an Islamic banking conference in 2008.  Congressman Darrell Issa (R) came to Kashkari’s defense and shot back, “There is no place in any public discussion for this type of hateful and ignorant garbage.”   That statement was over the top, and it indicates that “Sharia” is now such a toxic (or sensitive) word that politicians, both Democratic and Republican, are really nervous about its political implications.  Sharia has become the new “N-word.” (See:   http://www.latimes.com/local/la-me-donnelly-sharia-20140509-story.html )

Of course the present Democratic administration has gone to great lengths to avoid discussing the ideology of Islam – to the point that Islam and Sharia Law are virtually eliminated from the government lexicon. During the presidency of Barack Obama, many political conservatives have pined for the time when the government will be back in the hands of Republicans – who, they believe, will come down hard on the “creeping Sharia” they see slowly infiltrating our nation.  Perhaps now is a good time to see if that hope is even realistic.

Yes, during the 2012 Presidential campaign season, there were some Republican candidates who made some rather strong statements about Islam:  Herman Cain said he would require loyalty oaths of any Muslim serving in his administration. Rick Santorum said Americans should educate, engage, evangelize and eradicate Muslims. Newt Gingrich feared a future America might be one dominated by radical Islamists.  None of those candidates came close to winning the presidential primary race. Was all that rhetoric just a matter of throwing out some red meat to the political beasts? As for the ultimate Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, he told the Iowa Caucus that based on the Muslims he knew, Islam was not an inherently violent religion.

Perhaps a model for understanding why there is no political consensus about Islam and Sharia Law can be found in Jonathan Haidt’s 2012 study, “The Righteous Mind – Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion.”  His study found that people make political choices based more on intuition than rational thought.  They use their bag of social values rather clumsily when addressing new situations. For example, the question of whether it is OK to eat dog meat leads to more questions about who owns the dog, when did the dog die, and is the person starving?  This may be exactly the dilemma both liberals and conservatives face when it comes to judging the merits of Islam and Sharia Law:  Aren’t all religions inherently good and peaceful?  If we want others to respect our religious beliefs, shouldn’t we respect theirs?  Isn’t Sharia Law practice similar to rabbinical court process for the Jews? These intuitive responses fail to ponder rationally the inherent good and evil that is at the heart of the issue.

Without going into the details of Haidt’s thesis, his book provides some reference points for constructing a distribution social values along the conservative – liberal spectrum. Haidt identified six values that govern our moral choices:  sanctity, respect for authority, loyalty, liberty, fairness, and empathy (care).  To that list, one might add fealty, pluralism, and social justice to round out the spectrum of values.  Ranked from conservative to liberal, they would be arranged as follows:



Respect for Authority






Social Justice

Fealty responses are rarely seen these days, but they would include bowing to a King, saying “Heil Hitler,” and signing a pledge of one’s life, such as the Islamic Pledge of Hudaybiya.  Sanctity involves giving recognition to people, books, and sites as being holy. Respect for authority gives consideration to a person’s status, qualifications, or seniority in making decisions. Loyalty leads to sacrificing personal interests for a greater good. Liberty involves making personal choices independent of fealty or authority. Fairness reflects the situation where all are treated equally regardless of rank or status. Empathy is identifying with the situation or feelings of others. Pluralism is a situation where there is no discrimination by race, religion, or gender. Social justice is a fair distribution of wealth and opportunity.

In this spectrum of values, it is clear that Islamic values are concentrated in the four most conservative values.   The values of political conservatives (i.e., Republicans) and those of political liberals, (i.e., Democrats), respectively, would fall farther down the spectrum.  In making this determination I am not making any judgment about the rightness or wrongness of those values.  The point I am making, however, is that based on people’s intuitive values, Islam and Sharia Law share more values in common with conservatives than with liberals.

But here is the dilemma: The most active opponents of Islam and Sharia Law tend to be political conservatives.  They seem to be animated not so much by their intuitive values as they are by a rational assessment of the good and evil inherent in the ideology.  There is something inherently evil about waging perpetual war against non-believers.  There is something inherently evil about chopping off the hand of a petty thief.  There is something inherently evil about killing someone for leaving Islam.  What merits found in Islam would offset these evil practices?

When Islamists defend Islam or Sharia Law, however, rarely talk about specific provisions or even their conservative values such as respect for Allah’s commands or the sacred sanctity of their draconian punishments which are inscribed in the Quran.  Instead, they emphasize principles that clearly appeal to the liberal values of empathy and social justice.  One Stanford-educated apologist for Sharia Law recently wrote that the six principles of Sharia are the right to the protection of life, family, education, property, human dignity, and religion. (See: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sumbul-alikaramali/whos-afraid-of-shariah_b_701331.html )   Taken at face value, those merits of Islam and Sharia Law must strike a responsive chord with most American liberals.  Furthermore, no conservative would dare attack those six principles, as they are self-evidently noble.  

But let’s look at those principles in the light of specific provisions of Sharia Law as spelled out in the “Classic Manual of Sacred Islamic Law,” – namely, al-Misri’s Reliance of the Traveler, approved by the reputable Al Azhar University in Cairo as well as the U.S.-based International Institute of Islamic Thought.  The provisions of that Manual are stipulated to be practiced anywhere Muslims reside: “There is virtually no country on the face of the earth where a Muslim has an excuse to behave differently than he would in an Islamic country, whether in his commercial or other dealings.” (Section w43.5)  Note in the provisions below that Sharia Law is not applied equally regardless of race, religion, or gender -- an assumption most Americans today would naturally take for granted.

Protection of life

 “When a person who has reached puberty and is sane voluntarily apostatizes from Islam, he deserves to be killed.”  (Section o8.1)  Apostasy includes denying the “obligatory character of something which by the consensus of Muslims is part of Islam – like prayer.” (Section 8.7(14))

“The following are not subject to retaliation: a Muslim for killing a non-Muslim, or a father or mother (or their fathers or mothers) for killing their offspring, or offspring’s offspring.” (Section o1.2 (2) and (4))

“Scourge whoever drinks wine. . . If he drinks it a fourth time, kill him.” (Section p14.2(1))

Protection of family

“When a child or a woman is taken captive, they become slaves by the fact of capture, and the woman’s previous marriage is immediately annulled.” (Section o9.13)

“If the corruptness of a child’s mother consists of her not performing the prayer (salat) [specified five times each day], she has no right to custody of the child.” (Section m13.3(c)) 

“A woman has no right to custody [of her children] when she remarries.” (Section m13.4)

Protection of education

“The unlawfulness of the “sciences of the materialists” refers to the conviction of materialists that things in themselves or by their own nature have a causal influence independent of the will of Allah. [e.g., water boils at 212⁰ F.] To believe this is unbelief that puts one beyond the pale of Islam. Muslims working in the sciences must remember that they are dealing with figurative causes not real ones, for Allah alone is the real cause.”  (Section w11.1)

“It is unlawful to send Muslim children to Christian schools or those which are designedly atheist.”  (Section m13.3)

Protection of property

“. .  it is invalid and  unlawful for a non-Muslim to inherit property through estate division from a Muslim.” (Section L1.0)

 “A male shall inherit twice as much as a female.”  (Koran, Surah 4:11)

Protection of human dignity

 “[A husband] may hit her, but not in a way that injures her, meaning he may not break bones, wound her, or cause blood to flow.” (Section m10.12)

“The indemnity for the death or injury of a woman is one-half the indemnity paid for a man. The indemnity paid for a Jew or a Christian is one-third of the indemnity paid for a Muslim. The indemnity paid for a Zoroastrian is one-fifteenth of that of a Muslim.” (Section o4.9)

“The following are not suitable [marriage] matches for one another:  a non-Arab man for an Arab woman because the Prophet said, ‘Allah has chosen the Arabs above others.’” (Section m4.2(1))

“A person’s right hand is amputated, whether he is a Muslim, non-Muslim subject of the Islamic state, or someone who has left Islam when he . . . steals at least a quarter of a dinar or goods worth that much [about $46]. [Subsequent punishments for the same offense would include amputating the left foot, the left hand, and then his right foot.] (Section o14.0)

Protection of religion

“Previously revealed religions were valid in their own eras, as is attested to by many verses of the Holy Koran, but were abrogated by the universal message of Islam. . . . It is unbelief (kufr) to hold that the remnant cults now bearing the names of formerly valid religions, such as “Christianity” or “Judaism,” are acceptable to Allah Most High after He has sent the final Messenger [i.e., Muhammad] to the entire world.” (Section w4.1(2))

“A child that is found in a Muslim town is considered a Muslim, and likewise if found in a non-Muslim town if there is a single Muslim therein, even if he denies the child is his.  . .  . in this case there are two religions, with Islam given precedence, as it always surpasses and is never surpassed.”  (Section k28.1)

The spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, recently stated, “The shariah cannot be amended to conform to changing human values and standards. Rather, it is the absolute norm to which all human values and conduct must conform.” (Quoted in “Shariah – the Threat to America,” Center for Security Policy, 2010, page 43.)

In view of these specific provisions which obviously contradict the virtuous principles claimed to be embodied in Sharia Law, both liberals and conservatives need to reassess the reliability of their value instincts vis-a-vis the hard facts of Islam and Sharia Law.  Discussing the merits of Islam and Sharia Law shouldn’t be a debate along liberal vs. conservative lines, but rather a debate focused on good vs. evil.  Most Americans can recognize evil when they see it.  To excuse any evil with moral equivalence, tu quoque, or anecdotal arguments only perpetuates the problem.  We know better, and we should be responding better to those who make excuses for the ideology of Islam and Sharia Law.

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