Moving Religious Debate Beyond Divisive Tactics
This past Monday we at Shoulder-to-Shoulder had the privilege of partnering with KARAMAH: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights, to host an interfaith panel on Islam, Shari’ah and the U.S, moderated by Ms. Jean Duff of Full Circle Partners. At the event, Rabbi David Saperstein, Dr. Azizah al-Hibri, Esq., and Dean Robert Destro answered questions about Islam in the U.S. while modeling how rich religious debate can move beyond divisive tactics.
For the event, 150 people gathered at National City Christian Church in Washington, DC, to hear about the topic, which was dense, to be sure, but the panelists’ message was loud and clear:
Religious disagreements have always existed in the United States, and they will continue to exist. We people of faith must hold closely to debate, while respecting absolutely the right of all individuals to worship according to their conscience. If we allow disagreements to cross the line into discrimination, we sacrifice the religious liberties on which we all depend.
American Muslims currently experience the fastest growing rate of religious discrimination in the U.S., and misconceptions about Shari’ah (aka Islamic law) have accompanied this growth. For example, in the past two years 23 states have introduced legislation that would bar judges from considering Shari’ah law in any form when weighing decisions. Rhetoric accompanying the legislation often applies stereotypes to all who faithfully practice Shari’ah, including American Muslims. For Muslims, Shari’ah dictates everything from belief in God to how one should enter into a marriage contract and the necessity of adhering to the law of the land in which they live.
As with many events on the topic of Shari’ah, we were joined by a few organized individuals who held the floor to ask heated questions of the panel. Panelists responded to these challenges with generous and honest answers. As a result they offered us in the audience a much deeper lesson about the richness of sincere religious debate.
It was a breath of fresh air. Too often, political debates take important issues and empty them of substance. Discernment is replaced by loyalty to branded political catchphrases. In this case serious issues of national security and civil liberties rest on how words like ‘Muslim’ or ‘Shari’ah’ have been branded.
We have the ability to move beyond oversimplified debates if we do so together and with generosity. On Monday, this response not only provided answers to difficult topics of how religious law, including Shari’ah, fits into the American landscape. It also provided every person in the audience the opportunity to be heard and respected in kind. These leaders modeled how standing shoulder-to-shoulder as religious communities can end this iteration of American religious discrimination, and lead the way to full acceptance of American Muslims as a valued part of the American tapestry.
Christina Warner is Campaign Director of Shoulder-to-Shoulder: Standing with American Muslims; Upholding American Values, a national campaign of faith-based, interfaith and religious organization dedicated to ending anti-Muslim sentiment. Footage of the event will be available on the Shoulder-to-Shoulder website, soon.