This is the twelfth in a 17-week series from Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward by Nabeel Qureshi, author of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. Weeks one through sixteen will cover sixteen questions people most commonly ask Qureshi about jihad and Islam. These questions explore the origins of jihad, the nature of jihad today, and the phenomenon of jihad in Judeo-Christian context. After answering these questions, Qureshi will conclude by proposing a response to jihad, in his view the best way forward. His concluding remarks will be presented in week seventeen.
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QUESTION # 12 – ARE MUSLIMS TRYING TO TAKE OVER THE WEST WITH SHARIA?
IN A SPEECH THAT AIRED ON Al-Jazeera in April 2006, Muammar Gaddafi said, “We have 50 million Muslims in Europe. There are signs that Allah will grant Islam victory in Europe—without swords, without guns, without conquests… [they will] turn it into a Muslim continent within a few decades… Europe is in a predicament, and so is America. They should agree to become Islamic in the course of time, or else declare war on the Muslims.”
This statement affirmed the concern of many conservatives in the West that Muslims had launched a demographic and ideological war, seeking to subvert Western law and culture to Islam. It sparked a conversation that has scarcely subsided since, primarily focused on two matters: Sharia and Muslim demographics.
SHARIA AND WESTERN LAW
There is more than one way that people envision Sharia being imposed on the West. A caricature view is that Sharia will be systematically implemented in the United States such that it wholly supplants the Constitution. This, of course, is virtually impossible, and there is no explication of Sharia law that would allow it to be applied as the entire code of law for a nation. Sharia is not a document or a set of documents that can govern a nation. Even in Muslim countries, the endeavor to apply Sharia consistently and comprehensively, like Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and Iraq, there are always supporting charters or constitutions that outline the details of governance.
A more realistic concern of conservatives is that principles or precedents of Islamic law might become implemented in Western society. In November 2010, over 70 percent of voters in Oklahoma approved the Oklahoma International and Sharia Law Amendment, requiring courts to rely only upon federal or state precedents in their legislation and not upon international or Sharia law. The proximate cause of this bill’s popularity appears to have been the fact that Sharia already had impacted American court decisions, even excusing rape.
In 2009, a seventeen-year-old girl in New Jersey filed for a restraining order against her Muslim ex-husband who had forced her to have intercourse with him despite her tears and pleading. Her marriage had been arranged in Morocco just before moving to the United States. The judge refused the restraining order because the husband had not been acting with “criminal desire or intent” according to Sharia. The judge ruled that the teenager’s husband “was operating under his belief that… as the husband, his desire to have sex when and whether he wanted to, was something that was consistent with his practices, and it was something that was not prohibited.” Though the judge admitted that the action effectively constituted rape in American law, he denied the man was guilty.
The amendment for banning Sharia in Oklahoma was fueled in part by the example of this court case in New Jersey. Despite obtaining a 70 percent vote in favor of banning foreign precedents, the law never took effect. Muslim interest groups successfully challenged it for being anti-Islamic and unconstitutional. The United States District Court deemed that the amendment was not “narrowly tailored” and not “justified by any compelling interest.”
SHARIA, ISLAMOPHOBIA, AND FREE SPEECH
Less pronounced among conservatives than the two concerns above, though perhaps more widespread, is the fear that Islamic culture will indirectly influence Western law. For example, Sharia effectively bans any and all criticism of Muhammad and Islam. The biographic traditions of Muhammad indicate that he ordered assassinations of people who composed poems against him or his teachings, such as Abu Afak, an elderly man who took issue with Sharia and its apparently arbitrary commands. After he was assassinated, a breastfeeding mother of five, Asma bint Marwan, lamented the murder, and Muhammad ordered her to be assassinated as well. These are but two examples of how the traditional foundations of Islam disavow free speech, and they shed light on why the international Muslim community is outraged by criticism of Muhammad. Such outrage is the appropriate response according to Muhammad’s example. The same reaction extends to drawings of Muhammad and criticisms of Islam as a system.
The Organization of Islamic Cooperation is an international coalition of fifty-seven member countries that works to “safeguard and protect the interests of the Muslim world.” It publishes annual reports of Islamophobia in the West. Islamophobia is a poorly circumscribed concept, ostensibly used to describe bigotry toward Muslims, but many times simply an umbrella term to refer to any and all criticism of Islam, or Muslims, real or imagined.
Through its annual publication, the OIC unabashedly lobbies against free speech, hoping to silence criticism of Islam. According to the OIC, free speech protects people who “have time and again aroused unwarranted tension, suspicion, and unrest in societies by slandering the Islamic faith through gross distortions and misrepresentations, and by encroaching on and denigrating the religious sentiments of Muslims.” In other words, people who criticize Islam are to blame for the unrest in Muslim societies. The OIC’s proclamation is directly antithetical to one of the premises of free speech, which is that people must be responsible for their own reactions in the face of ideas or beliefs that anger them. The OIC’s proclamation is entirely aligned with Sharia, however.
Partially in response to the OIC’s lobbying, many Western governments are considering laws that might limit free speech. In 2008, in direct response to pressure applied by Muslim constituencies, the European Union mandated that its nations combat “xenophobia” by making it illegal to incite hatred against a person based on religion. Although the mandate seems noble in intent, it does not clearly delineate where “criticism of ideas” ends and “hatred against a person on account of religion” begins.
Qureshi’s own concerns about Sharia in the West lie in this third area, particularly concerning possible governmental restrictions on free speech. Qureshi said, “I believe ideas can be dangerous, even popular ideas held by millions, and I furthermore believe we ought to be able to discuss such ideas freely. Unfortunately, there is a growing mob mentality even in the United States that allows unpopular ideas to be shouted down and the people voicing them to be accused of closed-mindedness and bigotry. I would not be surprised if, in the next generation, certain unpopular ideas were made illegal through restrictions on free speech.”
The OIC is not the only influential and wealthy organization trying to limit the free speech of Westerners; there are similar efforts far closer to home. CAIR, the Council on American Islamic Relations, presents itself as a moderate Muslim organization aimed at protecting the liberties and interests of Muslims in the United States. However, the United Arab Emirates has labeled CAIR a terrorist organization, and the United States Department of Justice has judged them to be the American arm of the Muslim Brotherhood. CAIR actively engages in restricting free speech on American soil under accusations of “Islamophobia.”
CAIR’s use of the term Islamophobia is even more concerning than the OIC’s, as they are willing to accuse Muslims who disagree with them of being Islamophobic. When Raheel Raza, president of Muslims Facing Tomorrow, attempted to speak out “against barbaric treatment of women by radical Islamists” by a screening of her film Honor Diaries, CAIR intervened and shut down the screening. The treatment that Raza wished to criticize was, by and large, an implementation of Sharia, so CAIR accused her of Islamophobia even though she is a Muslim.
MUSLIM DEMOGRAPHICS AND RADICAL ISLAM BY THE NUMBERS
Raza released another video at the end of 2015 in tandem with the Clarion Project. Called By the Numbers, it focused on exploring Muslim opinions and demographic trends. In the video, Raza explains that the world of radical Islam can be understood through three “spheres of radicalization,” each successive circle growing larger but less overtly radical. The first and smallest circle she calls “violent jihadists.” This is the group Qureshi calls mujahideen, Muslims who themselves perpetrate violence and warfare. The total number of mujahideen fighting for ISIS, combined with those fighting for al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, Hezbollah, and others, ranges from 160,000 to 450,000 worldwide, 0.01 to 0.03 percent of the global Muslim population.
The next sphere she calls “Islamists,” Muslims who actively impose Islamic dominance by working within Western political and cultural systems. Examples include Hamas in Palestine, CAIR in the United States, and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. The Brotherhood has an explicit goal of establishing an Islamic state with a global caliphate, yet it is given the freedom to pursue its aims of Islamic dominance because it employs non-violent methods.
The largest and broadest sphere of radicalization Raza calls “fundamentalists.” These are Muslims who neither pick up arms nor attempt to overthrow governments, but simply “hold beliefs and practices that no doubt seem radical.” Citing a 2013 Pew Forum survey of thousands of Muslims in thirty-nine countries, Raza reported that 237 million Muslims are in favor of capital punishment for apostasy, 345 million are in favor of honor killings as a punishment for illicit sexual relations, and 469 million want to be governed by Sharia law, approximately half of whom explicitly supports whippings and stoning. These numbers reflect only Muslims in the countries surveyed. Adding the opinions of Muslims in other countries, such as India, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and China, would increase these numbers.
Laws regarding stoning, whippings, amputations, and the like are found in the traditional texts of Islam, many in the Qur’an. These are the punishments associated with hudud laws, those crimes committed against God himself. Raza implies that support for these laws constitutes radical Islam.
Thus, according to Raza’s categories, radicalism is prevalent in the Muslim world, depending on how it is understood. If we consider only mujahideen to be radical Muslims, then the number of radical Muslims might be as low as 0.01 percent. But if we consider those who desire Sharia governance to be radical, then at least 29.3 percent of the Muslim world is radical. Raza seems to suggest we should consider the latter number as more reflective of Muslim radicalism in the world today.
It may go without saying, but Qureshi thinks the situation is slightly more complicated than that. He said, “In my experience, many who say they support Sharia only do so because it is the right answer for a Muslim to give. They have romantic notions of what Sharia is, and they do not realize exactly what they are supporting. This is reflected in the survey itself, as 469 million expressed a desire for Sharia law, only half supported the specific laws that would come with Sharia.”
The same may have been the case when the Muslim Brotherhood rose to power in the Arab Spring. It was the summer of 2012, and Qureshi was enrolled in an immersion Arabic program. His professor was a young, politically oriented Egyptian Muslim. Qureshi asked her what she thought of the Brotherhood, and she said, “We will see. They seem like good people who want to do the right thing, but we will find out.” Egypt did find out the hard way. When the nation realized the reality of the Brotherhood’s Islamic aims, including its dictatorial means, the nation turned on them. The crackdown on the Brotherhood was brutal. Voters in Egypt didn’t know what they had asked for.
So, are Muslims seeking to take over the West with Sharia? Qureshi would be quick to answer, “No, but…”
No …because the question implies a conspiracy among the average Muslim immigrant, as if all Muslims are part of a ploy to take over the West. Qureshi says that idea is “…untrue and ludicrous. In my experience, Muslim immigrants are simply trying to live life as best as they know how, as are all of us. For the vast majority, imposing Sharia does not even enter their minds.”
But …because many Muslims do entertain romantic notions of Sharia and Islamic dominance. The Golden Age of Islam appeals to many hearts, and in the minds of most Muslims it is nebulously connected to Sharia. Yet as Muslims in Egypt loudly declared through the swift ousting of their elected Muslim Brotherhood president, the average Muslim might not know what Sharia really looks like. Overarching all of this is the undeniable demographic shift: Muslims are coming to the West, and they are bringing their culture and values with them.
Qurehsi concludes, “My encouragement to those who fear Muslim immigration is that we should engage immigrants with love and friendship, sharing our views and our lives with one another. Part of the reason why Muslim immigrants in the West can become radicalized, as with Sayyid Qutb, is that Westerners do not help them to understand our culture and do not provide them with appealing ways of navigating it. Segregating ourselves from those immigrants with whom we disagree only encourages further disagreements and misunderstandings. Instead of fearing Muslim immigrants, we should embrace them and be the element of change we wish to see. Had someone done that with Sayyid Qutb, the world might be a different place today. I suggest friendship rather than fear as a better way forward.”
Thanks for reading.
Please join me next Friday for Qureshi’s Question #13 –Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God? It is important for me to state that I do not support the religion of Islam ideologically or theologically. I am a Christian, who is a novice scholar of comparative religious study and an apologist. Indeed, Nabeel Qureshi is no longer a Muslim, having converted to Christianity after his exhausting study on the question of violence and jihad in Islam.