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  1. Meghan Rose
    Meghan Rose March 17, 2008 at 7:41 pm |

    As a feminist Muslimah blogger, I am so happy to see this issue being brought up on Feministe. I am a very new revert, and was raised on the Americanized “Islam is teh oppressive evil and Shari’a is going to be the end of Western civilization” view of Islam, so for me, reversion has been a really interesting experience, particularly in how it affects my political views and my identity as a woman. I also have limited knowledge of Shari’a so I won’t make any detailed comments from the legal side, but I have to say, a lot of the attraction of Islam for me is that scripturally it’s very much a socialist, egalitarian political experiment. Granted, a lot of people have taken that and justified a lot of screwed up things in the name of it (as with every political group), but many of the rights and laws of Shari’a are preferable to a lot of what I am used to seeing politically, in my opinion. Of course, being a socialist, I am a political minority in the US anyway, so what I want probably won’t ever be realized, but while I recognize that there are abuses of the system (just as there are in capitalism and everywhere else), there are some aspects of Shari’a that really appeal to me as I learn.

    I also found a recent article on a female-only Shari’a court being set up in Hyderabad; I think this really challenges the notion that women can’t exercise our own rights and our own sense of justice within this system.
    Here’s the link: http://www.hindustantimes.com/storypage/storypage.aspx?id=eb29148d-dd27-4d05-aa20-37cb413b0302&ParentID=79251cf9-0740-42a3-98b6-44fa86f333a2&&Headline=Sisters+to+the+rescue

  2. QrazyQat
    QrazyQat March 17, 2008 at 7:55 pm |

    In West Sumatra the Minangkabau — who are matrilineal and Islamic — use various courts for various purposes. These include secular courts, traditional Adat courts, and Islamic courts. BTW, Peggy Sanday has suggested, rightly I think, that matriarchical is a proper term to describe the Minangkabau, and also points out, afetr a lot of study backed up by data from quite some time back (for instance, Nancy Tanner’s work with the courts and conflict there in the mid-sixties) that the Minangkabau are a virtually rape-free culture.

  3. ol cranky
    ol cranky March 17, 2008 at 8:35 pm |

    Wow, I always thought that Shari’a law was much akin to the Jewish religious law. From Meghan’s comment, it sounds as though that it depends on the the clergy who are controlling the court (again, much like it is in Judaism). Interesting

  4. Emmanuel
    Emmanuel March 17, 2008 at 8:54 pm |

    Personally, I think if Muslim women want Sharia they should get it. And get it all the way. Stoning for infidelity, chopping of hands for stealing, and all that.

  5. Michael
    Michael March 17, 2008 at 9:47 pm |

    I think that any legal system is VERY dependent on who’s sitting behind that bench in court — whether Sharia, Jewish, secular etc

  6. GumbyAnne
    GumbyAnne March 17, 2008 at 10:56 pm |

    I learned while living in Kenya that the word “Sharia” translates directly to “law” in arabic and some other related languages, including Swahili. It really reminds one to consider how broad the term is and how when we talk about it with Muslim people they may not necessarily be talking about the same thing we think they are.

    I remember reading some rightwing news source report that “90% of American Muslims think the US should be ruled by Sharia!!!one1!1″ And wondering how they conducted that survey exactly. If you call somebody up and ask them “Do you believe the US should be ruled by law?” you are more likely to get a yes than if you ask whether they think that adulterers should be stoned to death. There are some people who equate the two but certainly not everyone or even most.

  7. William
    William March 18, 2008 at 12:38 am |

    Every time I hear this subject come up I twitch a little bit. The idea of religious edicts holding any kind of validity in the legal system scares the living hell out of me and my reaction to the concept of different courts for different people (even if voluntarily entered) strikes me as fundamentally horrifying. Being inclusive and sensitive is important, but we need to have some core values as a society, I believe one of those ought to be an absolute separation of church and state.

  8. Meghan Rose
    Meghan Rose March 18, 2008 at 1:05 am |

    William, I tend to agree with you in terms of what is realistically possible in a Western capitalist democratic state. As I mentioned in my post, I realize that most of the things I’d like to happen in our political system (secular or religious) would never come to pass anyway. But most Muslims (in my limited experience) tend to, to some degree or another, support the ideal of an Islamic state even if they recognize that the reality probably won’t happen in their lifetime. Because of that, and because I also recognize that America won’t become socialist in my lifetime either, I tend to try to work within the framework of our society when I am voicing political opinions. And SubhanAllah for those of us who belong to minority religions, America has separation of church and state (at least nominally and mostly legally).

    Just some things that popped up when I was reading your post. Also…part of the reason that I thought this NY Times article was really neat (aside from the fact that it’s going to be fun and interesting to see the hysterica conservative backlash about NY Times wanting to turn everyone into dhimmi) is that there really is rarely a Western voice for shari’a. Shari’a is an entire way of life, and it goes beyond just stoning, but people always ignore that. As someone else mentioned, a lot of it depends on who’s doing the judging – one of the reasons I really liked the all-female court that was able to respond to some of the issues women face in being unequal under male-oriented shari’a courts. It also (at least in Hyderabad) didn’t have actual legal validity according to that country, but many people submitted themselves to the decisions to avoid costly court processes and because they felt the decisions were culturally appropriate for them in the case of marriage and similar situations.

  9. denelian
    denelian March 18, 2008 at 1:10 am |

    one the one hand… i have read the Quo’ran (or rather, i read a copy that was english/arabic, by columns. i get that arabic does not translate well to english). its beautiful and full of equality (there is a whole freaking BOOK on the fact that daughters are as loved by Allah as sons!) and, ignoring all the civil rights violations, it seems to be a better standard in general than the Ten Commandments.
    of which four or five are broken by most people anyway.

    on the other hand, i so totally agree, the idea of adding MORE religion to secular law gives me HIVES. no, you do NOT need a religion to make sure law is moral and equitable, you just need a brain.

    on the other other hand, if you are going to let SOME religions have SOME courts (for divorce or whatever) you need to let ALL of them have one

    on the other OTHER other hand… while i (vaguely) remember the Quo’ran laying out how and when and why a woman can get a divorce… the fact that there are specific rules abour when and how and why scares me. because i dont remember WHAT exactly is entailed, and i remember that men were allowed to punish women and… i see a possible recipie for condoned DV…

    and thats already too many hands

  10. Pope Guilty
    Pope Guilty March 18, 2008 at 6:23 am |

    I’m curious as to how liberals justify even the slightest tinge of sympathy for the idea of different laws for different people; it seems like precisely the sort of thing that the equality-minded should be against. Even if it has some results that are beneficial, as in the article posted by Meghan Rose (which describes not so much a court as an arbitration service), it establishes a precedent that could be extremely dangerous.

  11. Flamethorn
    Flamethorn March 18, 2008 at 7:43 am |

    The link in comment #1 broke the page.

  12. William
    William March 18, 2008 at 10:12 am |

    William, I tend to agree with you in terms of what is realistically possible in a Western capitalist democratic state. As I mentioned in my post, I realize that most of the things I’d like to happen in our political system (secular or religious) would never come to pass anyway. But most Muslims (in my limited experience) tend to, to some degree or another, support the ideal of an Islamic state even if they recognize that the reality probably won’t happen in their lifetime. Because of that, and because I also recognize that America won’t become socialist in my lifetime either, I tend to try to work within the framework of our society when I am voicing political opinions

    That sound suspiciously like the kinds of arguments you hear from Christian fundamentalists in the US arguing that they aren’t trying to impose their religion, simply work from their religious world view within the framework of the broader society. See, theres a fundamental difference between working towards socialism in western society and working towards religious law. Though I disagree with many of the assumptions socialist theory makes, I believe it is a valid and valuable part of the political discourse. Religious law, or really any attempt to inject religious thought or orthodoxy into secular law, revolts me on a basic level. I’m not talking about what is possible given our current society, I’m talking about what is right, what is tolerable. You can dress Islam up any way you’d like but at the end of the day it, like Christianity and Judaism, is still a dualistic, monotheistic, paternalistic religion. It is still a faith which revolves around absolute subjugation to a male authority figure. It is still a faith whose central human figure spread the religion by murdering those who had the audacity to think differently. It still carries the baggage that all the other terrible monotheistic faiths carries.

    A lot of people in the west have spent the better part of 500 years beating the church out of the law, and we still have a very long way to go. I’m not really willing to consider opening a new front in that battle.

    is that there really is rarely a Western voice for shari’a. Shari’a is an entire way of life, and it goes beyond just stoning, but people always ignore that.

    I’m not ignoring that, I’m responding with horror that anyone would even suggest giving it the weight of law. I get that Shari’a can be a way of life, I understand that it goes beyond stoning, I understand that it is an entire system of cultural and social justice, I understand that it might be able to be used for great good if you have the right people judging in the right setting at the right time. I just don’t see it as in any way compatible with the secular system we have built today. The reason there is rarely a western voice for this nonsense is because we already have a court system that we’ve spent a few hundred years hammering out. We’ve spent the better part of the last 50 trying to make it more fair and equitable. Why would you suddenly create a parallel system for some people of certain colors or faiths that judges by religious edict? We had enough of that in Salem.

    but many people submitted themselves to the decisions to avoid costly court processes and because they felt the decisions were culturally appropriate for them in the case of marriage and similar situations.

    And that is one of the major reasons I oppose the idea of Shari’a in the west. Poor women of color will end up there because their families or communities demand it, because it costs less than a real court, because it is more familiar, because they believe that that is where they belong. They will then be at the mercy of whoever is doing the judging, and it’s a pretty safe bet it won’t be some grand social experiment of white radical socialist feminist converts. No, the judges will generally be the same people that judge Shari’a courts, the same conservative men of a patriarchal culture handing out decisions based partly upon what the guy before them said and partly upon the demands of a big daddy in the sky.

  13. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth March 18, 2008 at 10:24 am |

    Shariah should not be allowed anywhere near civil law. It will put people into categories from birth from which they cannot escape without great difficulty, and deny those unfortunate enough to be born into minority religions basic human rights. Just look at the debacle in Indonesia.

  14. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth March 18, 2008 at 10:24 am |

    Shariah should not be allowed anywhere near civil law. It will put people into categories from birth from which they cannot escape without great difficulty, and deny those unfortunate enough to be born into minority religions basic human rights. Just look at the debacle in Indonesia.

  15. Sylvia
    Sylvia March 18, 2008 at 1:02 pm |

    “hard for women to initiate divorce without forfeiting alimony”

    It’s not “alimony” that women forfeit. It’s their “brideprice” – which is the money the “husband” gives his “wife” upon marriage (the opposite of a dowry.) If she inititiates divorce for reasons that are self-induced if you will, such as she’s fallen in love with someone else (as opposed to suffering from domestic violence or neglect), then she must give her “brideprice” back. Child support is always a given and continues for the span of the child’s life until he/she is an adult. There is no “alimony” per se except for the period of divorce and three months there after where the husband must provide for her in the same manner as if they were still married (food, shelter, etc).

  16. William
    William March 18, 2008 at 2:14 pm |

    It’s not “alimony” that women forfeit. It’s their “brideprice” – which is the money the “husband” gives his “wife” upon marriage (the opposite of a dowry.) If she inititiates divorce for reasons that are self-induced if you will, such as she’s fallen in love with someone else (as opposed to suffering from domestic violence or neglect), then she must give her “brideprice” back.

    Oh, so its kind of like returning merchandise? Charming.

  17. allyson rowen taylor
    allyson rowen taylor March 18, 2008 at 2:24 pm |

    I work with women who have left, or rather escaped Iran, and many Muslim countries. Your acceptance of the whitewashed version of Shariah is just stupidity and lack of true understanding. While women are being hung, stoned, and beated up, your blog tries to make this a peaceful life. check this blog;
    http://shariahfinancewatch.wordpress.com
    look at the slideshow made by an Iranian
    Speak to women who lived under Islamic oppression
    Do not let these women die in silence!
    Do not play into the hands of those who speak taqiyya
    Speak out if you are a true feminist!

  18. allyson rowen taylor
    allyson rowen taylor March 18, 2008 at 2:48 pm |

    ISLAMABAD: Militants blew up a girls’ high school in the troubled Darra Adam
    Khel region in northwestern Pakistan after warning the students to stop
    attending classes and to join madrassas.

    The nine-room school building at Akhurwal was completely destroyed by the
    explosion late on Monday night. The school’s administration had earlier
    received letters warning it to close the institution.

    Handbills purportedly distributed by local militants two days ago warned
    girls to stop going to schools and to join seminaries.

    Pakistani security forces had recently conducted a major operation against
    pro-Taliban militants in the Darra Adam Khel area.

    However, reports said that the militants had resurfaced and increased their
    activities despite the presence of hundreds of army and paramilitary troops
    in the area.

    Over the past three day, militants have destroyed three security check posts
    and a government school building.

    [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]

    __._,_.___

  19. Lou Krodel
    Lou Krodel March 18, 2008 at 3:13 pm |

    We all can chose to be controlled by religious laws by joining a religion. If the power of ex-communicationb etc. is not pwerful enough to inforce these laws than that is the problem of that particular religion. The stae need not be concerned with the problems with a particular religion. The problem exists when a aprticular religion wants their law or laws integrated into the fabric of a secular government’s laws or have the state adopt religious laws for all – believers and non-believers. This occurs when certain Catholic bishops threaten to ex-communicate Catholic public officials for supporting abortion or in the most egregious example of Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afganistan, etc.

  20. TC
    TC March 18, 2008 at 3:18 pm |

    I have a question: Who will decide which court (secular, religious) to go to when two (or more) people are involved (e.g. divorce)?

  21. ripley
    ripley March 18, 2008 at 3:40 pm |

    “different laws for different people; it seems like precisely the sort of thing that the equality-minded should be against”

    ah but this is much more of a debate in legal circles than you might think. Because having the SAME law for different people often means that certain people are systematically disadvantaged by a supposedly neutral system that doesn’t recognize their different positions.

    think about having the same rules for men and women in the workplace – if women get pregnant, they will miss work. Holding them to the same standard doesn’t end up being fair. Our legal system systematically fails people through its “neutrality” that denies people’s different material positions.

    Similarly with intellectual property law – sure everyone has the right to sue to protect their IP – but who ends up doing it? Why, the big corporations.. because it costs money to go to court, among other things. So the fact that the law doesn’t distinguish between the powerful corporations and individuals ends up perpetuating inequality. And the only way educators and scholars get around it is through claiming special status (fair use) which is basically arguing for a different set of law for different people/purposes.

    I have misgivings about religious law, but it’s worth having a clear head about our existing “neutral” system, which has its own problems.

  22. QrazyQat
    QrazyQat March 18, 2008 at 3:56 pm |

    Again, I urge any feminist to read about the Minangkabau. How they manage both matriarchy and Islam is interesting. I’d suggest reading Peggy Sanday’s book and other work, since that’s the easiest to find stuff by someone who knows more about the place and people than most any researcher.

    Suffice it to say that assuming that if one uses a legal system one has to use just one version and no other, and only the most extreme version, is stupid. Reality shows this is not the case, just as common sense would tell you.

  23. QrazyQat
    QrazyQat March 18, 2008 at 3:58 pm |

    I didn’t get that link right. The highlighted text links to Peggy Sanday’s page at U of Penn. I meant to make it separate.

  24. GallingGalla aka RachelPhilPa
    GallingGalla aka RachelPhilPa March 18, 2008 at 7:51 pm |

    I’m a trans woman, and also queer. If this country becomes governed by law based on any religious tradition, whether it be Christianity, Islam, or Judaism, I will have to flee the country to save my life. None of these religious traditions tolerate people who are trans and / or queer/gay.

    I’m Jewish, and I’ve spoken with enough ultra-Orthodox (Chabad) Jews and been to enough Chabad ceremonies (marriages, etc) to know that they hate LGBT people to the point of wanting to erase our existence. And it is always extremists who ultimately define the religious law.

    I will not live in a country that is governed by Jewish religious law. And I will not live in a country governed by Shari’a, or by Christian Dominionism.

  25. Jill
    Jill March 18, 2008 at 8:13 pm | *

    I think Feldman brings up some valid points in his article about the ways that Sharia law has been misrepresented, and the ways in which our own Western legal systems are white-washed. The United States has the largest prison population in the world; our execution rates are astounding (and we’re the only developed nation that still kills prisoners); up until a year ago, we still executed minors. So I agree that we have a long way to go before we can start throwing stones (so to speak).

    But Sharia law is fundamentally unequal. Inheritance rights exist for women, which is good — and better than the law in many Western countries 100 years ago — but (a) women can only inherit a fraction of what their male relatives can, and (b) it’s 2008, not 100 years ago. Women have the right to initiate divorce proceedings, but divorce law is wildly biased in favor of men, and divorces that women initiate and men oppose are often not granted. And men get automatic child custody, so long as the child is above a certain (young) age.

    A big problem with Sharia is that it claims it doesn’t develop and doesn’t evolve, and that it can’t be amended. Of course, that isn’t true in practice, and there’s a whole body is Islamic jurisprudence which demonstrates that Sharia looks very different from place to place and decade to decade, but a cornerstone of the ideology is that Sharia law is fundamental justice, and cannot be changed. That’s a big problem when notions of human rights and equality have evolved since the Sharia was codified.

    And I’m a big supporter of secular law. I think you need to be able to justify legal rules through some other means than “God said so,” and I think you need to be able to recognize that most countries are not made up of people who adhere to a single religion. Certainly secular law is carried out terribly in a lot of places, and I’m no apologist for the American legal system, but any religious legal system is going to be on its face problematic, given that not everyone in any given society is going to adhere to that religion and that the justification for religious law is inherently lacking.

  26. Jill
    Jill March 18, 2008 at 8:14 pm | *

    p.s., Anne, great post — I’m looking forward to reading more answers to the questions you pose.

  27. William
    William March 18, 2008 at 11:12 pm |

    I’m a trans woman, and also queer. If this country becomes governed by law based on any religious tradition, whether it be Christianity, Islam, or Judaism, I will have to flee the country to save my life. None of these religious traditions tolerate people who are trans and / or queer/gay.

    Don’t flee, fight. This is your goddamn country too. Do not let some small minded little creature drive you from your home, your friends, and your birthright. Ultimately, this is the kind of shit I’m afraid of whenever someone brings up religious law or parallel religious courts. There seems to be the assumption that because a few extremists get a hair up their ass that those of us who do not conform need to pack up and go. Fuck that. They might not want to tolerate you, but that is ultimately their problem. If their intolerance comes to violence you shouldn’t be expected to bow or run, you should not be expected to leave your home and loved ones because they can’t be bothered to evolve.

    The reality is that the encroachment of religion upon public life threatens a lot of us. It threatens homosexuals, heterosexuals who don’t follow the right ceremonies, women, people of color, those of different religions, those of no religion, heathens of all stripes, transpeople, cisgendered people who don’t conform enough, generally any who does not obey. Individually we are powerless, we are weak, we have no voice. But we start to pile up. We might fail to satisfy different ridiculous standards, but together we outnumber them.

  28. Jill
    Jill March 18, 2008 at 11:25 pm | *

    William, that’s a very nice idea, but staying and fighting is an incredible luxury when the punishment for your existence is death. You say that it’s “ultimately their problem” if religious fundamentalists won’t tolerate you. I agree with the spirit of what you’re saying, but the reality is a different thing. If those religious fundamentalists are in control, you best believe it’s your problem when they don’t tolerate you, and when being gay means having a variety of rights stripped away — be that your right to marriage or your very right to life. Some things — marriage, for example — are important issues, but not life-threatening. Under conservative interpretations of Sharia law, though, being gay or transsexual is very much a life-or-death situation. I’m pretty sure that GallingGalla was referencing situations in which her identity would mean being put to death.

  29. William
    William March 19, 2008 at 12:48 am |

    William, that’s a very nice idea, but staying and fighting is an incredible luxury when the punishment for your existence is death. You say that it’s “ultimately their problem” if religious fundamentalists won’t tolerate you. I agree with the spirit of what you’re saying, but the reality is a different thing. If those religious fundamentalists are in control, you best believe it’s your problem when they don’t tolerate you, and when being gay means having a variety of rights stripped away — be that your right to marriage or your very right to life. Some things — marriage, for example — are important issues, but not life-threatening. Under conservative interpretations of Sharia law, though, being gay or transsexual is very much a life-or-death situation. I’m pretty sure that GallingGalla was referencing situations in which her identity would mean being put to death.

    I completely understand what you mean about fighting being a luxury. In countries that already exist under Sharia, the situation is different. I was responding to someone talking about the prevailing laws of a a western country changing. In that context, during a real change, I believe that fighting is what is important. Fleeing Iran is a different thing that actively resisting (even violently) religious law in the West.

  30. Echidne
    Echidne March 19, 2008 at 2:09 am |

    The sharia is based on writings done in the middle ages, and they reflect the gender assumptions of that era. It’s always possible to try to interpret the laws more generously or in more modern terms, but the writings themselves make that very difficult. That women under sharia could always inherit is true. That their inheritance was set as a sum considerably less than that of male heirs is also true. The rules about divorce give men more rights, though that’s not so much to do with sharia but the bit in the Koran which allows men to divorce without any reason. It is women who must take their case to court as the sole avenue for divorce. Note also that an alimony of three months’ length might in many countries mean that a woman who divorces or is divorced will become destitute unless she manages to remarry quickly or still has her birth family to go back to.

    Most interpretations of sharia assign custody to the father after some age of the child has been reached (seven or six, I think).

    Then there are the very problematic bits about rape, largely, because the Koran doesn’t say much anything about rape so some other passages have been applied as the base. Hence the need to have male witnesses for the deed, for instance, before the woman can be believed.

    Note also that the value of women as witnesses in court is less than that of men and that women cannot be judges.

  31. Meghan Rose
    Meghan Rose March 19, 2008 at 2:49 am |

    William, the reason it sounds like that is because it’s something that people who belong to religions that are supposed to be an entire way of life, but who also treasure secular society (after all, I would still be a Southern Baptist and not a Muslim if our society did not have separation of church and state, so I have that to thank in part for the fact that I -can- live as a Muslim at all), have to learn to balance. I’ve been told I water down Islam and that I’m a terrible person because of my support for a secular nation that allows for freedom of religious expression.

    My support of shari’a is simply from the perspective of one person who’s really truly unschooled in any law system and has only her religious beliefs and experiences as a poor woman in capitalist culture to refer to. I am not claiming that shari’a is the be all end all, nor am I claiming that we should absolutely instate every aspect of it in America right now this second. I’m just sharing one particular underrepresented perspective and my own thoughts.

    ah but this is much more of a debate in legal circles than you might think. Because having the SAME law for different people often means that certain people are systematically disadvantaged by a supposedly neutral system that doesn’t recognize their different positions.

    think about having the same rules for men and women in the workplace – if women get pregnant, they will miss work. Holding them to the same standard doesn’t end up being fair. Our legal system systematically fails people through its “neutrality” that denies people’s different material positions.

    This is so, so true, and one of the biggest reasons why we still have a male/female wage gap in this country. Thank you for posting this.

    Jill, my own feelings about being bisexual and about supporting LGBT rights is something that I am now struggling with in my reversion, and is one huge reason why, while I do have my grandeur illusions of utopia, also vehemently support separation of church and state. I can’t imagine a God that denies any form of love. But I don’t want to open my mouth too much where that’s involved because people have a tendency to attack rather rabidly here and it’s not something I feel comfortable arguing about, since I am still struggling with this myself.

  32. Meghan Rose
    Meghan Rose March 19, 2008 at 2:52 am |

    William, I also wanted to add – I can’t believe I left this out because it was the only reason I was planning to comment back in the first place – that you said,

    And that is one of the major reasons I oppose the idea of Shari’a in the west. Poor women of color will end up there because their families or communities demand it, because it costs less than a real court, because it is more familiar, because they believe that that is where they belong. They will then be at the mercy of whoever is doing the judging, and it’s a pretty safe bet it won’t be some grand social experiment of white radical socialist feminist converts. No, the judges will generally be the same people that judge Shari’a courts, the same conservative men of a patriarchal culture handing out decisions based partly upon what the guy before them said and partly upon the demands of a big daddy in the sky.

    I am hoping that more shari’a courts by women, for women will be instated, along the lines of the link I posted. The reason I support that is because the women making the decisions are largely in the same position and subject to the same experiences as the women who seek arbitration there.

  33. GallingGalla aka RachelPhilPa
    GallingGalla aka RachelPhilPa March 19, 2008 at 7:51 am |

    Meghan, I’m not attacking Islam, nor any religion. If you wish to voluntarily follow the rulings of a religious court without accessing the secular court system, I’ve no problem with that. Chabad Jews do that all the time.

    What I am opposed to is the notion that any religious tradition be permitted to define or replace secular law, because now we are imposing that religious tradition on people who don’t follow it. Using Jewish practice (including mine) as an example, my vision of the kind of Jewish law that *I* conceive is a very accepting one, where women, LGBT people, people of color, immigrants, etc will be treated as equal citizens. But, if Jewish tradition becomes the law of the land, that’s not what were going to get. The Chabadniks will define that law (because when religious authorities define the law, they almost always do so in the most extreme manner), and will do so in a way that will demand the erasure of a lot of people – and not just LGBT people. Chabad Jews are typically intensely racist and classist, so they’ll want to erase people of color, poor people, immigrants … and Muslims.

    I feel that it is wrong for Westerners to impose their values on non-Western countries; that is exactly what we are doing in Iraq and in Palestine, and it’s right that majority-Muslim countries are angry with the United States. But, I happen to like being a Westerner, and one reason is that I live in a society that allows me to have a pretty decent life. True, we’ve got a ***long*** way to go to true equality and justice in this country – the never-ending string of murders of LGBT folk testifies to that – but I don’t believe for a second that law based on any religious tradition will make life for me any better.

    And I hate to think of what a woman who is raped by her husband would be able to do if she had only religious courts to rely on. I’m sorry, but “We’re throwing out your rape charges because we don’t have four male witnesses” ain’t gonna cut it.

    And William … what Jill said … and I’ll add that “you should stand and fight” is easy to say when it’s not *your* life on the line.

  34. William
    William March 19, 2008 at 9:53 am |

    And William … what Jill said … and I’ll add that “you should stand and fight” is easy to say when it’s not *your* life on the line.

    Theres a pretty strong assumption built into what you just added there. But, as you yourself mentioned earlier in that post, there are plenty of people whose lives would be on the line if conservative patriarchal religions managed to force their way into the law. Mine would be one of the lives on the line. Perhaps I’m just naturally more aggressive or defiant, perhaps I have more of a connection the the place in which I live than you (not that any of these are necessarily good things). I get that, I really do. But please don’t assume that I’m suggesting you put your ass on the line while mine is safe at home.

  35. William
    William March 19, 2008 at 10:12 am |

    William, the reason it sounds like that is because it’s something that people who belong to religions that are supposed to be an entire way of life, but who also treasure secular society (after all, I would still be a Southern Baptist and not a Muslim if our society did not have separation of church and state, so I have that to thank in part for the fact that I -can- live as a Muslim at all), have to learn to balance. I’ve been told I water down Islam and that I’m a terrible person because of my support for a secular nation that allows for freedom of religious expression.

    Yeah, and that argument doesn’t cut it. You chose your faith, you’ve got your interpretation, and you’re free to live your life in any way you see fit so long as you do not expect others to follow your religious commandments. At some point you do need to make choices, its the nature of the beast. I don’t think anyone here would have any problem with you going to a Sharia court to settle a dispute within your community, the problem I have is the idea that the decision of that inherently religious body should have any official weight. That is the issue when we’re talking about religious courts. Any enforceability, any public support, anything that makes the decisions of the court more than suggestions in the eyes of secular law is anathema. I’m sorry if you feel that is unfair, I’m sorry if that prevents you from the lifestyle you would like. The bottom line is that you have chosen a religion which still has some tenets which are wholly incompatible with liberal secular society, up to an including the dehumanization of entire classes of people. It is simply intolerable to let that into the law again. We’ve spent too much time fighting back the Christianist influence on the law, and we still have a long road ahead of us. We simply don’t have time to invite another set of roadblocks to the party.

    I am not claiming that shari’a is the be all end all, nor am I claiming that we should absolutely instate every aspect of it in America right now this second.

    I understand that, but you are claiming that perhaps Sharia should be instated in some instances for some people at some point. I’m not saying that you’re arguing for a radical revolution in this country. I’m saying that any encroachment of religious law into secular law, for any reason under any circumstance at any time, is wrong.

    I am hoping that more shari’a courts by women, for women will be instated, along the lines of the link I posted. The reason I support that is because the women making the decisions are largely in the same position and subject to the same experiences as the women who seek arbitration there.

    Thats putting the cart before the horse, don’t you think? You’re talking about a basically unequal system that is generally run exclusively by men from a patriarchal culture applying the laws of an aggressively expansionist, monotheistic faith. You’re supporting the idea of using this system, which has a history of abuse and horror, of opening that door. Realistically, there won’t be a lot of these revolutionary women’s sharia courts. There will likely be none at all. The only precedent is one court in one region, and even it was denied official capacity and essentially existed as a voluntary body. And thats before we even begin to consider the broader cultural problems with Sharia and the fact that we have no guarantee that the women in charge of these courts won’t have internalized the misogyny they grew up with.

    “Hey, I know its a crummy system that tends to treat women like chattel, but if we use it here maybe it will be completely different! Hey, look at these two examples over 1500 years, it might totally happen…”

  36. Emmanuel
    Emmanuel March 19, 2008 at 11:29 am |

    Given that Sharia condones punishments like death for making a stick figure representing Mohammed or naming a kid’s teddy bear Mohammed I think there are very good reasons to treat it like a vial containing the Ebola virus.

  37. Anne
    Anne March 19, 2008 at 12:13 pm |

    sorry i missed being able to respond to much of this, my internet went out last night and so i could not post until i got to work this morning.

    i want to make clear (allyson rowen taylor) that in no way was I trying to support the decisions made by Shariah courts, deny that women have had horrific acts of violence performed on them in the name of Islam, nor am I advocating for the implementation of Shariah courts. i do however agree with jill that much of the purpose of Feldman´s article was that “Sharia law has been misrepresented”. The country, context, and who is in charge of the courts does play a role in the types of decisions that get handed down and I do not think it is fair to lump a legal system used in many dif. countries into one over’arching category.

    The two main points that I think are important are:

    1. the west gaining a better and more nuanced understanding of Shariah/Islamic law

    2. the question of religion in law.

    I am 100% with the rest of you who posted wanting a sep. of church and state. I fundamentally disagree with infusing religion into judicial rule as most (all?) countries include citizens practicing a variety of faiths. My interest in the Archbishops comments has to do with his suggestion that Christian law has been incorporated into state law, that there are sep. jewish courts, and how do you allow one or more religions a judicial voice and then deny that same voice to another group simply because you don´t ´like´that group?

    Beyond the very serious concerns raised re: religion in the courts, I also agree that there are serious problems with multiple legal systems. In TZ for example, besides Shariah courts there are also tribal courts, some of which do not believe women can own property. As a result if a woman´s husband dies she can be removed from ´his´ home. Despite national law saying women can own property, these tribal courts have final say over cases brought before them. Whether or not it is religious based, having dif. laws for dif. groups creates significant problems and how multiple court systems operate is an issue that should be addressed by any gov. and its citizens before implementing it.

    Jill, I do have one question for you. You say that one of the problems with Sharia (and can anyone comment on if it is Sharia or Shariah?) is that it does not develop or evolve. Yet recently reading Shirin Ebadi´s memoir is that one of the things unique about Sharia is that it is open for interpretation. She cites the ex. of listening to music, that in order to not lose the support of the youth the law was re’interpreted so it was allowed. (i do not have the book with me so can´t give a direct quote) but was curious what your basis for this statement was?

  38. RachelPhilPa
    RachelPhilPa March 19, 2008 at 12:19 pm |

    Theres a pretty strong assumption built into what you just added there.

    Point well taken, and I apologize for making said assumptions.

    I will still state however, that it is up to each person to determine for themselves what to do if their life should be threatened by religious extremism (or some other situation), and I’m not crazy about being told that I *should* stay and fight when that is maybe not the best option for me, with my multiple disabilities. I don’t know if you are talking about doing physical battle or fighting in a political sense (protests, general strike, etc), but if the former – I’m autistic, I will freeze in a chaotic situation, putting both myself and those around me in danger. You don’t want me handling a gun, believe me.

    I’ll close by saying that I do agree with the main point of your comments; it was just the “stay and fight” aspect that bugged me.

  39. Jill
    Jill March 19, 2008 at 4:00 pm | *

    Jill, I do have one question for you. You say that one of the problems with Sharia (and can anyone comment on if it is Sharia or Shariah?) is that it does not develop or evolve. Yet recently reading Shirin Ebadi´s memoir is that one of the things unique about Sharia is that it is open for interpretation. She cites the ex. of listening to music, that in order to not lose the support of the youth the law was re’interpreted so it was allowed. (i do not have the book with me so can´t give a direct quote) but was curious what your basis for this statement was?

    Well, the deal with Sharia law is that it’s a set legal code that cannot be amended. In theory, it should be interpreted the same way everywhere, since it’s absolute truth. So yes, in practice it is open to interpretation, because like any legal code it’s just words, and cannot possibly encompass every possible situation — so judges have to use the code in response to a variety of situations that aren’t explicity dealt with in the code itself. They have to adapt the code to real life. So we have a situation where there are radically different interpretations of Sharia from country to country. Muslim feminist legal scholars support progressive interpretations, and that’s an important step.

    So my choice of the words “evolve” were poor, but the fact is that the text of Sharia cannot change. Our own law, but contrast, can be modified — judges can’t generally change the letter of it, but law-making bodies can. So if there’s a law that we decide is fundamentally unjust — like the former law that women could not own property — we change it. And if the legislature passes a law that violates the Constitution, judges can strike it down. Sharia law, on the other hand, is static. Feminist legal scholars push for liberal interpretations of Sharia itself, and I do think that’s a really good thing, and there are many good arguments there. But at the end of the day, Sharia law says some things that not even the best feminist legal scholar can turn into equality.

  40. QrazyQat
    QrazyQat March 19, 2008 at 7:20 pm |

    The sharia is based on writings done in the middle ages

    So are our legal system, and the Napoleonic system as well. Things can and do change. Not everywhere, not in every way, but some places, some ways, they do change. Minangkabau; Islamic courts, reality of what is actually done in some places, etc.

  41. Jill
    Jill March 19, 2008 at 9:38 pm | *

    So are our legal system, and the Napoleonic system as well.

    The difference is that while our legal system is based on older legal systems, our laws are not the same as the laws were in the Middle Ages. Interpretations of Sharia differ according to place and time, but the whole point is that the law itself does not change and cannot be amended. It’s a tough comparison to make.

  42. paul a ticks
    paul a ticks March 20, 2008 at 4:44 am |

    Those that profess righteous ignorance of the damages and infelicities, egregiousnesses and horrors of shariah should defer to the millions now living (“living” is more like it, as they exist in constant peril of injustice, instability and random brute force if they step out of koranic line) under its monstrous umbrella. For women, particularly, it represents a throwback to the sordid and primitive, where the slightest deviation from male-asserted rules gets you a thrashing–if you are very lucky; if not, you are murdered by relatives upset at your ‘dishonoring’ their name, or disemboweled for daring to befriend a nonmuslim, or ditched out the window for walking to work sans male guardian/chaperone. The excesses are bloodcurdling. Worse, they are permanent, as the guardians of this mishmash cult of death and duplicity see zero reason for reform, unlike all monotheistic religions (real religions, that is, unlike this quilt of Mohammed’s predilections, aggrievedness and lusts). For a woman, particularly, to espouse this feral rancor of a penance, it is particularly galling. Beating and murder of one’s chattel (i.e.: womenfolk) is smiled upon. Education is dispensable. children are key, yet in a divorce, you lose them, tsk tsk. Justice has nothing to do with this slamming cult, as it was crafted in an age without justice. Being a male helps of course, since all the laws are configured for maximal take-out for the male. Women have to look forward to possible abuse without recourse (judges are notoriously agnostic in punishing torturing husbands), instantaneous and unexpected divorce without support, the dismissal of any and all rights we have come to expect in the 21st century, and the clash of cultures as slam makes its obnoxious demands on peaceful practitioners of real religions. It is astoinishing to read defense of the moronic, ill-informed, dementedly unlearned writ of the flawed, mistake-ridden puff-piece by the peevish Noah Feldman. He needs stronger spectacles to see the world as it is, and as the regrettable and dangerous shariah is.

  43. Separation of Religion and State, etc. « Stuff I think about (so, mostly feminism)

    […] Filed under: Christianity, LGBTQ, Religion, Women — judgesnineteen @ 12:39 am This post and its comments got me thinking, as did reading Pharyngula lately. God that story about Richard Dawkins and the […]

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