CAIRO - Addressing prevailing misconception of Shari`ah law, a leading Muslim imam and author has defended the true meaning of Islamic law at an interfaith event, saying law proposals to ban it threatened US Muslims rights granted by the constitution.
"It's illogical. It's a fear tactic. It's stupid," Imam Sohaib Sultan told attendants at "Islamic Sharia Law: Myths and Facts" interfaith event, The Inquirer reported on Monday, April 15.
Hosted by the Jewish Catholic Muslim Dialogue of Southern New Jersey, the event was attended by more than 100 people.
Organizers said they hoped to address prevailing misconceptions of shari`ah law, which has been targeted by some politicians in recent years.
In recent years, bills to ban the application of foreign law have been proposed throughout the country, including Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and have passed in several states.
In 2011, lawmakers in Tennessee proposed making it a felony to follow some versions of shari`ah.
Sultan, the Muslim life coordinator and chaplain at Princeton University and author of The Koran (Qur'an) for Dummies, said proposals such as the one in Tennessee violate Muslims' First Amendment rights.
"Let it be clear in this room and beyond this room: When people talk about regulating and imposing bans on shari`ah, they are regulating and imposing bans on Islam itself," he said.
In Islam, Shari`ah govern issues in Muslims' lives from daily prayers to fasting and from to inheritance and marital cases to financial disputes.
The Islamic rulings, however, do not apply on non-Muslims, even if in a dispute with non-Muslims.
Shari`ah is more about how to live according to the will of God, Sultan said.
It's "an ethical system of life, a moral way of being in the world," he said.
While many attackers criticized what they saw as harsh shari`ah laws, the renowned author said these laws had to be understood within a larger ethical system of Islam.
"The question becomes: Is this really shari`ah?" Sultan said, addressing reports of accused adulterers being stoned to death in Islamic countries.
"Well, yes and no," he said.
Though sections of the Quran are dedicated to penal codes, "these rules and these laws have to be understood within the larger ethical system of Islam," he said.
If a poor person engages in theft, "Islam doesn't say go and take that person and cut off their hand," Sultan said.
He also said the Qur`an does not call for stoning adulterers.
"That's from another source," he said, "and controversial."
What the Quran does say about punishing adulterers, Sultan said, is that "you must have four witnesses . . . [who] must witness the actual act of penetration."
Evidence short of that is not adequate, Sultan said.
Given that spying into homes is "clearly prohibited," he said, drawing laughs, "where will you find four righteous, trustworthy individuals witnessing actual penetration?"
Getting different people of faith together, US Rep. Rob Andrews, a Democrat from Haddon Heights, praised the event for uniting Americans from the three Abrahamic faiths.
"Many of our Muslim brothers and sisters feel unwelcome at times in their own country," Andrews said.
"Our goal as a country is to eliminate the need to have meetings like this."
Though there are no official estimates, the US is home to from 7-8 million Muslims.
An earlier Gallup poll found that the majority of Americans Muslims are loyal to their country and optimistic about their future in the United States.