WASHINGTON - A leading US Muslim group has launched a campaign to educate Americans about Islamic Shari`ah long affected by post-9/11 politics as well as campaigns led by Republican presidential candidates.
"ICNA is making an honest attempt to reach out and connect to our fellow Americans and introduce them to our Islamic faith, Naeem Baig, the Islamic Circle of North America's vice president of public affairs, told CNN on Friday, March 2.
We see it as our responsibility to clarify misconceptions about American Muslims."
The campaigns launched by ICNA is aimed at educating Americans on what it says is the noble meaning of Shari`ah.
Using conferences, billboards, TV and radio ads, ICNA plans to draw in its 30-35 chapters across the country and will be highlighted prominently at the group's annual convention in May in Hartford, Connecticut.
The group is also launching a national hot line to answer questions about Shari`ah and Islam.
Another website titled Defending Religious Freedom: Understanding Shari`ah, was launched, listing ways people can get involved and answering questions about Shari`ah.
In the Shari`ah FAQ sections, it discusses what Shari`ah exactly is, whether it's a threat and how it affects women.
Muslims are taught to respect the laws of the land they live in as long as they can still effectively practice being Muslim, the website says.
Islam is a faith, a way to be in a community with others and be in a relationship with God. Like other people of faith, whose values are inspired by religious tradition, Muslims can be and are engaged citizens.
One public service announcement features Rais Bhuiyan, who was shot in the face as part of a post-9/11 revenge killing but went on to lobby for the right of his shooter.
Join me in the fight against hate, ignorance and Islamophobia, Bhuiyan says in the ad.
In Islam, Shari`ah governs all issues in Muslims' lives from daily prayers to fasting and from, marriage and inheritance to financial disputes.
The Islamic rulings, however, do not apply on non-Muslims, even if in a dispute with non-Muslims.
Yet, some Muslims admit the definition of Shari`ah is complex, having multiple theological, historical and contemporary contexts of the word.
As Islam moved to different countries, it began to adapt to a historical context, said Akbar Ahmed, chairman of Islamic studies at American University in Washington.
For example in Iran, Shari`ah means something slightly different than other countries.
Though applying its rules only on Muslims, Shari`ah rules were politicized as invading the US in post-9/11 world, especially by Republican presidential candidates.
Some politicians like to abuse the word in this national spotlight they have, Zahid Bukhari, president of Islamic Circle of North America, told CNN.
They are trying to make it a dirty word.
Clark Lombardi, professor of Islamic law at University of Washington in Seattle, agreed that the public mind changed after the September 11 attacks.
Shari`ah has become a political buzz word, Lombardi said.
The word Shari`ah has an extremely wide and complex semantic tradition. To use the word is a fraught path.
Shari`ah has also come under scrutiny recently in the US, with right-wing campaigners and politicians questioning its role and operating system.
Lawmakers in at least 15 states have introduced proposals forbidding local judges from considering Shari`ah when rendering verdicts on issues of divorces and marital disputes.
But, Akbar Ahmed, chairman of Islamic studies at American University in Washington, said that the proposed bans don't make sense because implementing Shari`ah law in America doesn't add up.
This contemporary debate is slightly out of proportion, Ahmed said.
Indonesia - they don't have Shari`ah and they are a majority Muslim nation. If the Muslim community is 2% in America, how can 2%, even if everyone wanted it, impose Shari`ah on the 98%?
He added that the Americans fear was reaching dangerous limits.
We are almost reaching hysteria levels, Ahmed said.
When people say, Shari`ah is coming to America,' I ask, Who is bringing it?' It doesn't add up.