President Barack Obama's adviser on Muslim affairs, Dalia Mogahed, has provoked controversy by appearing on a British television show hosted by a member of an extremist group to talk about Sharia law, the Daily Telegraph reported on October 8, 2009.
Ms. Mogahed, an appointee to the President's Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, said the Western view of Sharia is "oversimplified," and that the majority of Muslim women around the world associate Sharia with "gender justice."
The White House adviser made the remarks on a London-based TV discussion programme hosted by Ibtihal Bsis, a member of the extremist Hizb ut Tahrir party.
Hizb ut Tahrir believes in the non-violent destruction of Western democracy and the creation of a global Islamic state under Sharia law.
Mogahed said: "I think the reason so many women support Sharia is because they have a very different understanding of sharia than the common perception in Western media". Her views on this matter are similar to the conclusions that she made of her survey in the Muslim world which she summarized in her 2007 book Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think, co-authored with John L. Esposito.
What matters in this story is not that Mogahed's comments were said to a Hizb ut Tahrir member, but rather the lack of factual reality about Sharia law contained in her statements and conclusions.
At the theoretical level, Sharia books teach and instruct the followers of Islam to implement cruel and inhumane treatment for women, such as beating wives and stoning them for committing adultery. Endorsements of polygamy and underage marriage are also established teachings of Sharia Law. These concepts, which clearly discriminate against women, are unchallenged in the mainstream Sharia books.
It would have been much better if Dalia Mogahed, instead of blaming Sharia cruelty on Western perception, had mentioned to the audience the name of even a single approved Sharia book that stands clearly against these inhumane teachings.
In Mogahed's survey, female Muslim respondents might well have said that Sharia represents justice simply because criticizing Sharia Law can create major trouble for these women in their societies. In addition, based on traditional ways of teaching Islam, denying a well established and approved Islamic law (called in Sharia: "Maaloom Mina Al-Deen Bil Darura,") such as any of the former laws, makes the critic an "apostate," who deserves to be killed by the Muslim society and who will then "go to hell to be tortured forever". Such a fear of punishment can impede an honest critique of Sharia law in the Muslim world, thereby casting doubt on the accuracy of the conclusions driven from the survey.
Asking a Muslim living in a Muslim society about his views about Sharia is like asking a German living under the Nazis or a Russian during Stalin's era about their views regarding Nazism or communism, respectively. Can we expect to receive honest answers to such questions? The fear of punishment for criticizing the system can completely override people's free will and impede their ability to give honest responses.
When I was young and living in the Muslim world we used to brag that Islam is the ONLY religion that gives women their rights, and that polygamy, beating women, and stoning them for adultery represents wisdom that is beyond our human comprehension. Our fear of criticizing such teachings or interpretations prevented us from being able to give an unbiased evaluation of Sharia law.The research of Ms. Mogahed should have sought to eliminate this element of fear or to use indirect evaluation methods; given that she did not, it is hard to draw reliable conclusions from of her research. There is no single piece of evidence in Mogahed's book that suggests that the fear factor was considered in the evaluation process or that her statistics were corrected for this bias.
It is also important to note that the questions that were asked of Muslim women as described in this book were rather non-specific; thus, it is difficult to use them to give an accurate evaluation of Sharia. For example, there is no single question in the above mentioned book that asks specifically about the violent edicts of Sharia law.
It can be extremely inaccurate to evaluate the reality of Sharia by simply doing a questionnaire asking for the views of Muslims about it. As an analogy, what if we asked Bin Laden about Sharia law? He would likely tell us that "it represents justice." In his view, the killing of infidels is justice! The same concept applies to Ms. Mogahed's questionnaire.
For example, when Muslim women in the survey say that Sharia represents justice, this does not necessarily mean that those women consider beating women, polygamy, or stoning for sexual misconduct to be forms of injustice. The questions should have been tailored to ask about specific laws such as beating or stoning of women, rather than general points.
Furthermore, at the practical level, all the current systems that implement Sharia Law-such as those in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Taliban-controlled Afghanistan and Pakistan, and parts of Somalia-legalize the above-mentioned barbaric teachings against women. It would have been better if, instead of trying to convince her Western audience that Sharia law is fair to women, Ms. Mogahed had given the audience one single example of a country that applies Sharia law and at the same time forbids polygamy, beating of women, or stoning. In fact, the Muslim countries that do not legally discriminate against women or justify cruelty to them, such as Turkey and Tunisia, are only those countries that refuses to implement Sharia Law, relying instead on secular laws.
To conclude, if all approved Islamic Sharia books and all the systems that apply Sharia accept or practice the previously mentioned barbaric treatment of women, then how come Ms. Mugahed is trying to sell the idea that Sharia law is fair to women? As mentioned earlier, the view of some Muslim women that Sharia law represents justice could stem from extreme fear of criticizing an Islamic law, or it may represent a form of cultural pride that prevents many Muslims from openly criticizing their traditional teachings. If all Muslim women were to say that Sharia Law is just in its treatment of women, this would not make it true, as the terrorists would also claim that Sharia law legalizing fighting infidels to subjugate them to Islam is a just law. Some people's perceptions about Sharia Law do not change its fundamental nature. The only way to change the Western perception about Sharia is to change its reality.