Thursday, July 21, 2016

What Sharia Is and Isn't

Despite the title of his recent column in the New York Times, What Sharia Is and Isn't, Noah Feldman doesn't really tell us much about what sharia is and isn't.

He explains the difference between sharia and fiqh (Sharia is the will of God revealed in the Quran and in the life of Mohammed. Fiqh is the interpretation of God's will by scholars applying their reason), but he doesn't say anything about the question to which people attach the most importance nowadays, to wit: What, exactly, is the content of sharia? What is it that most Muslims - not the "radicals," but average devout Muslims who wish to live according to sharia - believe that the Quran teaches?

One thing I think we can say about sharia is that it's not what Westerners would call "moderate."

Suppose you found yourself among a group of people which, it eventually became clear to you:
  • held approximately the same views about gays as the Westboro Baptists, only worse.
  • held approximately the same views about women as Jim Crow era southerners held about blacks.
  • held approximately the same views about Jews as did the Nazis.
  • held approximately the same views about freedom of religion as medieval inquisitors.
  • held approximately the same views about freedom of speech as the North Korean government
  • held approximately the same views about human equality as advocates of the Hindu caste system.
Would you call the group "moderate"? Yet these are views held by large numbers of mainstream Muslims, not just in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan, but in Europe and the U.S. A Pew poll found that a majority of American Muslims prefer sharia, and one in four accepts the use of violence against other Americans who give offense to Islam, for instance, by caricaturing Mohammed.

One reason why it seems so easy to radicalize young Muslim men and turn them into murderous terrorists may well be that for a great many young Muslim men the ideological distance they must travel from mainstream beliefs to radicalization is not really all that far.