The GOP and the Sharia Myth

By Ian Peterson, Government Affairs Intern

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In the recent presidential debate conducted by the GOP in New Hampshire, controversy was stirred when businessman and president hopeful, Herman Cain, was asked to comment on his previous remarks in which he told a reporter that he would not appoint a Muslim to his cabinet or as a federal judge due to his irrational fear that there is a creeping movement by the American-Muslim community to impose Sharia law throughout American government.

Cain made a gracious attempt to clarify his comments by saying “You have peaceful Muslims and you have militant Muslims – those that are trying to kill us.”  Cain, of course, was thinking about the militant Muslims when he so eloquently made his anti-Muslim remarks.  Cain went on to say, “I do not believe in Sharia law in American courts.  I believe in American law in American courts.”  Sounds reasonable right? What American would want a foreign legal system, especially one which they know little to nothing about, implemented into their courts?  This statement was accordingly greeted with a resounding round of applause from the conservative audience.

This fear-mongering attempt at gaining some cheap votes seemed to be contagious among the GOP candidates. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich chimed in: “Now, I just want to go out on a limb here. I’m in favor of saying to people, if you’re not prepared to be loyal to the United States, you will not serve in my administration, period.”

As if that neo-McCarthyism remark wasn’t enough, he goes on to say “We did this in dealing with the Nazis. We did this in dealing with the Communists. And it was controversial both times and both times we discovered after a while, you know, there are some genuinely bad people who would like to infiltrate our country. And we have got to have the guts to stand up and say, ‘No.’”

Harboring irrational fears about a creeping Sharia law is one thing, but to equate Muslim-Americans to Nazis and Communists is simply outrageous and should not be tolerated.  Perhaps the most troubling part is that none of the other candidates seemed to think that these comments were outlandish.

So what is Sharia law and what is the extreme right-wing so scared of?

In a broad sense, Sharia law is the code of conduct or religious law of Islam.  It is a wide-ranging system that encompasses crime, politics, economic, and personal matters such as sexuality, diet, hygiene, prayer, and fasting.  Sharia uses the study of the Quran and the teachings and sayings of the Prophet Mohammed, but there is no one document that outlines a universally agreed upon use of Sharia.  This leads to many different interpretations, most notably the more extreme and radical versions that are used in countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran and Afghanistan.  It is these examples of radical Sharia that scare people like Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum who recently referred to Sharia in America as “an existential threat.”  Sharia law in countries like Iran, however, is not only implemented on a personal level, but on a political level as well.  In order for the political terms of Sharia law to be implemented within the government of a nation-state, the nation-state must be predominantly Muslim and must also vote in favor of the use of political Sharia law.  This is certainly not the case in the United States, in which about 1% of the population is Muslim.  Muslim-Americans understand and support the idea that, in the United States, there is one set of laws.  The laws outlined by the Constitution, or the “law of the land.”

The idea that is being propagated by some conservative political leaders and media outlets is that Sharia law is an imminent threat to American society.  This is simply not true for a number of reasons, and the recent legislative push to ban Sharia law from American cities and states is not only a waste of time and taxpayer money, it is a fear-mongering movement that only creates divisions between Americans based on ideology.  The last time I checked, this country stood for freedom of religion and the freedom for an individual to practice faith as he/she wishes.

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