Sharia and Islamic Identity Politics
OP - February 21, 2014, 10:50 AM
Sharia and Islamic Identity Politics
Many people, whether they articulate it openly or not, wonder why certain issues seem to provoke a lot of Muslims into violent protest with great passion, while other issues are met with deafening silence or apathy.
Much of this is due to the nature of religious identity politics, and the self-image of Islam as a collective ideology that stands in a grand and noble opposition to a hostile, non-Islamic world.
This may also be because it is so much easier to point the finger outwards, than to introspect and deal with the dysfunctions that are internal to Islamic scriptures and traditions.
Let's consider the growth of sharia courts in Muslim communities in Europe. Muslims often say that Islam is a religion that is concerned with matters of justice and equality.
How then do we reconcile this self-perception with the reality of Islamic scholars, clerics and leaders promoting injustice and inequality in so many of the world's Muslim-majorty societies?
Some forms of sharia law are gradually becoming institutionalized in Britain in stark contrast with the secular laws of the land. And the large Muslim silence and ambivalence on the matter of sharia law demonstrates how paralyzed Muslims feel.
How is a Muslim, who defines him or her self as having surrendered to Islamic doctrines find that courage to face Islamic traditions' reactionary, misogynistic and illiberal practices, which are at odds with secular modernity and equality?
In October 2012, the second chamber of the British Parliament debated a bill introduced by Baroness Cox, that examines the influence of Islamic shariah courts in cities across Britain.
The Daily Telegraph newspaper described how "One study estimated that there are around 85 Sharia bodies operating in Britain."
"Rulings by informal religious 'councils” and tribunals are sometimes no more 'consensual' than rape, peers were told."
The bill highlighted the horrifying levels of abuse, oppression, and denial of rights that British Muslim women were being subjected to by being coerced into submitting to sharia courts rather than appealing to common English law, which is their inalienable right as British citizens.
One woman who spoke of her experiences said:
“I feel betrayed by Britain, I came to this country to get away from all this but the situation is worse here than in my country of origin."
Baroness Cox said:
“These examples are just the tip of an iceberg as many women live in fear, so intimidated by family and community that they dare not speak out or ask for help.”
In response to this, a Muslim Member of Parliament* Baroness Uddin, said that the discussion of this bill, and the prospect of it being enacted would be seen by the Islamic community as “another assault on Muslims”
Why would Baroness Uddin want to protect sharia courts in Britain instead of British women? Instead of fighting the misogynistic drift towards coercive sharia laws that are at odds with equality and rights for women within British society?
This case highlights the crisis of Islam in the modern world. While sharia has been practiced all over Muslim-majority countries, it is now in the context of liberal secular societies that it is most obvious exactly how misogynistic and reactionary sharia laws are.
Even to the average, moderate, relatively secular minded Muslim, openly disagreeing with sharia is a potentially traumatic thing - it might even be said that it is perceived in a way to be a declaration of unbelief - which is the very worst thing almost any Muslim believes she or he could do.
Can a you remain Muslim AND admit that man-made laws, subject to human judgment, through democratic means, with room for adjustments, are superior to the fixed codes of God?
Even if you, as a Muslim, enjoy secular liberal society, what is at stake when you admit that sharia law, like most outdated codes and laws, is misogynistic, oppressive, and regressive?
In other words, for most Muslims to say this, in reference to Islam - which is a totalizing identity politics, along with a system of codes - is to state that the edicts enshrined in the Quran and Hadiths are somehow inferior to the laws of human society.
That is deeply troublesome for believing Muslims to admit, even for most moderate Muslims.
It strikes at the very heart of Islamic identity.
Islam is not supposed to be subservient to anything. The sharia of Islam is not supposed to be secondary to the changeable laws of humans.
Islam, according to Islam, is in its essence immutable and eternal - and all else must eventually submit to it, rather than the other way around.
Or at least that is what we who were raised Muslim were taught to believe.
We who were raised Muslim have a choice. Do we speak up for the rights of individuals among us? Or do we continue to accept a collectivized identity politics that we must never question or challenge no matter the cost?
While support for collectivized Muslim identity politics is most loudly declared, the self-criticism that is sorely needed within Islamic communities tends to be done in whispers, out of fear of being ostracized from our family, friends, and clerics.
But is it acceptable to live one's whole life in fear?
Especially when we have the privilege of living in liberal, relatively free-er societies where our freedoms are guaranteed and protected by secular laws?
If we who are here in open societies don't speak up, and don't challenge the dogma we were told we must surrender to, then who will?