By Dan Merica, CNN
Washington (CNN) – A major American Muslim group is embarking on a national campaign Friday to clarify a word it says has been given a bad name by recent global and domestic politics: Sharia.
The Islamic Circle of North America says its effort is aimed at “educating Americans” on what it says is the noble meaning of Sharia through conferences, billboards, and TV and radio PSAs.
The group is also launching a national hot line to answer questions about Sharia and Islam.
For more than a billion Muslims around the world, Sharia describes a way of life, from dietary laws to a code of moral life. For some conservative American critics, the word is sinister – connoting a draconian legal code that they contend threatens to subvert American law.
Sharia was politicized in the post-9/11 world as the U.S. paid more attention to perceived threats from the Muslim world, said Zahid Bukhari, president of Islamic Circle of North America.
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More recently, Bukhari says Republican presidential candidates have used the word to foment Islamophobia.
“We should have a federal law that says Sharia law cannot be recognized by any court in the United States,” Newt Gingrich said to a standing ovation at the Values Voter Summit in Washington in 2010? “No judge will remain in office that tried to use Sharia law.”
“Some politicians like to abuse the word in this national spotlight they have,” Bukhari said. “They are trying to make it a dirty word.”
The campaign includes a website titled “Defending Religious Freedom: Understanding Sharia” listing ways people can get involved and answering questions about Sharia.
In the “Sharia FAQ” sections, it discusses what Sharia exactly is, whether it’s a threat and how it affects women.
“Muslims are taught to respect the laws of the land they live in as long as they can still effectively practice being Muslim,” the website says. “Islam is a faith, a way to be in a community with others and be in a relationship with God. Like other people of faith, whose values are inspired by religious tradition, Muslims can be and are engaged citizens.”
One public service announcement features Rais Bhuiyan, who was shot in the face as part of a post-9/11 revenge killing but went on to lobby for the right of his shooter. “Join me in the fight against hate, ignorance and Islamophobia,” Bhuiyan says in the ad.
Islamic scholars admit the definition of Sharia is complex. There are multiple contexts of the word – theological, historical, contemporary – and different applications have different meanings.
“As Islam moved to different countries, it began to adapt to a historical context,” said Akbar Ahmed, chairman of Islamic studies at American University in Washington. “For example in Iran, Sharia means something slightly different than other countries.”
The religious meaning of the word, said Ahmed, is the path to righteousness.
But that changed in the public mind after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, according to Clark Lombardi, professor of Islamic law at University of Washington in Seattle.
“Sharia has become a political buzz word,” Lombardi said. “The word Sharia has an extremely wide and complex semantic tradition. To use the word is a fraught path.”
In 2010, Oklahoma voters approved a ban on imposing Sharia, though courts have blocked the measure from taking effect. Other states across the nation have mulled similar bans.
According to Lombardi and Ahmed, the proposed bans don’t make sense because implementing Sharia law in America “doesn’t add up.”
“This contemporary debate is slightly out of proportion,” Ahmed said. “Indonesia – they don’t have Sharia and they are a majority Muslim nation. If the Muslim community is 2% in America, how can 2%, even if everyone wanted it, impose Sharia on the 98%?”
Lombardi said what some may consider as a law inspired by Sharia could also be a law in line with the Judeo-Christian traditions.
“Let’s say that Muslims and Evangelicals both voted in a state, democratically, to ban gambling and drinking alcohol on the grounds that they both believe it is immoral,” Lombardi said. “Evangelicals because they find it in the Bible and Muslims because of their understanding of what God wants. Is the state applying Sharia law?”
Lombardi went on to say that some laws, whether they originate from secularism or from religion, can comply with Sharia. But that doesn’t necessarily mean those laws are based in Islam, said Lombardi.
“A law would not become Sharia law just because Muslims are behind it,” Lombardi said.
Some said the fear is escalating.
“We are almost reaching hysteria levels,” Ahmed said. “When people say, ‘Sharia is coming to America,’ I ask, ‘Who is bringing it?’ It doesn’t add up.”
But Frank Gaffney, president of the conservative American Center for Security Policy, said that concerns about Sharia law in the U.S. are valid.
“I am not concerned about these guys imposing Sharia on us tomorrow,” Gaffney said. “I am concerned, though, that that is exactly what they want to do in the future and are making progress in doing that.”
Gaffney said the Islamic Circle’s Sharia campaign would “only muddy the definition of Sharia further.”
Pamela Geller, an outspoken Sharia critic, agrees with Gaffney.
The campaign is an attempt to “whitewash or outright deny the elements of Sharia that conflict with Constitutional freedoms: the denial of the freedom of speech and the freedom of conscience, and the institutionalized discrimination and subjugation of women and non-Muslims,” Geller said.
In response to the ICNA program, Geller wrote in an email that a group she is affiliated with, Stop Islamization of Nations, will roll out a “multicity program to educate the American people on the true meaning of Sharia and the threat it poses to our cherished freedoms.”
This campaign will include billboards and radio ads – both of which were rolled out in the Kansas City area last week.
Harris Zafar, spokesman for the United States Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, says that opinions like Gaffney’s and Geller’s show no matter how much an organization focuses on a program, it will never reach everyone.
“There are always going to be the Pamela Gellers of the world,” Zafar said. “People who have their intentions and no matter what we educate, it is not going to connect with them.”
“This debate becomes a distraction from allowing us to talk about more meaningful things,” Zafar said. “We like having dialogues about spirituality, but we get distracted by conversations of Sharia, of jihad, of apostasy and the conversation becomes more about this is what Islam is not, as opposed to a proactive conversation about real Islam.”
The ICNA campaign plans to draw in its 30-35 chapters across the country and will be highlighted prominently at the group’s annual convention in May in Hartford, Connecticut.
"ICNA is making an honest attempt to reach out and connect to our fellow Americans and introduce them to our Islamic faith,” said Naeem Baig, ICNA’s vice president of public affairs.
“We see it as our responsibility to clarify misconceptions about American Muslims."
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These apologists for Islamic law are ridiculous. Sharia, based on the Koran and the Hadiths (Muhammad quotes), calls for killing apostates, adulterers, blasphemers or critics of Islam or Muhammad – for starters. That's really all any sane person needs to know about Sharia to condemn it harshly. It also calls for distant second class status for all infidels under Muslim control. Such criminal insanity has no place in the West and is totally incompatible with its freedoms and values. It doesn't belong on the planet. Read the dreadful Koran and use non-Muslim experts (not Muslim apologists who have a vested interest in fooling you) like Robert Spencer as a chapter & verse guide.
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Excellent initiative. Much needed. Keep up the good work.
If you want to know exactly what sharia and islam stand for, watch this. You'll have to copy and paste it into your browser. Remove the leading and trailing quotes.
We DON'T CARE to learn any more about sharia law than we see every day; abuses, killings, maiming...need I go on? We don't need that crapola here. We have enough trouble with gangs, racial injustices, illegals, crazy mental people, and right-wing conservatives. I think there's enough on our plate right now without adding sharia to the list. Some things just aren't acceptable in this society. Do you have any idea how much money we spend on keeping track of people in this country who like sharia law??? WHY are we allowing more to come here, and up the costs and risks even more? I just don't get it. Why let in people who come from places who routinely call for our deaths? And you want us to play nice about this issue??? NOT! I'm a live and let live type of person, but nooooo not on this topic.
For us Muslims sharia is a way of life and it will always be.Learn to live and adopt it.
Never ever submit to sharia.
@Suzi... Closed mindedness is not a virtue we should cherish. It leaves us ignorant.
Only for the newbies:
Islam’s Koran and World Domination- a history lesson we all better learn
"Mohammed could not have known the size of the world, but several passages in the Koran show that he envisioned Islam dominating all of it, however large it might be: “He it is who sent his messenger . . . that he may cause it [Islam] to prevail over all religions´(Koran 9:33, M.M. Ali; see also 48:28 and 61:9). M.M. Ali designates these three passages as “the prophecy of the ultimate triumph of Islam in the whole world.”
Mohammed’s successors, the caliphs, quoted passages like these to inspire Muslim armies as they advanced out of Arabia, imposing Islam by the sword upon a peacefully unsuspecting Middle East and North Africa, as I described in the previous chapter.
Islamic armies, imbued with what Mohammed claimed was divine authorization, imposed Islam by force over vast areas, all the while extorting wealth from subjugated Jews and Christians to fund their ongoing conquests. As I noted, major defeats at Tours, France, in A.D. 732, and again at Vienna, Austria, in A.D. 1683, halted Islam’s attempt to take all of Europe by force. Gradually Islamic forces were forced to retreat from Europe, except for part of the Balkans. But Islam has again set its sights on a conquest of Europe and of European civilization, wherever the latter has spread to North and South America and other regions. Muslim strategists ask their followers, Why do we find in these modern times that Allah has entrusted most of the world’s oil wealth primarily to Muslim nations?
Their answer: Allah foresaw Islam’s need for funds to finance a final politico-religious victory over what Islam perceives as its ultimate enemy: Christianized Euro-American civilization. So, Islam follows Nazism, fascism and communism as the world’s latest hostile takeover aspirant.
Nazis, fascists and communists failed. Does Islam have a better chance at success? I believe it will flounder if we awaken to its threat in time; yet, if there is not adequate planned resistance, Islam does have a better chance of succeeding. Communism’s world takeover attempt was guaranteed to fail because its economic policy was naively contrary to human nature. Advocating the rubric What is mine is thine, and what is thine is mine, communism failed to see that human nature will not keep those two balanced propositions in equilibrium. Like a female black widow spider consuming her mate, the latter part of the formula makes a meal of the former, leading to the collapse of any system based upon that formula.
In contrast, political systems do well if they can persuade people to adhere to What’s mine is mine and What’s thine is thine maxims.
Only if a strong religious incentive is added does such an idealistic formula have any long-term chance. Even then success will be spotty. But communism (and Nazism, for that matter) excluded religion. And that mistake was the final nail eventually clamping a lid on communism’s coffin. Communism, on a historical scale, perished while still in its childhood.
Islam is not repeating communism’s mistake. Mating political cunning and incredible wealth with religious zeal, Islam does have a chance to succeed and will succeed unless major parts of the Western world unite to take appropriate countermeasures. But many Western leaders, unable to believe that a mere religion could possible be a serious political threat, keep proclaiming themselves as Islam-friendly, reasoning that all religions are good-aren’t they?
A Muslim strategist in Beverly Hills, California, declared several years ago, as quoted by a friend of mine: “Now that the struggle between Western democracies and international communism is winding down, it is time for the real and final struggle to begin, and we are going to win!”-D. Richardson
Prayer changes things .
Interesting how the rejection of the Shari'a – as the law – is purposely tangled up with the Muslim person who practises Islam.
Allowing for terms like 'racism' to be used to silence the opposition and debate.
It is only the luckiest of politician who can put his ideas through without opposition – and here we are talking about theocratic laws – with all opposition deemed 'racism' !!
I personally witnessed a woman arrested for going on a date – in a moderate Muslim country. There was also arrests made of a few young men – who gave up Islam and chose to have no religion. Who were also arrested for 'eating during the Ramadan fast' during daylight hours. [Which is a criminal offense under the Shari's]
There were Islamic police driving up an down the streets.
It makes you even more appreciative about the freedoms that we have.
And what we have achieved with them.
Why is cnn promoting sharia then? makes no logical sense.
CNN hasn't figured out that the problem with propaganda is that it's too transparent... because, after all, it's just propaganda.
Revealing CNN's propaganda for what it is:
A public thank you, Pamela.
Thanks for sharing the link, gives a balanced perspective on this topic.
I believe that this man is being honest when he says “Muslims are taught to respect the laws of the land they live in as long as they can still effectively practice being Muslim,” but the proof is in the pudding. I wouldn't condemn Muslims as a whole group but there are a lot of them out their giving them a bad name.
That is a contradiction, because they are the only group of imigrants in the world that want to change the values, traditions, way of life of any country that have the bad luck to be thier host, I recommend and pass the word to read :
The Islamisation of America, and Londondistan, where the plans of taking over are in march.
Sharia is many things; not just legal code. Even though Islam is very legalistic, I don't give a crap about what you say with your anti-Islam, anti-Muslim, ignorant, and hate-filled actions and beliefs. Muslims are currently a minority group in the United States, and for that; I will always defend the faith following and the religion.
Another politically correct sharia defending fcktard.
All the hate posts were caused by 2 things: muslims who commits evil in d name of Islam and non-muslims who are fed with lies daily.
Up yours too.
There are good things as well as bad things about every religious law and text ever written. Quran has its good and bad things, so does Bible and Vedas. People forget that the books were written during times when general populace did not understand how the world works, why there is night and day, why there are stars in sky. So, per their knowledge/understanding/circu.mstances and most importantly, applicability to a particular problem of their time, they made those rules/laws in their holy books.
To hold on to them in the modern age when the understanding of the world around is improving by leaps and bounds is at best unnecessary and at worst id.iotic.
But that does not mean you should discount all that good advice being given in other parts of those books either.
I'm extremely skeptical of those who claim absolute knowledge from a supposed holy book that has more contradictions than Swiss cheese.
No argument there, Anon.. anything that claims absolute knowledge is wrong.. but even a clock that doesn't work reads correct time twice a day.
More contradictions than Swiss cheese? Perhaps not the best metaphor you have ever used.
Feel free to elaborate on the contradictory nature of Swiss cheese of you like, though.
Anon: while Swiss cheese may be quite delicious, it does not seem to be a good value, considering how much cheese is missing from every purchase.
In today's times we are all hell bent of freedom of scpeeh. However, we fail to see and understand that in the time of Muhammad (peace be upon him) that freedom of scpeeh was not accepted. He was a victim for not accepting their way and for voicing his understanding and belief in God. For this reason the people of Mecca were ready to abolish him at any cost. Is it so wrong that at a time when it was conquer or be conquered Muhammad brought order to a state of confusion. Also, no Muslim can deny the texts of the Christian or Jewish faiths. What the Qur'aan is discussing are those who distorted these texts, this has also been confirmed by many a scholar of those faiths.With regards to jizya (tax), many countries will also punish those who refuse to pay tax, so your argument is nonsensical.All Prophets came with the same message i.e. belief in one God and to be accepted as a Prophet. This the same message that Muhammad invited towards. If you want to term them muslims then so be it.Many a time people are falsely accused of committing indecencies, therefore, the appearing of witnesses removes all confusion. However, it is not as simple as if she does not produce four witnesses then her word will not be accepted. Many of the verses from the Qur'aan also have a matter of history behind them. It would be helpful if you studied the commentary also, rather then continuously quoting out of context.Finally, those radicals we are referring to, many of them do not frequent the mosques, and it is the opinion of the majority of Muslims that these people do not represent Islam in the correct manner.Once again, I would encourage you, please study the teachings of Muhammad in full. You may be surprised to find the level of conduct and behavior Muslims MUST uphold with all people. Islam does not encourage its followers to ridicule other beliefs and it instructs how one must accept and dignify other religions and people from all backgrounds. As a final comment, it is simply outrageous how one can point fingers at ONE religion when many of our respected countries are steeped in bloodshed, and continue to commit atrocities. With regards to women it is amuses me at the level of ignorance many hold. How many Muslim women have been asked with regards to how they feel and what they think? Not many I imagine! There are far more religions and culture that subject their women to unimaginable torture. I would no like to name them as that would open up another whole can of worms.Peace to you all, May we all find comfort and live in harmony!
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.