Protesters of the proposed Islamic center near Ground Zero waved signs there this past Sunday with a single word: Sharia.One of the stated objectives of the people making war against us is to impose Shari'a Law on the whole world. In places where they are allowed to dominate they have demonstrated the barbaric character of their interpretation of Shari'a. For the sake of humanity that form of Shari'a must be banned as cruel and unusual punishment.
Their reference to Islam's guiding principles has become a rallying cry for those critical of Islam, who use it to conjure images of public stonings and other extreme forms of punishment in countries such as Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan and argue that those tenets are somehow gaining a foothold in the United States.
Blogs are proliferating with names like Creeping Sharia and Stop Sharia Now. A pamphlet for a "tea party" rally last weekend in Fort Walton Beach, Fla. asked: "Why do Muslims want to take over the world and place us under Shariah law?" Former GOP House speaker Newt Gingrich amplified that point in a much-publicized speech a few weeks ago exploring what he calls "the problem of creeping sharia."
The fact that the word has become akin to a slur in some camps is an alarming development to many religious and political leaders.
"We are deeply saddened by those who denigrate a religion which in so many ways is a religion of compassion," Peg Chemberlin, president of the National Council of Churches, said in a statement earlier this month signed by 40 national religious leaders.
Sharia in Arabic means "way" or "path." Muslims agree that sharia is God's law, but there is little consensus on the particulars. To some, sharia is a set of rules that are codified and unchanging. To others, it's a collection of religious principles that shift over time.
Many of the harshest, most controversial writings are in the hadith, such as those giving a lower status to non-Muslims and mandates to stone adulterers (including a much-publicized stoning earlier this month in Afghanistan, meted out by the Taliban). There has been debate for centuries among Muslims over how accurate and how fixed hadith are.
Another key source is fiqh, the collection of opinions scholars have written to determine how the will of God can be carried out in daily life. Some people include all fiqh as well when they refer to "sharia" or "Islamic law."
Daniel Pipes, a conservative Middle East scholar controversial for his focus on extremism among Muslims, said sharia refers to something "enormously specific," which he compared to the U.S. Constitution. The danger, he said, is when Muslims "want to implement sharia in every detail on everyone in a stringent way."