In 2003, Islamophobes issued a code red, claiming that the Canadian government would soon “enforce Sharia” in Ontario. Immediately, some people began assuming that somehow democratic law was about to be overthrown and a draconian Taliban-style corporal system enacted. Islamophobes played up these fears, and applied pressure on the government of Ontario to outlaw Sharia.
The issue of course is that most people do not exactly understand what Sharia is, and conflate it with the term Hadud (Islamic corporal punishments). What the Ontario government was planning on doing was to allow Muslim arbitration courts, which would have absolutely nothing to do with Hadud. (For the record, moderate Muslims do not believe in the Taliban understanding of Hadud, contrary to what the Islamophobes insist. They have their own moderate and reformist understanding of Hadud consistent with the contemporary age. But, alas, this is not the topic of our discussion today, as Ontario never planned on enacting the Hadud anyways!)
Let us be clear then: Ontario was never going to allow any understanding of Hadud–“enlightened” or otherwise; rather, when people said that Sharia was going to be allowed in Ontario, the meaning of this was simply that Muslims could–if they so choose–settle their family, religious, and other civil disputes according to their religious beliefs. (And this only if both parties agreed to do so!) But the Islamophobes used the buzz word “Sharia”–which people mistakenly conflate with Hadud (a misconception popularized unfortunately by the Taliban)–to create controversy and fear.
For the record, we must make it clear that LoonWatch is not a religious site. We’re a non-partisan group for and by people of all different faiths (or no faith at all); our shared goal is simply to combat hatred and bigotry and to remain consistent to humanity’s shared universal values. So we are not going to concern ourselves with theological or religious debates as to which religious law is right and which is wrong, or even if religious courts should be allowed or not.
But we will concern ourselves with discrimination, which is exactly what went on here. All religions should be treated equally in Canada; either all of them should be allowed to have their own arbitration courts or none of them. To allow some religious groups this privilege and deny it to others is inherently unfair and discriminatory.
You see, what most people overlooked was the fact that “for years, Jews, Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mennonites, and aboriginals, among others, made use of [their own] arbitration [courts] to settle family law questions without using Ontario’s court system.”
Like Muslims have Sharia (Islamic law), Jews have “Halakha” (Jewish law). The two are amazingly similar, since after all, the Sharia is based in the Jewish law (as both are Abrahamic faiths that share a common origin). Since the 1990’s, Jews have been allowed their own Halakhic courts, and nobody had any qualms over this.
Suddenly though, when Muslims sought to have their own Sharia arbitration courts, the Islamophobes cried foul. So why the double standard? Muslims–and other sensible people–asked the question: if Jews could have their own arbitration courts according to Halakha, then why not Muslims? Why was Halakha considered Kosher and Sharia considered Haram?
Enter the Islamophobes
Daniel Pipes—a modern day McCarthyist–led the charge against Sharia courts. Let me clarify: I’m not responding to Daniel Pipes to defend the idea of Sharia courts. As I explain at the end of Part 2 of this article, I have mixed feelings about religious courts in general. My issue here is with the reasons Daniel Pipes gives as to why he is opposed to Sharia courts, and his double-standards and hypocrisy.
You see, Daniel Pipes is not opposed to religious courts; he’s only opposed to Islamic courts. His article expresses dismay that Jewish Halakhic courts will no longer operate in the same capacity as they did before. In other words, if it were up to him, he would allow Halakha in the West, but not Sharia. Pipes wrote in an article entitled “Why Shariah Must Be Opposed”:
Those of us who argue against Shariah are sometimes asked why Islamic law poses a problem when modern Western societies long ago accommodated Halakha, or Jewish law. In fact, this was one of the main talking points of those who argued that Shariah should become an accepted part of dispute resolution in Ontario in 2005.
The answer is easy: a fundamental difference separates the two. Islam is a missionizing religion, Judaism is not. Islamists aspire to apply Islamic law to everyone, while observant Jews seek only to live by Jewish law themselves.
Two very recent examples from the United Kingdom demonstrate the innate imperialism of Islamic law.
Pipes then gives two examples of how Muslims seek to “impose Sharia” on others: (1) the first is of a man named Zulfikar Ali Khan who started serving Halal food to his Non-Muslim residents in an old age home; (2) the second example is of policewomen wearing headscarves to enter mosques, an initiative which two police forces in Southwest England have adopted.
Well, there you have it! That is Daniel Pipes’ entire argument: two random examples which he thinks somehow proves that Muslims want to enforce their religious beliefs upon non-Muslims, whilst Jews want to simply apply their own laws to themselves.
The first example Pipes gives is of a man who served Halal only food in a building he owned. What about the multiple Subway outlets across the country (located in such places as New York, Miami, and Indianapolis) which turned Kosher only? Not only is the meat kosher, but the restaurants refuse to serve ham, bacon, cheese, and crab (all of which are forbidden according to Jewish law); additionally, the store remains closed on the Sabbath:
Ham and bacon were removed from the menu, the “cheese” is made of soy, and the Seafood Sensation sandwich is filled with imitation crab. Two microwaves and toaster ovens ensure that fish and meat are kept separate, a consideration for more observant Jews. There is a full-time mashgiach, or kosher supervisor, and the restaurant is closed on Shabbat.
Islamophobes might lose their minds if their local Subways started closing down on Fridays (the Islamic holy day). It would be another sign of “creeping Sharia” and of “stealth Jihad,” or even of impending “dhimmitude.”
(The truth is that if you own a business, you can serve Halal, Kosher, or whatever you want. If customers don’t want that, they stop coming and you run out of business. Ahh, the beauties of capitalism.)
To give an even clearer example, we have the ultra-Orthodox Jews of Israel who force the majority secular population (along with non-Jews) to observe strict Kosher laws; we read:
Public transport comes to a halt on the Sabbath even though the majority of Israelis believe it should continue to operate. Shops are forced to close and all restaurants and stores are forced to keep kosher rules, with the sale of pork strictly forbidden.
So why on earth would Daniel Pipes focus on one single Muslim man who served Halal food, and ignore the fact that the ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel force the entire population (including non-Jews) to observe kosher rules (with the sale of pork strictly forbidden)?
In fact, Daniel Pipes had said in his article “Why Shariah Must Be Opposed:”
Returning to pork: both Islam and Judaism abominate the flesh of pigs, so this prohibition offers a direct and revealing comparison of the two religions. Simply put, Jews accept that non-Jews eat pork but Muslims take offense and try to impede pork consumption.
I’m afraid, Dr. Pipes, that your point was just shot to pieces. The non-Jewish and secular residents of Israel would beg to differ!
The second example that Daniel Pipes gave–as to why Halakha but no Sharia–was of police officers wearing headscarves in mosques. Yet, Jewfaq.org tells us that non-Jews are expected to wear skullcaps and head coverings when they enter synagogues:
Non-Jews Visiting a Synagogue
A man should wear a yarmulke (skullcap) if Jewish men in the congregation do so; yarmulkes are available at the entrance for those who do not have one. In some synagogues, married women should also wear a head covering. A piece of lace sometimes called a “chapel hat” is generally provided for this purpose in synagogues where this is required.
If you are in an Orthodox synagogue, be careful to sit in the right section: men and women are seated separately in an Orthodox synagogue.
Just as the police officers were provided headscarves to wear when they enter mosques, Jews expect non-Jews to wear skullcaps and head coverings (chapel hats) when they enter, and extra skullcaps and head coverings are placed at the entrance for this purpose. Oh, the horror!
Some More Examples
Just to go over the top, I’ll provide some more examples so that Daniel Pipes and company have no way out. Where to begin? OK, this story reported in the Washington Post seems a good place to start:
Hundreds of ultra-Orthodox Jews clashed with riot police in central Jerusalem on Saturday night in the latest protest against the city’s decision to open a municipal parking lot on the Jewish Sabbath.
Dressed in traditional cloaks and fur hats, demonstrators forced the closure of several major streets, and some hurled rocks at motorists along a Jerusalem highway…The decision to open the lot was seen as an official endorsement of driving on a day when Jewish law prohibits operating machinery, even pushing elevator buttons
This group of Jews wanted to prevent even non-Jews from driving:
[Jerusalem Mayor] Barkat changed the location of the open lot to one farther from an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood, promised it would be staffed by non-Jews and waived fees so money would not change hands, another Sabbath prohibition.
Still, the crowds have gathered. An estimated 30,000 people joined in a mass prayer one Friday night in June, and there are plans for a children’s protest this week.
“It’s as if they are calling upon the public to come and desecrate the Sabbath,” said Rabbi Yitzhak Goldknop, secretary of the Rabbinical Committee for the Sanctity of the Sabbath. “It hurts us and hurts our feelings and the feelings of any believing Jew.”
This is not an isolated event. In fact, cars are routinely stoned in Israel if they move about on the Sabbath:
…One of these suburbs, Mea Shearim, is infamous for the stoning of moving cars on Shabat, the Jewish Sabbath.
How’s that for forcing your beliefs on others?
Such incidents have worried the non-Jewish and secular residents:
Secular residents, however, worry about intolerance and a loss of diversity, citing demands for gender-segregated buses, the recent jailing of a member of a “chastity squad” who assaulted a woman he thought was dressed immodestly…
This leads to our next example, which is of some Jews forcing companies to segregate their buses and make women sit at the back. The Independent reports:
‘Sinful’ city buses stoned by ultra-Orthodox Jews
[An] Israeli bus…is pelted with stones that smash windows and startle passengers…The violence is part of an unholy war in which strident elements of the ultra-Orthodox community in Mea Shearim are trying to force Israel’s leading bus company – and, by extension, Israeli society– to defer to their strict religious teachings and sensibilities…
The latest battle is over demands that buses segregate men and women in accordance with strict Jewish law…In the view of some ultra-Orthodox Jews, segregated seating, with women entering separately through the rear door and sitting at the back, is vital to uphold their stringent traditions stipulating modesty and prohibiting physical contact with members of the opposite sex.
Secularists say the push for sanctity on the buses is part of a larger effort to transform Jerusalem into a kind of Tehran…
Menachem Kenig, head of a committee pressing for segregated buses, says Israel’s leading bus company, Egged, is in effect forcing religious people to sin. “The one place where men and women are forced to be together is on the bus,” he says. “People are crowded in, men and women push up against each other. There are sudden stops and sharp turns and men fall on the women. This really angers us, it is a violation of the concept of modesty that is at the basis of the ultra-orthodox community.”
But Laura Wharton, a secularist member of the Jerusalem city council, says the attempt to force a new segregated bus line is “outrageous and extremist”, adding: “It is humiliating to be sent to the back of the bus.”
Can you imagine if this had been Muslims who were pelting buses in order to force women to the back of the bus? Daniel Pipes and company would be creating pandemonium! But suddenly they are quiet as mice.
Immodestly dressed women are not allowed to board these Israeli buses, and are man-handled if they try to; the Guardian reports:
With the demographics skewed in [ultra-Orthodox] favour, government authorities are acquiescing to the growing demands of the ultra-orthodox. The transport ministry, which regulates and funds bus transport through private companies, has allowed operators to provide ‘kosher’ or ‘pure’ routes, where women are required to sit at the back and cannot board unless appropriately dressed.
More than a dozen women have filed complaints after being verbally or physically attacked on the buses. ‘Sometimes it’s an official group but often it’s one or two men who start to complain and the other men follow,’ said the Israel Religious Action Centre’s legal director, Einat Hurvitz. ‘The drivers allow them to intimidate the women.’ Haredi women also participated in the bullying.
‘I was wearing jeans and a long sleeved T-shirt and as I was getting on the bus someone told me I couldn’t get on the bus like that,’ said Iris Yoffe who was travelling from Jerusalem to her parents’ home in the northern city of Haifa. ‘I ignored him and paid the driver.’ But then, said Yoffe, two women blocked her way and told her to get off. ‘When I refused they started yelling at me.’
Moving on, we have the example of some Jews trying to close down shops that were selling mp4 players, which–according to them–is a violation of Halakha; Israel News (YNet) reports:
Battle against MP4 players
…The demonstrators directed their anger at a store on the Shabbat Square accused of selling “non-kosher” MP4 players.
On Wednesday evening, a group of yeshiva students demonstrated opposite another store in Meah Shearim, demanding that it stop selling “impure films.”
So Dr. Pipes, here we have an example of Jews trying to force others to adhere to their religious laws and there are more examples, such as ultra-Orthodox Jews throwing out children from schools if their families own computers, which they consider to be a violation of the Halakha. The Guardian reports:
…Time is spent checking out reports of illicit use of new technologies by members of the [ultra-Orthodox Jewish] Haredi community. ‘If we discover someone has a computer at home we throw the children out of school,’ he said. Enforcing dictates on women’s behaviour is another vital part of his brief.
There is in fact an emergence of “chastity squads” in Israel, which go around beating up people for being irreligious, targeting women who dress provocatively (such as dressing in the color red); we read:
The “work” of the “chastity squads” has also included stoning women for wearing the “provocative” colour red and torching stores that sell MP4 players in the fear they will be used to air pornography.
Stores that sell clothes regarded as provocative have been vandalised with bleach thrown at merchandise, with suspicion all that’s needed to spark an attack. Girls have been expelled from school after being seen talking to boys, a punishment that ruins their marriage prospects.
In April, a group of ultra-Orthodox men caused a ruckus on a flight of El Al, Israel’s national airline, when they became abusive and rowdy after a film was shown which they considered immoral.
The squads have also made media headlines for enforcing the gender division on buses that service their neighbourhood, forcing women to sit in the back section, with those that refuse to do so being verbally abused and beaten.
An Orthodox Canadian tourist found this out the hard way. Miriam Shear says she was travelling to pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City last year when a group of ultra-Orthodox (haredi) men attacked her for refusing to move to the back of the bus.
In an interview following the incident, Shear says that she was slapped, kicked, punched and pushed by a group of men who demanded she sit in the back of the bus with the other women.
Jewish women who leave ultra-Orthodox lives to embrace a secular and “immodest lifestyle” are given “honor beatings” and threatened with death; the Guardian reports:
Four months ago in the middle of the night, six men dressed in wide-brimmed black hats, black coats, white shirts and black trousers burst into the Jerusalem apartment of a young Jewish woman and taught her a lesson.
Mikhail, who is reluctant to give her full name, had scandalised members of her ultra-orthodox Jewish community by leaving her husband and embracing a secular lifestyle. The men, all members of the theologically conservative Haredi branch of Judaism, tackled her to the ground, slammed her head against the floor and tied a rag around her mouth. One assailant sat on her head as the others kicked her while demanding to know the names of the men she was seeing.
They also threatened to kill her if she did not leave the neighbourhood, which contains many secular as well as religious residents. ‘A woman is only OK if she has a family, kids and a husband,’ said Mikhail with a sigh.
Welcome to the new, increasingly orthodox, Jerusalem. The attack on Mikhail, although exceptionally brutal, was only the latest in a string of assaults over the past two years against Jewish women accused of immoral behaviour in the city.
These “chastity squads” slash tires of female drivers who dress immodestly:
Signs warning women not to enter if they are wearing trousers, short sleeves or a skirt above the knees, hang in the neighbourhood. One is affixed outside Kreus’s two-room house where he lives with his wife and 11 children. ‘Every week there’s a complaint about the way women dress,’ said Kreus.
Extraordinarily, he admitted to slashing the tyres of women who have driven into the neighbourhood who, he said, were indecently dressed.
Riots erupted when some members of the chastity squads were arrested. These “chastity squads” seem to have some level of community support, as Israel News (YNet) reports:
‘The chastity squad activists are doing what the police should be doing,’ senior community member says.
According to the Guardian article, “more than 30 per cent of [Jerusalem’s] Jewish residents are [ultra-Orthodox] Haredi.” The ultra-Orthodox “Jewish Taliban” freely “roam Jerusalem’s ultra-religious neighbourhoods enforcing the voluminous and ever growing list of rabbinical laws such as the recent decree banning the sale of MP4 players.”
And we could go on and on with examples of Jews trying to force Halakha on others…
I’ll stop here, mostly due to already having committed overkill.
The Bottom Line
The argument brought forth by Daniel Pipes–that Halakha should be allowed since Jews don’t wish to force their laws on others, whereas Sharia should be disallowed since Muslims wish to force their laws on others–is categorically rejected. The bottom line is that there are religious zealots of every religion that wish to force their beliefs upon others. Islam is no exception to this.
The vast majority of Muslims–like the vast majority of Jews–just want to be able to practice their own religion. We don’t let the actions of a few overzealous Jews characterize all of Jewry and Judaism, so let’s not let a few overzealous Muslims characterize all of Muslims and Islam.
Principle of Noninterference in Sharia
Clearly the vast majority of Jews disagree with the Jewish zealots who force Halakha upon others. I will not however speak on this topic and instead assume that the reader will take it for granted. Since it is Muslims that are on trial nowadays, I will speak specifically about the Islamic belief, but rest assured I am not in anyway implying that the majority of Jews wish to enforce their laws upon others.
With regard to Islam, moderate Muslims remind their overzealous Taliban-like coreligionists that there is a principle in Sharia of noninterference towards people of other faiths. In other words, the Sharia is applicable to Muslims, not non-Muslims. For example, the Sharia stipulates that alcohol is forbidden, and the Hadud (Islamic penal code) dictates that corporal punishment be meted out to the one found guilty of alcohol consumption. However, Sharia also recognizes that non-Muslims drink alcohol, and therefore dictates that Muslims should not prevent non-Muslims from that. In other words, in an ideal Muslim state, non-Muslims can drink alcohol, eat pork, etc.
Historically, Muslims would even allow non-Muslims in Islamic lands to have their own courts, their own judges, and their own laws. The non-Muslims were free to rule themselves according to their own religious laws. Muslims went to Islamic courts, Jews went to Jewish courts, Christians to Christian courts, etc. Muslim judges were forbidden to issue rulings upon non-Muslims, unless the non-Muslims themselves opted to go to an Islamic court as opposed to their own court.
Professor Mark R. Cohen of Princeton University, who according to his wiki page is “considered to be one of the leading scholars of the history of Jews in the Middle Ages under Islam,” wrote:
Islamic judges remained faithful to the principle of noninterference in the adjudication of intra-Jewish issues unless brought before them voluntarily by the parties. Even when this occurred, as it did quite frequently, qadis [Islamic judges] especially observed the rule of nonintervention when the matter related to personal status, as evidenced, for example, in the phrase la nata’arrad fi dhalika (or: lahum) li makan ‘aqd al-dhimma, “we do not interfere in this matter (or: with them) on account of the dhimma [protection] pact.”
Muslims allowed non-Muslims (such as Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians, etc.) to have their own religious courts to settle matters of arbitration, including and especially family and personal law, something which I found interesting in relation to the modern day issue of Sharia courts in Canada.
Imam al-Shafi’i, founder of one of the four schools of Islamic jurisprudence, wrote about non-Muslims:
If one of you or any other non-believer comes to us for judgment, we shall adjudicate according to the law of Islam. But if he does not come to us, we shall not intervene among you (lam nu’rid lakum fima baynakum wa baynahu).
(Imam al-Shafi’i, Kitab al-Umm, 4:118)
Not only did Muslims historically allow non-Muslims to drink alcohol, consume pork, and the like, but they also tolerated matters which the Islamic religion considered repugnant. To illustrate just one such example: a certain Zoroastrian sect engaged in a practice known as self-marriage; a man would marry his own mother or sister. Such marriages were explicitly forbidden in the Quran and considered repugnant to the Muslims; classical scholars opined that such a thing was more offensive to Islam than “even homosexual relationships.”
The question arose, however, as to whether or not Zoroastrian citizens of the Islamic state should be allowed to engage in self-marriage based on their own religious rules, or should the Islamic state forbid such a thing based on Sharia? The Islamic prophet Muhammad allowed the Zoroastrians to engage in self-marriage, and this ruling was affirmed by the founders of three out of the four schools of Islamic jurisprudence (Ibn Hanbal, Malik, and Shafi’i).
Professor Sherman Jackson of the University of Michigan writes:
[Freedom of religion] did not preclude the countenance of non-Muslim beliefs and behaviors that violated Islam. This applied not only to “soft disagreements,” for example, pork consumption, but to practices deemed by Muslims to be downright morally repugnant.
One example in this regard will have to serve…This was the institution of “self-marriage” practiced by Zoroastrians (al-Majus)., who were protected minorities under the Muslim state. Such marriages being repugnant under the law of Islam, the question arose as to whether they should be recognized or not…
Such practices [ruled Islamic jurists]…are to be recognized under two conditions: (1) That the religious minorities who engage in them not present their case to a Muslim court [but to their own courts]; and (2) that these religious minorities believe the practice in question to be permissible according to their religion. If a religious minority either seeks the judgment of the Muslims or does not accept the marriage in question in its own religion, the Muslim authorities are not to recognize them…
Despite [their] own moral indignation…Muslim authorities were to recognize such incestuous marriages…[Muslim authorities] did not consider granting Zoroastrians (and other religious minorties) the right to maintain marriages that were condemned by Islam to be a violation of an optimally functioning “Islamic State.”
Similarly, Islamic jurisprudence allowed Jews to marry their nieces, even though this was forbidden according to Sharia. Reform-minded Muslims use such classical rulings as a proof that Muslims can respect the right of non-Muslims to engage in homosexual marriages, even if the Muslims themselves do not approve of homosexuality based on religious grounds.
This principle of Sharia–noninterference in the affairs of other religious groups–finds support in the Quran, which declares: “Unto you your religion and unto me my religion,” (109:6) as well as “Let there be no compulsion in religion,” (2:256) amongst others.
Naturally, Muslim fundamentalists and puritans ignore this principle of Sharia, but certainly moderate Muslims hold onto it. The point is: it was inappropriate of Daniel Pipes to summarily claim that “Muslims want to enforce their religious views upon others,” or that Sharia itself dictates that.
To be continued…