"Shariah" has become a dirty word of sorts both domestically and internationally, as the examples of the Islamic form of law's brutality have continued to gain exposure in media and throughout the blogosphere. But The Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), a group that works to "establish connections between Islam and the public," has launched a new pro-Shariah campaign to help transform the image of Islam in the eyes of a skeptical America.
To counter the negative notions held about Islamic law, ICNA plans to host conferences, while also purchasing billboards, television spots and radio PSAs. Additionally, the group is hosting a national hotline (1-855-Shariah) that individuals can call to ask questions about both Shariah and Islam.
The campaign, which seems aimed at combating images that conservatives (the web site for the initiative explicitly mentions "conservative pundits, analysts and bloggers") who have dubbed Shariah "a growing threat to the United States." Rather than focusing on "myths, bigotry or discrimination" the campaign hopes to engage in civil discussion, while focusing on "facts."
The ICNA has created a web site for the "Defending Religious Freedom" campaign that is aimed at helping the public better understand Shariah law and its implications. On a section of the web site entitled, "Shariah FAQ," the group defines, in detail, how it views Islamic law, while drawing parallels to Jewish and Catholic teachings:
Shariah is the Arabic word for ‘the path’, which is commonly used to describe Islamic jurisprudence. There is no formalized code of Shariah. Rather, Shariah is an interpretive set of principles based on the Qur’an, the Hadith (the sayings and traditions of the Prophet Muhammad), and local custom and practice. Other than issues related to doctrine and belief, i.e. belief in one God, the vast majority of these religious decrees are subject to very wide interpretation.
Shariah, like Jewish Halacha law and Catholic Canon law, is a comprehensive way of life that constitutes beliefs, acts of worship, supplication, marriage and dietary restrictions. Both the First Amendment to the Constitution and Shariah promote freedom of worship. This is what Muslims do. Muslims do not impose penal laws in the U.S. They do not even apply alimony or many basic laws that other faiths enjoy. The misconceptions about Shariah are based on ignorance, not facts.
In addition to calling out "ignorance," the FAQ section tackles penal law, the notion that democracy and Islam are incompatible and it describes the type of society the group claims most Muslims would like to live in. Additionally, the ICNA says that Islamic adherents here in America value the First Amendment and simply wish to practice their faith under it.
"Muslims want neither a theocracy nor a secular democracy and would opt for a third model in which religious principles and democratic values coexist," the site reads.
One PSA that the group put out features Rais Bhuiyan, a Muslim man who was shot in the face because of his Islamic faith, asking viewers to join him in the fight against "hate, ignorance and Islamophobia." A description accompanying the video reads:
Well, this is the story of Rais Bhuiyan, a Muslim Immigrant from Bangladesh, who despite having thirty-eight pellets in his face and being partly blinded in his right eye, has campaigned for months to persuade the state of Texas to spare the life of his shooter, Mark Stroman who shot him for no reason other than the fact that he is a Muslim. Unfortunately Mark Stroman was executed on July 20th, 2011 but he did as a changed man. Mark's last words were "Hate is going on in this world and it has to stop, Hate causes a lifetime of pain."
Watch it, below:
The ICNA encourages students to join the group's fight by organizing a "Sharia 101" panel discussion on campuses and writing op-eds for school newspapers "debunking the nonexistent threat of Shariah." The site also features tips for religious leaders who wish to dismiss concerns surrounding Islamic law.
"ICNA is making an honest attempt to reach out and connect to our fellow Americans and introduce them to our Islamic faith,” explained Naeem Baig, the group's vice president of public affairs.
While Muslims claim that proposed and passed U.S. laws aimed at combating Shariah are overblown and that conservatives are engaging in fear-mongering, some disagree. Take, for instance, Pamela Geller, a frequent critic of Islamic culture and law.
"[The campaign is an attempt to] whitewash or outright deny the elements of Sharia that conflict with Constitutional freedoms: the denial of the freedom of speech and the freedom of conscience, and the institutionalized discrimination and subjugation of women and non-Muslims,” she said.
Geller is planning a counter program in collaboration with Stop Islamization of Nations, a group that she is affiliated with. The initiative, she said, will be a “multicity program to educate the American people on the true meaning of Sharia and the threat it poses to our cherished freedoms.”