When it comes to sharia, can knowledge trump fear?

Commongroundnews.org by Dr Julie Macfarlane

Kingsville, Ontario – Recently, Florida’s House of Representatives passed a bill (which later died in the state Senate) to ban the use of “foreign law” in domestic courtrooms. Such a bill may seem innocuous but according to the Miami Herald, flyers have circulated in Senate offices describing sharia – Islamic principles which are part of a voluntary system of personal obligation – as “radical Islam’s threat to the US Constitution”.

I saw these same uninformed attitudes in the reactions of some of my colleagues to my four-year qualitative study of Islamic marriage and divorce in North America. Their response was often an amazed “Do they have divorce in Islam?” When I explained that while Muslim women are treated differently from men (who have unilateral access to divorce in classical Islamic law), and that they do have the right to ask for divorce on a wide range of grounds (and have had this right since the 7th century), the response was frequently “But don’t they just stone them?” – followed by laughter.

American public discourse on Islam is underpinned by three related misconceptions about Islam, Muslims in general and sharia in particular.

The first is that Muslims hold very different values compared to other cultures and religions.

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