Religious Freedom And Sharia Law
Jewish Week Online Columnist
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In Paris, last week, when a Muslim cab driver picked me up I noticed a slight discomfort came over me. I realized, at that moment, that American religious fanatics had succeeded at convincing me to be afraid. Religion, at its best, furthers deep value formation and creates bridges and connections whereas religion at its worst is destructive and spreads fear throughout society. There is a growing religious fanaticism, with diverse manifestations, that seeks to promote fear of the other and that fear almost inevitability leads to hate. This fear and hate is unfortunately not absent from major segments of the Jewish communal discourse.

There is a conspiracy theory in circulation that Muslim leaders are attempting to replace American law with the Sharia (Islamic law). This fear has escalated to a level where as many as thirteen states are considering or have passed bills that would formally prohibit the application of Sharia. In Oklahoma, 70 percent of the electorate approved this amendment to the state’s Constitution: “The [Oklahoma] courts…when exercising their judicial authority…shall not consider international laws or Sharia Law.”
The Orthodox Union has spoken out against this discrimination, as has the Anti Defamation League. National director of the ADL Abe Foxman has written, “The anti-Sharia bills are more than a matter of unnecessary public policy. These measures are, at their core, predicated on prejudice and ignorance. They constitute a form of camouflaged bigotry that enables their proponents to advance the idea that finds fault with the Muslim faith and paints all Muslim Americans as foreigners and anti-American crusaders.”
David Yerushalmi, an Orthodox lawyer in Brooklyn, has made it his mission to show that Sharia sanctions militant jihadism, arguing that “because jihad necessarily advocates violence and the destruction of our representative, constitution-based government, the advocacy of jihad by a Sharia authority presents a real and present danger.”
To be sure, I am personally very concerned about many messages coming out of the Islamic community. I’m also concerned about how Sharia is being applied in extreme and dangerous ways around the world. There are radicals who choose a fundamentalist approach to Islamic jurisprudence. This is happening in parts of Iran and Saudia Arabia, and in radical groups like the Taliban, but discrimination is not the appropriate response.
Maimonides made it clear not only that Islam is not an idolatrous faith, but rather that the Jewish people can learn a lot from Muslim thought (Maachalot 11:7). In addition to learning from our Muslim brethren we should commit to supporting their autonomy.
Furthermore, the banning of Islamic law is a violation of the First Amendment right to free exercise of religion and of the establishment clause, by giving pre-eminence to one religion over another. All Americans should be afraid of the implications of this movement upon their own personal liberties.
Jewish, Christian, and Muslim legal tribunals have operated in the U.S., presiding over matters of religious ritual and internal disputes, in cooperation with the government courts for over half a century. Certain cases, due to their religious nature, are not able to be brought before the secular courts due to the separation of religion and state. If religious communities can’t have their own private jurisdiction, where are they supposed to deal with their most pressing day-to-day issues? Banning religious arbitration leaves them without options.
We should never forget the real threat of terrorism motivated by Muslim fundamentalists, but as free-thinking American Jews we must learn to distinguish between real threats and false fear tactics.
What a powerful message it would send for the committed Jewish community, which has no lack of tension with the Muslim community, to commit to serve as defenders of religious freedom for all. It is precisely at a time of freedom such as now that we must safeguard these freedoms for all people. The biblical imperative, “Uvacharta Bachaim,” that we must choose is a direct mandate for expanding freedom and liberty to all. Now is the time to defend those under attack. We must do it for ourselves, for the sake of others, and to honor our core Jewish values.
Now more than ever, we need to challenge the conspiracy theories and ensure that we raise our moral voices to promote the freedom that we are so blessed with for all. It is not only religious communities that should feel concerned for religious freedom. Government and business should be disturbed since fear mongering destroys communal trust and the basic fabric of our society which hurts all. We all flourish in a culture of hope and collaboration not a culture of fear and isolation.
We cannot allow religion based on fear and hate to overcome a religion of love. Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach once said: “If God had given me two hearts, I could use one for hating and the other one for love. But since I was given only one heart, I have only room for love.”
Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz is the Founder & President of Uri L’Tzedek, the Director of Jewish Life and the Senior Jewish Educator at the UCLA Hillel, and a 6th year doctoral student at Columbia University in Moral Psychology & Epistemology. Rav Shmuly’s book “Jewish Ethics & Social Justice: A Guide for the 21st Century” will be coming out in early 2012. 


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06/25/2013 - 18:57
abe foxman

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No one is asking for a parallel system of criminal law where hadd punishments in Islam would replace U.S. or other countries' criminal law or violate in those jurisdictions established rules of public order and public morality. Some people want to be able to VOLUNTARILY use the civil law principles of shari'ah to settle matters that may be freely decided by contracting parties. In prinicple, the shari'ah "courts" they advocate are no different than existing arbitration bodies used for commercial disputes and religious "courts" used for personal disputes and religious rulings.

Jews have such bodies already in many places. They are called "beth din". Similar bodies also exist in the form of Roman Catholic and Anglican "canon law courts".

People ALREADY have the right to make private contracts on any basis they choose and to agree on how and who will arbritrate and decide disputes. When an arbitration body has public recognition, it allows parities to a dispute that has been settled by their freely chosen arbitrator to go to civil court if the losing party fails to meet his contractual commitment to abide by the arbitrator's decision. In such cases, the civil court judge will take judicial notice of the binding arbitration system and issue an enforceable court order for the arbitration decision to be upheld, UNLESS the arbitration decision is contrary to the jurisdictions civil laws or violates principles of public order or morality.

No civil court will confirm the arbitration decision of a beth din or an islamic shari'ah body that contravenes existing laws.

actually there is nothing to answer to a "rabbi" who found support of shariah in those words:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

there is a HUGE difference between free exercise of islam as a religious practice and applying shariah law into modern life.

I would say that shariah contradicts the Eight Amendment about cruel punishments (stoning, flogging, cutting hands, etc). and those who try to whitewash it, should start with reading of US Constitution.

I would also say that the Jewish shariah ie halakha contradicts the Eight Amendment about cruel punishments (stoning, flogging, cutting hands, etc). and those who try to whitewash it, should start with reading of US Constitution.

Wow, sad to see so much anger in the comments section. As an American Muslim with a diverse Muslim, Jewish, and Christian family, I really appreciate what you've written here. Forging bonds between our religious communities, as with others, is a singularly powerful move in countering discrimination, whether towards Muslims, Jews, or anyone else.

I see people here posting "google Islam" to find out what it's all about. If you want to get to know a people, get to know the people. There are interfaith opportunities all over this country, tons of service projects, men and women who open their places of worship and their homes alike. Why sift through the worst of the internet when you can get to know the best of humanity?

Thanks again, and best of luck with your studies.

Thank you for your comments. I agree that the internet is rarely a good place to go to have questions answered. I am Mormon (a Christian church that many on the internet tout as NOT Christian) I have seen outright lies said about us. I wish if people really wanted to know what we believe AND practice they would just visit our church or get to know us. What I really find ironic are those people who say, "you don't really know what your church teaches and believes. Have you read this or that?" Um, excuse me, but I go to church every single week. I read the scriptures in our church and the teachings given by our leaders DAILY. Yeah, I'm pretty sure I know what I believe AND what my religion teaches. But people who hear some video of a stranger they've never met, or listen to someone who was offended in our church tells me they know better than me what I believe. It's just ridiculous. I hate to see immature prejudice and idiocy of any kind. Thanks again for sharing.

I am shocked that not one of these comments is for the Rabbi. As someone who was born and raised in a Muslim country, I have never heard any encouragement be it from the government or mosque leaders calling to kill "infidels" It makes me sick to hear these people that "google" Islam or Muslims saying basically that the life goal of every Muslim is to "kill infidels"!!!
It's the furthest from the truth. While growing up, we had Jewish Friends and Christian friends. U.S. media has successfully painted this awful picture about Muslims and ignorant, uneducated, close-minded Americans bought it!!!

Thank you for your assistance in culling corruption across the globe by beginning closest things to you. Indeed religious fear is taught. In addition fear is one of the top ways that bad cults control.
What one must realize that Christian religious fanatics are not all Christians, but individual people. The same is true with all other religions and the fanatics that go with any religious devotion.

Moreover, being orthodox or fundamental is not the same as being fanatic.

To Quote Tom Cochrane:

Lunatic fringe
I know you're out there
You're in hiding
And you hold your meetings
We can hear you coming
We know what you're after
We're wise to you this time
We won't let you kill the laughter

Until I looked that song up for it's lyrics, I always thought it was about what it is like being a star. I did not know he wrote it concerning a resurgence of anti-Semitism in the 1970s. And here I thought it was just a warning to the dangers of idolization of fame! Nevertheless, this song is timeless and boundless to any.

The Rambam (Maimonides) wrote:

"These Muslims [Ishmaelim] are not in any way idolators. [Idolatry] has
already been removed from their mouths and their hearts, and they unify
G-d in the appropriate manner without any admixture [of idolatrous
beliefs]." (Responsa 448)

He also said:

"All the words ... of this Ishmaelite [i.e., Muhammad] ... are only to make straight the path for the messianic king and to prepare the whole world to serve the Lord together. As it is said: 'For then I will change the speech of the
peoples to a pure speech so that all of them shall call on the name of
the Lord and serve him with one accord' (Zephaniah 3:9)."

Rabbi David Rosen of the AJC wrote:

"On the basis of the position of the Meiri (Bet Habehirah, Bava Kama,
113b) recognizing both Muslims and Christians as monotheistic believers
bound by the minimal moral code, the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi in
Israel, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kuk ruled (Iggeret 89;
Mishpat-Cohen 63) that Muslims and Christians living in a predominant
Jewish society must be treated as gerim toshavim, i.e., with full civil
liberties, just like Jews."

Those who argue that the Rambam's words were a mere subterfuge to permit the otherwise impermissible do a grave injustice to his blessed memory and that of the other sages who have given us guidance on this question.

When the Rambam wrote that Muslims are "of the congregation of the Monotheists", he meant what he said. Muslims and Jews are descended from Avraham Avinu and with him have no G-d but Elohim-Eloha-Elaha-Allah.

The fact that in some times and in some places, Muslims have persecuted Jews and Jews have persecuted Muslims does not change the fundamental truth that Jews and Muslims are cousins. When they persist in stoking the flames of hate among themselves, they dishonor their father Avraham Avinu and violate the commandment given by ha-Shem to Moshe:

כבד את אביך. (Honor your father ....)

First, I would like to thank the Rabbi for reaffirming my belief and trust in the Jewish community. It is sad to see such hatred and criticism by people that have been persecuted and discriminated against themselves. The people that are fueling the Islamaphobia are anti-religion people. And if we don't stand up now for religious freedom for all, we should expect to be stripped of all religious freedom, and then what? What is this country with out "justice and liberty for all"

and btw...

1) Sharia law is already being practiced in the US. The Middle East is full of dictators and kings that are corrupt and do not practice sharia law. Sharia law simply consists of division of power and true democracy. Thomas Jefferson held the Quran in high esteem and regarded it as a legal text and referred to it when drafting the constitution. Do the research, its all there. He was also the first president to hold a dinner in Ramadan for a Muslim ambassador.

2)The Quran and the Prophet preached peace and tolerance toward all religions. He often consulted with Rabbis and Priests who also held him in high esteem. When the Muslims ruled there were no genocides nor holocausts. These acts of terror are devised and acted out by faithless people that may claim to be of one religion or another.

3)Muslims risked their lives to help protect Jews escape persecution during WWII.

4)Muslims consider Jews and Christians as fellow People of the Book and not infidels. Infidels are pagans and idol worshippers. The misinformation regarding seeking the infidels was only relevant during the time it was revealed and should not be taken out of context. God ordered David to kill Goliath and made him King just like he ordered Prophet Muhammad to protect and defend his people.

5)The Quran prescribes exact laws regarding the humane treatment of Prisoners of War, not harming women, children or elders. Just like any other religion people pick and choose to their liking.

6)You can name as many mohamed terrorist as you like, but make sure you also name the other rapists, murderers, women beaters, child molesters, prisoner abusing, etc. non-Muslim. You can criticize the person, just don't criticize the religion. The colombine shooting, the oklahoma city bombing, the money laundering/organ selling/government bribing, the ponzy schemes- all these scandals do not affect the religion/culture of the offender. Bad people do bad things for many reasons including money/black mail.

--Sharia law simply consists of division of power and true democracy.--

could you please list "true democracies" where shariah law is enforced?

--He often consulted with Rabbis and Priests who also held him in high esteem--

Oh! so, it'll be easy to support it with a quote from Quran or any other source :)

--Muslims risked their lives to help protect Jews escape persecution during WWII--

yep, just give us a number of those brave muslims and don't forget to notice countries where they lived. and then compare that number with number or muslim suicide bombers came to Israel

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