President Barack Obama's adviser on Muslim affairs, Dalia Mogahed, has provoked controversy by appearing on a British television show hosted by a member of an extremist group to talk about Shariah, Islamic law, the Daily Telegraph reported on Oct. 8, 2009.
Mogahed, an appointee to the president's Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, said the Western view of Shariah is "oversimplified," and that the majority of Muslim women around the world associate Shariah with "gender justice.”
The White House adviser made the remarks on a London-based TV discussion hosted by Ibtihal Bsis, a member of the extremist Hizb ut Tahrir Party.
Hizb ut Tahrir believes in the non-violent destruction of Western democracy and the creation of a global Islamic state under Shariah.
Mogahed said: "I think the reason so many women support Shariah is because they have a very different understanding of Shariah than the common perception in Western media.”
Her views are similar to the conclusions that she made based on a survey in the Muslim world which she summarized in her 2007 book “Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think,” co-authored with John L. Esposito.
At the theoretical level, Shariah instructs followers implement inhumane treatment for women, such as beating wives and stoning them for committing adultery. Endorsements of polygamy and underage marriage are also tenets of Shariah.
It would have been much better if Mogahed, instead of blaming Shariah cruelty on Western perception, had mentioned to the audience the name of even a single approved Shariah book that stands clearly against these inhumane teachings.
In Mogahed’s survey, female Muslim respondents might well have said that Shariah represents justice simply because criticizing Shariah can create major trouble for these women in their societies. In addition, based on traditional ways of teaching Islam, denying a well established and approved Islamic law makes the critic an “apostate,” who deserves to be killed by the Muslim society and who will then “go to hell to be tortured forever.”
Asking a Muslim living in a Muslim society about his views about Shariah is like asking Germans living under the Nazis about their views regarding Nazism.
Can we expect to receive honest answers to such questions?
The fear of punishment for criticizing the system can completely override people’s free will and impede their ability to give honest responses.
When I was young and living in the Muslim world, we used to brag that Islam is the only religion that gives women their rights, and that polygamy, beating women, and stoning them for adultery represents wisdom that is beyond our human comprehension.
Our fear of criticizing such teachings or interpretations prevented us from being able to give an unbiased evaluation of Shariah.
There is no single piece of evidence forwarded by Mogahed that suggests that the fear factor was considered in the evaluation process or that her statistics were corrected for this bias.
It is also important to note that the questions that were asked of Muslim women were rather non-specific; thus, it is difficult to use them to give an accurate evaluation of Shariah.
It can be extremely inaccurate to evaluate the reality of Shariah by simply doing a questionnaire asking for the views of Muslims about it. By way of analogy, what if we asked Osama bin Laden about Shariah? He would likely tell us that it represents justice.
In his view, the killing of infidels is justice! The same concept applies to Mogahed’s logic. For example, when Muslim women in the survey say that Shariah represents justice, this does not necessarily mean that those women consider beating women, polygamy, or stoning for sexual misconduct to be forms of injustice.
The questions should have been tailored to ask about specific laws such as beating or stoning of women, rather than general points.
Furthermore, all the current systems that implement Shariah — such as those in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Taliban-controlled Afghanistan and Pakistan, and parts of Somalia — legalize these atrocities against women.
It would have been better if, instead of trying to convince her Western audience that Shariah is fair to women, Mogahed had given the audience one single example of a country that applies Shariah and at the same time forbids polygamy, beating of women, or stoning.
In fact, the Muslim countries that do not legally discriminate against women or justify cruelty to them, such as Turkey and Tunisia, are only those countries that refuses to implement Shariah, relying instead on secular laws.
If all Muslim women were to say that Shariah is just in its treatment of women, this would not make it true, as the terrorists would also claim that Shariah justifies fighting infidels to subjugate them to Islam.
Some people’s perceptions about Shariah do not change its fundamental nature. The only way to change the Western perception about Shariah is to change its reality.
Dr. Tawfik Hamid is the author of "Inside Jihad." He is a former associate of Dr. al-Zawahiri (second in command of al-Qaida) who now is a reformer of Islam. For more information, visit www.tawfikhamid.com. Hamid's writings in this blog represent only his thoughts and not the views of the institute where he works.
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