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Is There a Role for Shari'ah in Modern States?(An event held at Georgetown University)

October 23, 2008

On October 23, 2008,
Georgetown University presented a conference titled: “Is There a Role for Shari'ah in Modern States?” Sponsored by the University’s Prince Alwaleed Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, this event aimed “to discuss both the practical and theoretical application of Shariah (Islamic Law) in today’s world.” The following professors and scholars were guest speakers at the forum:

Dr. John L. Esposito

The Wall Street Journal once described John Esposito as “America's foremost authority and interpreter of Islam.” The former President of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), he currently teaches at Georgetown University, where his dual titles are "Professor of Religion and International Affairs" and "Professor of Islamic Studies." He also heads Georgetown's Prince Alaweed Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding.

Esposito contends that the Muslim world is steadily advancing toward democratic reform, toward an “Islamic democracy that might create an effective system of popular participation unlike the Westminster model or American system,” the latter of which he disparages as “ethnocentric.”

During the decade prior to 9/11, Esposito predicted that fundamentalist Islamic groups and governments in Arab nations would reject violence and thus would present no threat to the United States. "The [very] term 'fundamentalism,' he said, "is laden with Christian perceptions and Western stereotypes. More useful terms are Islamic revivalism and Islamic activism, which are less value-laden and have roots within a tradition of political reform and social action."

Impugning those who equate Islamist movements "with radicalism and terrorism," Esposito claims that such thinking merely "becomes a convenient pretext for crushing political opposition." Islamist movements, he explains, "are not necessarily anti-Western, anti-American, or anti-democratic." Moreover, he minimizes the fact that those nations that have adopted Islamic law are, for the most part, totalitarian states that export terrorism and egregiously violate the human rights of their inhabitants. "Contrary to what some have advised," he writes, "the United States should not in principle object to implementation of Islamic law or involvement of Islamic activists in government."

Esposito subscribes to the 
Edward Said school of thought, which holds that Middle Eastern attitudes toward Israel can never be understood from an "American colonialist perspective." In other words, they should be viewed from the point of view of Israel's alleged role as a base of American imperialism. Ignoring Hamas' program of creating an Islamic radical state to replace Israel -- a genocidal agenda -- Esposito has characterized the Palestinian terror group as a community-focused organization that, in addition to its violence, does a considerable amount of societal good via such productive activities as "honey [production], cheese-making, and home-based clothing manufacture." He likened Yasser Arafat's calls for jihad to social initiatives for the launching of a "literacy campaign" or a "fight against AIDS." And he has called former professor Sami al-Arian, a terrorism-supporter with strong links to Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a "consummate professional."

Esposito serves on the board of advisors for the Institute for Islamic Political Thought, a London-based foundation run by Azzam Tamimi. Tamimi, who considers Esposito his "ustadh" (teacher), is a Palestinian academic who has praised the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and has proclaimed his support for Hamas and the Taliban.

With regard to the 9/11 attacks, Esposito traces their root causes not to fanatical Islamic extremism, but directly to the doorstep of the United States and what he deems its exploitation of Muslim nations. He advises Americans “to look at the proximate grievances, not to justify what terrorists do, but to be able to address, when one can, those conditions which foster the growth of radicalism and extremism in societies overseas.” “There are real grievances,” he continues. “It is not as though we are dealing with a bunch of crazies. ... One needs to ask why ... did someone like 
Osama bin Laden acquire something of a cult following? He did because some of the things he appealed to were real issues that exist in the Muslim world and real sources of anti-Americanism as well.”

Noah Feldman

oah Feldman is a professor at Harvard Law School and, like John Esposito, a major academic proponent of the concept of "Islamic Democracy." Feldman cites Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, as an example of an "Islamist-democrat." Qaradawi has stated that Islamic law divided Jews and Christians into three categories: (1) non-Muslims in the lands of war; (2) non-Muslims in lands of temporary truce; and (3) non-Muslims protected by Islamic law, that is to say, the dhimmis (who are treated as second-class citizens). Sheikh al-Qaradawi made it clear that Islamic law had established different rules for each of these categories, thus summarizing concisely the theory of jihad war which regulates the relations of Muslims with non-Muslims.

Feldman’s apologetics regarding the application of the Shari'a (Islamic Holy Law) are characterized by a completely uncritical acceptance of the most sanitized, sacralized version of "classical" Islamic history – from Muhammad's consolidation of control over Arabia, through the extensive jihad conquests of Asia, Africa, and Europe.

eldman presents jihad as a peaceful conquest that was generally "welcomed" by the vanquished populations. Indeed his writings omit details about the pillage, enslavement, deportation, massacres, and the imposition of dhimmitude that have been the hallmarks of jihad through the ages.

In addition, Feldman espouses a moral equivalence that likens the contemporary Anglican Church to those Shi'ite clerics calling for the creation of an Islamic state in Iraq. He is also an apologist for barbaric hudud punishments (stoning to death for adultery; mutilation for theft) under the Shari'a.

Sherman Jackson

Sherman Jackson is a professor of Islamic Studies, Law, and Afro-American Studies at
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

In March 2008, Jackson was a featured speaker at a fundraising banquet presented by the Muslim Alliance of North America (MANA), a predominantly black organization representing Muslims indigenous to the United States. Jackson spoke alongside MANA leader Siraj Wahhaj, who was named by U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White as a possible co-conspirator to the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.

In December 2008, Jackson spoke an event titled, “Beyond Obsession: How Should We Respond to the Assault on Islam?” Organized to rebuff claims made in the DVD Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West, this forum, according to its promotional materials, was designed to: (a) counter “certain groups [that] fan the flames of prejudice against Islam in America,” and (b) help Muslims “to collectively articulate a response that is balanced and effective.” Joining Jackson at the forum was Zaid Shakir, known for his expressed desire to see the United States eventually become – “not by violent means, but by persuasion” – a Muslim country ruled by Islamic law.

In May 2005, Jackson was a signatory to a statement titled, “We Affirm Our Belief in the One God: A Statement Regarding Muslim-Christian Perspectives on the Nuclear Weapons Danger.” Organized, in part, by the Islamic Society of North America and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the statement read: “We agree that the ideal response to the nuclear threat is a total and universal ban on all such weapons.... [We] call upon the United States and other countries of the world to, gradually and in a verifiable manner, finally eliminate these weapons from the face of the earth.” Other signers included Jamal Badawi and Muzammil Siddiqi.

Intisar Rabb

At the time of the October 2008 Georgetown event, Intisar Rabb was a Ph.D. Candidate at Princeton University, where, as of early 2009, she was writing her dissertation on legal maxims in comparative American and Islamic law. According to her biographical sketch, Rabb’s academic interests include Islamic law, American constitutional law, and American criminal law.

In 2006 Rabb wrote “Hurricane Katrina: Lessons for the Muslim and American communities,” a paper wherein she suggests that Katrina exposed the “racism, poverty and inequality” that is allegedly rampant in the U.S.  Moreover, she portrays Islam as a religion based on charity in accord with the Quran’s call for a “distributive justice” whose hallmarks include “contributions that ensure the welfare” of those in need; she blames America for doing too little to address the hardships created by Katrina; she chides America for spending too little money on “fair and affordable housing measures, small business incentive programs, public welfare and social security plans, educational reforms and healthcare initiatives”; and she urges lawyers to provide pro bono legal services to criminals in American jails.

Nathan Brown

A senior associate in the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Nathan Brown is a professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University.

After the release of a 2001 Israeli government report describing the anti-Semitic content of Palestinian school textbooks, Brown stated that “[h]arsh external critics of the Palestinian curriculum and textbooks have had to rely on misleading and tendentious reports to support their claim of incitement.”

In 2007 Brown testified in defense of the leaders of the Holy Land Foundation (HLF), a U.S.-based Islamic charity that had been shut down by federal authorities in 2001 for funding the terrorist group Hamas. He also spoke favorably about the testimony of another defense witness who had stated that HLF fund-recipients could not be accused of terrorist ties merely because they were in possession of posters praising Hamas suicide bombers. Under cross-examination, Brown admitted he was not an expert on Hamas or terrorism, but that he was “in the process of becoming one.”

Brown is a member of the Middle East Advisory Committee of Human Rights Watch, and he has served as a Chair of Middle East Studies Association’s annual meeting.

Mohammad Fadel

A Professor of Law at the University of Toronto, Fadel joined Ebrahim Moosa and Jamal Badawi in signing the “Sunni Shia Unity Declaration” in May 2007. Said this document: “We ask Muslims to recall how strategies of ‘divide and rule’ were used by colonial powers in the past to subjugate the Muslim world. We call on all Muslims to recognize that, as in the past, ethnic and sectarian fragmentation can only benefit those who oppose Muslim self-determination. We urge Muslims throughout the world to shun the language of sectarian fitna in favour [sic] of a sacred struggle for justice and freedom.”

Madhavi Sunder

A Professor of Law at the University of California, Madhavi Sunder has served as a visiting professor at both Yale Law School and the University of Chicago. According to her biographical sketch, Sunder “teaches and writes on intellectual property law, as well as on women’s rights in the Muslim world.” 

A practicing Hindu, Sunder has devoted much of her research to what she believes are misconceptions regarding the Islamic faith. “Islam is stereotyped as regressive, anti-modern, anti-Western and incompatible with democracy,” Sunder says. “Too often, the media ignore those people doing the much harder work of exposing Islam's modern side.”

Sunder is also the editor of Gender and Feminist Theory in Law and Society, a collection of essays “chronicling 25 years of feminist thinking on equality and liberty.”

Jonathan A.C. Brown

A member of the Middle East Studies Association, Jonathan A.C. Brown is an Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Washington. His areas of specialization include: the history of Islam, Islamic Law, the Qur’an, Early Islamic History, Modern Islam, and Wahhabi Islam.

Clark Lombardi

Clark Lombardi is an Associate Professor of Law at the University of Washington School of Law. His teaching and research focuses on Islamic law and constitutional law.

Abdulaziz Sachedina

Abdulaziz Sachedina is a Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia. He has served as a consultant on Middle Eastern affairs for the U.S. Department of Defense, and as an adviser to the drafting the Constitution of Iraq in 2005.

Andrew March

Andrew March is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Yale University. According to his biographical sketch, his research interests include: “contemporary political philosophy, Islamic ethics and political thought, and comparative political theory.”

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