The Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) announced a national Shariah education campaign to promote “religious freedom and combat Islamophobia.”
This campaign will include an education tour to introduce Islamic faith to the American public, as well as billboards, college campus seminars, radio ads, and a national hotline to address questions about Shariah.
Shariah education and interfaith events and town hall forums are scheduled for 25 cities. According to Dr. Zahid H. Bukhari, president of the ICNA, “The First Amendment guarantees religious freedom for every citizen. Muslim Americans are asking for the same fundamental rights to observe Shariah, a component of the Islamic faith, in our personal, familial and religious affairs within the boundaries of the United States Constitution and all local, state and federal laws.”
Presumably these town hall forums are designed “to clarify misconceptions about American Muslims.” But suppose Shariah is incompatible with constitutional guarantees? Suppose as well that Shariah, if widely instituted, would shatter provisions for free speech, individual rights and equal protection of the law?
It is certainly appropriate to educate the public about Shariah. Is it, however, appropriate to propagandize in behalf of religious attitudes that encourage hostility to women, that argues Jews are the progeny of apes and pigs and that can only accept categorical rights as opposed to individual rights?
It will be interesting to see if ICNA encourages an opposition voice at its public events. At most interfaith conferences I have attended Muslim representatives offer their selective interpretation of the Koran and Hadith. Rarely are contrary opinions cited, nor are portions of the holy documents carefully parsed.
Moreover, many Muslim leaders ignore their own law of abrogation suggesting that even if the suras are not chronological, that which came after is more significant than what came before. This is understandable since the verses of the sword and the call to violence to promote the faith appear in the Medina section of the Koran which relies on holy war.
Clearly religion of any kind is subject to interpretation. That is where the First Amendment’s free speech provision comes in. But if the Koran was written by the Archangel Gabriel at the behest of Allah, the words cannot be altered; the interpretation is left to the imams, not to religious adherents. Personal interpretation is not possible for Muslims who remain observant.
As a consequence, Islam is different from other religions. Christians may object to a critique from atheists, but there is the acceptance of free speech superordinating doctrine. In Islam this cannot be the case leading one to the obvious conclusion that Shariah by its very nature is intolerant. It cannot readily accept criticism and open dialogue.
Hence, town hall meetings are ultimately a one-way street in which an unwary audience is propagandized or even proselytized by those claiming the mantle of “fact based” knowledge about Islam. Needless to say, there are those Muslims who rely on the Mecca portion of the Koran ignoring the call to violence.
And it is also true that many Muslims do not take seriously every comment in the holy books. But for those not particularly savvy about Islam, the power of ICNA rhetoric should not be underestimated.
This public relations campaign is the beginning of what will be a contest between Shariah-driven perspectives and the essence of the U.S. Constitution. In my judgment they are not compatible, notwithstanding ICNA claims to the contrary.
My fear is that a naïve public unfamiliar with Islam could be easily hoodwinked. But then again I believe in and will defend free speech even when it is used for positions I do not support.
Herbert London is president emeritus of Hudson Institute and author of the book "Decline and Revival in Higher Education" (Transaction Books). Read more reports from Herbert London — Click Here Now.
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