The Collegian
Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Law school hosts town hall on Sharia Law

About 100 people attended a town hall on Sharia law that featured talks by former ambassador Randolph Bell and Richmond Law Professor Azizah Al-Hibri in the T.C. Williams School of Law on Thursday.

The focal point of the night, which was organized by Richmond's Muslim Law Student Association, was the question and answer session during which the audience, comprised of community members, students and professors, engaged the speakers in impassioned debate and discussion.

"How do you explain honor killing in the context of Islam?" asked one elderly city resident.

Al-Hibri, the founder and president of "KARAMAH: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights," replied, "In one word, 'crime.'

"If there was an Islamic country that was really enforcing Sharia law, they would be taking the killers to court, and there would be a trial, and there would be a sentence."

Tommy P. Baer, partner at Canfield, Baer & Heller, LLP, and former president of B'nai B'rith International, a Jewish service organization, was the de facto moderator.

Another man asked Al-Hibri whether Osama bin Laden and the 19 hijackers from Sept. 11 were apostates.

Al-Hibri answered that apostasy was an act of renunciation, and that as far as she knew, the terrorists had not forsaken Islam. Of bin Laden, she said, "He committed a crime."

The man retorted, "In the name of Islam and following Sharia."

The town hall was organized in response to the "recent wave of anti-Sharia sentiment, marked by moves in several states to outlaw Sharia," according to the flyer published by MLSA.

In November 2010, Oklahoma voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure for amending the state constitution by banning Sharia from state courts. The ban was later blocked by a federal judge who ruled it to be unconstitutional, since the sixth article of the U.S. Constitution and the establishment clause within the First Amendment forbid the government from establishing preference for one religion.

Sharia, which means "the clear, well-trodden path to water" in Arabic, is the code of conduct of Islam, an Abrahamic religion that has gained notoriety since the 9/11 attacks.

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On whether or not contemporary examples of countries that use Sharia law in concert with preserving human rights exist, Qasim Rashid, president of the MLSA, said: "There are countries that claim to use Sharia, but as Islam demands strict separation of Mosque and State, it forbids theocracies. Today, not a single example of a truly 'Muslim' nation exists.

"The human rights violations done in the name of Islam only use Islam as an excuse, but are actually done in the name of political and monetary greed. These human rights violations include persecution of religious minorities, misogynistic views of women, and corrupted monetary policies."

Rizwan Mujeebuddin, vice president of MLSA, said,"The United States is arguably more conducive to the practice of Islam than most Muslim countries," when asked if there were elements within Sharia that are incompatible with the U.S. Constitution. "I do think that certain practices, which may exist in Sharia, become inapplicable. However, that is a question better left to scholars."

On the issue of the First Amendment, and how Sharia law would deal with blasphemous speech including depictions of the Islamic prophet, Muhammad, Al-Hibri said that although she would be offended, she would be powerless to stop publication under Sharia.

Baer said: "In our country, we have a right to offend."

When asked how Richmond students could become involved in matters of Sharia law, Al-Hibri said that attending seminars and getting to know Muslim students at Richmond would help.

This is the third time that the MLSA has sponsored a Sharia discussion. The group organizes Friday prayers, sermons, religious discussions, holiday dinners and held a blood drive on the 10-year anniversary of 9/11.

Contact writers Tanveer Ahmed at tanveer.ahmed@richmond.edu and Katie Toussaint at katie.toussaint@richmond.edu

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