Why ‘Shariah law’ doesn’t mean what most Americans think it means

click to enlarge Muslim women walking near an American flag mural in Hamtramck, Michigan. - Lee DeVito
Lee DeVito
Muslim women walking near an American flag mural in Hamtramck, Michigan.

The following letter was sent by Imam Shamshad Nasir and Muhammad Ahmad of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Michigan.

With the fall of the Afghan government, Islamic Shariah laws are mentioned without the proper context. Shariah literally means “A path to life-giving water.” It has the same meaning as the word Yara (root of the Hebrew word Torah), which means “to instruct,” or “to teach.” Torah itself is not only a “law,” but it is God’s “teaching” and “instruction.” The same is true of the Muslim Holy Book, Quran. It lays down the law and commandments, codes for their social and moral behavior, and contains a comprehensive religious philosophy. Basically, the Torah and the Quran are similar to each other.

Shariah is the Islamic code that guides everyday Muslim beliefs and actions. They are codes for marriage, prayers, funerals, etc. They are similar to the daily religious laws and codes for Jews, Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, and adherents of other religions.

Shariah teaches me freedom of conscience and religion. It teaches pluralism and respect for others’ beliefs. The Holy Quran says, “There is no coercion in religion.” (2:257) The Holy Quran doesn’t mention any specific type of government or that Muslims have to implement Shariah if they are in power. The Quran specifically commands that any type of government should be based on justice, “Verily, Allah enjoins justice, and the doing of good to others …forbids indecency … and transgression.” (16:91)

The worldwide spiritual leader of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, says, “If Muslim countries or terrorist groups perpetrate atrocities or cruelties in the name of Islam, it is because they have disregarded their religious teachings and seek only to fulfill their vested interests.”

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