Established on March 5, 2012 as a project of the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), the initiative known as Defending Religious Freedom, Understanding Shariah (DRFUS) seeks to combat “Islamophobia” and dispel Americans’ negative attitudes regarding Islamic law. Toward these ends, DRFUS launched its activism with a national tour featuring Shariah education workshops, interfaith events, and town hall forums in 25 U.S. cities including Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Hartford, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington DC.
In particular, DRFUS impugns “conservative pundits, analysts and bloggers” who “argue that the steady adoption of Shariah’s tenets is a strategy extremists are using to transform the United States into an Islamic state.” For example, DRFUS condemned former Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich’s call for a federal law barring all U.S. courts from recognizing Shariah law. Asserting that “the vast majority who argue against Shariah know very little or nothing of what it is,” DRFUS contends that such “No Shariah” campaigns are generally hateful enterprises that seek to “generate Islamophobia and the perception that Islam and Muslims shouldn’t be part of the American Society.”
DRFUS teaches that Shariah, “like Jewish Halacha law and Catholic Canon law, is a comprehensive way of life that constitutes beliefs, acts of worship, supplication, marriage and dietary restrictions”; that it “promote[s] freedom of worship” in a manner consistent with the First Amendment to the Constitution; that it “regulates a Muslim’s personal duties to God such as praying, fasting and alms-giving, as well as marriage, divorce, burials, wills, and inheritance”; and that it “provides guidelines that individuals voluntarily enforce in their lives to become better believers and productive members of society.” These guidelines include “staying honest and truthful, abstaining from alcohol and pork, avoiding interest-based transactions, performing obligatory rituals, staying away from immoral practices, [and] feeding the poor and needy.”[
According to](http://www.defendingreligiousfreedom.com/faqst/) DRFUS, American Muslims “stand by the U.S. Constitution” and “do not seek to have Shariah penal laws introduced in the U.S.”; they “see no contradiction between democratic values and [Islamic] religious principles”; and their faith does not permit them “to disobey the laws of the land or formulate such laws that would directly conflict with those on which the founding fathers established this country.”
“Islam,” says DRFUS, “strictly prohibits” honor killings and the taking of an innocent life; regards men and women as “equal in the eyes of God”; and has “raised the status of women” by such measures as “prohibiting female infanticide, abolishing women’s status as property, establishing women’s legal capacity, granting women the right to receive their own dowry, changing marriage from a proprietary to a contractual relationship, and allowing women to retain control over their property and use their maiden name after marriage.”
DRFUS dissociates the custom of female genital mutilation from Sharia, calling it “not an Islamic practice but rather an African tradition [in] countries like Sudan and Egypt, among Muslims and non-Muslims alike.” Crediting Allah with having decreed that “there is no compulsion in religion,” the organization likewise contends that the Koran “specifies no punishment for apostasy” but rather “is explicit and insistent about the freedom of faith for all.” Further, DRFUS says that polygamy was neither introduced nor encouraged by Islam, and is instead “a remnant of pre-Islamic Arabia” that was designed to provide male protectors for widows and orphans in a “milieu in which men were frequently killed in tribal wars.”
DRFUS asserts that, contrary to the claims of anti-Islamic “extremists,” Muslims, “as followers of the Abrahamic tradition, are taught to respect people of all faiths (or no faith at all).” Moreover, says DRFUS, “Jews and Christians enjoy a special status in Islam as ‘People of the Book’ because they received divine revelation such as the Torah, the Psalms and the Gospel.”
To help spread its pro-Islamic message as broadly as possible, DRFUS promotes books authored by such writers as Karen Armstrong, Khaled M. Abou El Fadl, John Esposito, Dalia Mogahed, and Tariq Ramadan.