This week, one of the leading authorities on Islamic Law and Chair of the Islamic Studies Program at UCLA, Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl, spoke at the 2011 Kenner Lecture Series at Lehigh University's Zoellner Center. Dr. El Fadl served on the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom under President George W. Bush. He is considered a prominent scholar in the field of human rights. Having received 13 years of "systematic instruction in Islamic jurisprudence" in Egypt and Kuwait, Dr. El Fadl's discussion entitled "Is Shari'ah the Solution? The Promises and Problematics of Divine Law Today" focused primarily on Egypt's post-revolution and restructuring in the context of Islamic jurisprudence.
Speaking in a casual, relaxed style, Dr. El Fadl walked his audience -- students, professors, and local community -- through a ten-point document issued earlier this year by Al-Azhar University. Al-Azhar is the pre-eminent, thousand-year-old institution of learning and seat of Sunni-Muslim authoritative Islamic Law in Cairo. After citing each of the ten items which were comprised of words sounding like the basic precepts of Western secular democracy -- freedom, justice, and human rights -- Dr. El Fadl added that the "Puritans" (Wahabi and Salafi) in Cairo and elsewhere in the Middle East object to it on the basis of its incompatibility with hand-chopping and stoning as punishments commonly in use today in the Middle East. However the Muslim Brotherhood accepted the document in its totality.
Laying out Muslim dissension over the Al-Azhar document Dr. El Fadl hoped to prove that Islam is divided between the Muslim "extremists" like the Wahabis and Muslim "moderates" like the Muslim Brotherhood. Despite the fact that all Muslims (whether active or non-active) believe in one Islam, one of Dr. El Fadl's apparent specialties and the theme of his book, The Great Theft, is concerned with ensuring the proliferation of the misleading argument held by some that because the majority of Muslims do not act according to their faith as spelled out in the Koran that Islamic doctrine is justified as good. Even worse, the divided response to the Al-Azhar document as he described left his audience with the general impression that the Muslim Brotherhood is moderate and, by definition, a rational, non-violent, pro-democracy organization.
Here is where Dr. El Fadl left off and began his explanation of Islamic Shariah Law -- conveying very little, if anything, of substance. We heard that Shariah was not really particular laws in place but by definition meant the God-given path toward well-being. We were told that "Good hearts produce good Shariah, and bad hearts produce bad Shariah," an illusive and irrelevant statement as it pertains to the 1800-page volume of Shariah Law currently in tact (and increasing daily with new fatwas), which governs every single aspect of a Muslim's personal, religious, political, and economic life - in short, stripping away the freedom of the individual in favor of the religious state, a kind of "freedom" known to the West as bondage.
Anyone expecting any more than obfuscation concerning the true meaning and implications of Shariah Islamic Law for Muslims living in the Middle East as well as in West doesn't understand Dr. El Fadl's true position as a member of worldwide organizations, his role on American campuses, and his goal in reaching the non-Muslim public in the West. When asked during the Q & A session what he thought of the attempt by the states in America to ban Islamic Shariah Law from the courts and preserve the U.S. constitution, he struggled for coherence -- perhaps searching for politically correct language as all non-Muslims are required to do -- then gave up and called us hate-filled racists for our actions.
His hasty pronouncement of racism smacked of the Arab street and assured the listener that one of Dr. El Fadl's priorities must be to contribute to the larger agenda of shame-based obstruction of free speech in America - a long-time goal of the Organization of Islamic Conference. Dr. El Fadl's purpose seems nothing other than keeping at bay those seeking honest discussion and hard facts about Shariah Law. He achieved this.
Advocates universal human rights.
A likable gentleman who walked with a cane and spoke of prayers for his ill mother, Dr. El Fadl managed to avoid any truths regarding the topic he came to speak about. In doing so, he also failed miserably at hiding the truth of why he actually came to speak, which in my view, narrowed to two reasons. The first was to assure that the otherwise intelligent people within this mostly educated, non-Muslim audience remained in the dark on the salient points about Shariah Law -- all of which are unacceptable to freedom-loving Americans. This he accomplished through a lecture devoid of substance, shrouded in "scholarship" and filled with disinformation.
The second was subliminal and even more simplistic -- to plant a seed within the listener that Islam is of a benign nature by way of association to his own stature, esteem and civil (Western) manner. This, in turn, provides the groundwork for an eventual acceptance and normalization of a dual court system on American soil. Authenticated by his several degrees of higher learning, published books, and service on the advisory boards of human rights organizations, Dr. El Fadl's words, at the very least, succeeded in casting a doubt in the mind of the listener about the true nature of this lethal, totalitarian, theocratic legal system -- already correctly impressed upon us as vile and unacceptable by all proponents of civilized pro-Western democracy and true
We know that Dr. El Fadl, as his biography states, was a teacher of Islamic Law at the University of Texas. He is also an Islamic jurist whose "most recent works focus on authority, human rights, democracy and beauty in Islam and Islamic Law." We know as well that countries with Islamic Shariah Law in their constitutions are the most egregious violators of human rights and never live up to the concept of universal human rights, many not even signers of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights document. We know that countries where Shariah Law reigns, non-Muslims are persecuted, all women suffer, and true democracy is impossible. These are at least some of the "problematics of Divine Law" referred to in Dr. El Fadl's title which he lacked the forthrightness to point out in answer to the question he posed, "Is Shariah the Solution?"
What Dr. El Fadl neglected to mention after more than 90 minutes at the podium is that Islamic law embodies the essence of a culture which contradicts in every way, shape and form our Western culture and is indeed its very antithesis. This is why his audience will find more truth in what he omitted than in what he chose to say. Every day global headlines demonstrate the reality that Islamic Shariah Law is directly responsible for gender and religious apartheid everywhere it exists in the world today. The "morality" linked to Shariah Law which Dr. El Fadl so eloquently writes about manifests itself in a complete reversal of the morality we know and live by in the West and leads to the segregated enclaves of Muslim immigrants in cities and towns across the UK, France, Holland and the U.S. today. Islamic "morality" mandates that non-Muslims (the infidels) submit to Muslim Shariah Law. Dr. El Fadl's speech focused on Shariah Law and directed to an infidel audience did not include such inconsequential matters.
Dr. El Fadl did a splendid job of distracting his audience from the legitimate core concerns held by most American non-Muslims who refuse to believe the idyllic language crafted by Islamic Studies Departments romanticizing a "Religion of Peace" as they witness the opposite in daily acts of Muslim religious-inspired violence around the world. Women and girls are prime victims of this violence around the world, including inside the U.S. Living lives of fear due to acts of retaliation and brutal mistreatment under their own roofs and in their communities and sanctioned by the governing laws of Shariah, Muslim women have minimal rights in countries like Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and even America -- such are the "promises" of Shariah.
Two women - young, hip, bare-armed - left the auditorium before Dr. El Fadl completed his talk. Perhaps they tired of waiting to hear what the "beauty" of Islamic Shariah Law has to offer them as women. Maybe they just wanted a beer. In any case they left no more the wiser for Dr. Fadl, exactly the way he wanted it. Dr. El Fadl's omissions and deceptions jeopardize their futures, I thought, and perhaps these innocent women will be the last to know as they scramble to fix a veil over their faces. For my part, I resolved to say more and do more. After all, America is the land of the free and home of the brave.
(Sandra Wideman is vice president of Voice of the Copts, a nonprofit organization standing up against religious bigotry and intolerance)