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News Analysis

ISNA Redefines 'Sharia' for Western Consumption

Screenshot of ISNA's article about how to talk about Sharia in the May/June issue of Horizons magazine.

Screenshot of ISNA's article about how to talk about Sharia in the May/June issue of Horizons magazine.

by: 
Ryan Mauro

The latest issue of the Islamic Horizons magazine of the Islamic Society of North America, a U.S. Muslim Brotherhood entity, has an article with an interesting message: The U.S could learn from Islamic law if it weren’t for the “Islamophobes” bashing Sharia.

The theme of the article is that “Islamophobes” are twisting the meaning of Sharia, and it is up to Muslim-Americans to set the record straight. In a game of semantics reminiscent of the campaign to get the media to stop using the word "Islamist" and the "My Jihad" campaign, the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) is now turning to the words “Sharia” and “fiqh.”

The article argues that critics are actually talking about siyasa, or Islamic administration. Sharia is “divine” and fiqh is Islamic legal rulings. Yet what the article doesn’t explain is that Siyasa is fiqh and fiqh is part of Sharia.

Once readers are told that these are three separate things, they are open to their redefining. Most importantly, fiqh is framed as a system of jurisprudence superior to the West. This fits into the theme of ISNA’s parent group, the Muslim Brotherhood, that Islam is not just a faith but an alternative civilization.

Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Brotherhood, once said, “It is the nature of Islam to dominate, not to be dominated, to impose its law on all nations and to extend its power to the entire planet.”

ISNA’s magazine first argues that fiqh is not a theocratic “system of governance” because “unlike our Christian cousins, Muslims never merged ‘church’ and state.”

The article even blames the failures of Sharia-based governance on Western influence:

“The governments of most Muslim-majority countries follow the western nation-state model that centralizes all lawmaking power with the state. Unfortunately, when these states legislate selected fiqh rules (misleadingly labeled ‘Sharia’), they effectively act as theocracies because they use state power to declare and enforce ‘Sharia’ with little or no recognition of fiqh pluralism.”

In other words, Muslim theocracies exist because they were too Western.

As for “fiqh pluralism,” according to respected authorities on Sharia, this is referring to the fact that there are four Sunni schools of thought, each having their own divisions—but all of these disagreements are over details within the Sharia framework.

Reliance of the Traveler, an authoritative book on Islamic law endorsed by the top Sunni theological institution and the International Institute of Islamic Thought (a U.S. Muslim Brotherhood entity) states, “The four Sunni schools of Islamic law, Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’I, and Hanbali, are identical in approximately 75 percent of their legal conclusions.”

The Encyclopedia Brittanica explains that after these schools of jurisprudence were formed by the year 1258, “All subsequent generations of jurists were considered bound to … the unquestioned acceptance of their great predecessors as authoritative and could, at most, issue legal opinions drawn from established precedents.”

After ISNA’s article misleadingly compartmentalizing Sharia, fiqh and siyasa, the overall package of Islamic law is presented as something that could actually improve America as it becomes more diverse. Here are two quotes from the article:

“Rather than being a threat to American rule of law, Islamic legal theory could provide valuable insight into how to honor multiplicity without giving up individual values and identities, or unity of the whole.”

“When it comes to dealing with diversity, America could learn a lot from Islamic law, if only it could stop painting it as something that it is not.”

This message isn’t new for ISNA, it’s only that now it’s being said more delicately. ISNA’s Secretary-General from 1994 to 2006, Sayyid Syeed, was recorded in 2006 saying, “Our job is to change the Constitution of America.” That’s not the language of someone who is talking solely about spirituality and morals.

Muzammil Siddiqi is one of ISNA’s founders and was its President from 1997 to 2000. He remains listed as a member at large of the Board of Directors. In 1996, he said that Muslims “should participate in the [democratic] system to safeguard our interest and try to bring gradual change for the right cause … We must not forget that Allah’s rules have to be established in all lands, and all our efforts should lead to that direction.”

If you are thinking that these “rules” may be referring to an inner spiritual struggle against sin, consider what else Siddiqi’s said (in 2001):

“The criminal law of the Sharia is not practiced here and it is not even required for Muslims to practice the criminal law in a non-Islamic state … Once more people accept Islam, insha’allah, this will lead to the implementation of Sharia in all areas.”

The last part of this statement confirms the fact that the siyasa and fiqh are components of Sharia. The ISNA magazine’s claim that they are separate is debunked by ISNA’s own leadership.

It is often assumed that such deceptive word-play is not approved of by Islamist doctrine. Yet, here’s what the Reliance of the Traveler ruled regarding that matter:

“[I]t is permissible to lie if attaining the goal is permissible … and obligatory to lie if the goal is obligatory.”

“…One should compare the bad consequences entailed by lying to those entailed by telling the truth, and if the consequences of telling the truth are more damaging, one is entitled to lie…”

The core belief of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists is that their faith is a political doctrine for an alternative civilization. It is Allah’s guide to prosperity and the key to any civilization’s success is to follow it.

When ISNA says that America would benefit from Sharia/Islamic law, it is recommending compliance with this political doctrine. American Islamists tout this recommendation as a sign of patriotism because, in their mind, compliance with Sharia is good for America.

Instead of using the U.S. as a model for reform in Islam, ISNA’s article views Islam as a model for reform in the U.S.

 

Ryan Mauro is the ClarionProject.org’s National Security Analyst, a fellow with the Clarion Project and is frequently interviewed on Fox News.