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My Challenge to the Houston Chronicle’s Editors -Ruth Nasrullah

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classiclogo.jpgLast Thursday (February 21), the Houston Chronicle, my hometown paper, published an editorial discussing the Archbishop of Canterbury’s recent remarks about integrating sharia-based courts into the British legal system. In their argument they asserted that such an idea would be harmful to the British populace, and especially harmful to women because, they claim, sharia supports domestic violence and other abuses against women. In response, I wrote the following post on my Chronicle blog. I encourage readers to read the post and comment on the Chronicle’s surprisingly biased viewpoint.

It’s taken me a couple days to absorb this editorial in last Thursday’s Chronicle. I get a fair number of bigoted or hateful comments on this blog, and I usually presume that they’re made out of ignorance. Sadly, some people get their understanding of Islam from individuals and organizations who present the religion through a plainly biased filter. I know that. My goal with The Straight Path is to provide a more accurate viewpoint to people who haven’t had access to an informed understanding of Islam.

But the editorial board of the Houston Chronicle should not need that education. This is a major newspaper in the fourth largest city in the country, and on Thursday’s editorial page I found the same old junk I hear from the haters – the misunderstanding of Islamic law, the inability to separate the cultural from the religious, the overgeneralizations, and the conflation of cultural evil with religious authority.

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The editorial primarily puts forth a reasonable argument against Archbishop Williams’ suggestion, which is a topic worthy of debate. Their argument against British sharia courts might have been valid had they used realistic examples of rulings that might be made in those courts. Instead, the editorial makes unfounded criticisms of sharia by citing violent acts against women – actions that are crimes under Islamic law. The editorial states:

But the very idea that one group of people in his country would live under one set of laws while a subset of the nation would be governed under another is a foreign and abhorrent concept.

It is also a dangerous idea, especially for Muslim women. Despite the fact that the Quran, according to some interpretations, puts women on equal footing with men, the evidence of Muslim women’s unequal status in daily life is abundant, even in Great Britain.

Honor killings, for example, in which women are murdered because of infidelity or premarital sex — actual or imagined — are a concern in England, as they are in many Muslim communities throughout Europe. Domestic violence, genital mutilation and forced marriage are huge concerns, particularly in those Muslim communities where women are sheltered and have no natural affinity to the larger society.

How often we Muslims try to break the mindset that equates crime with religion. How often we explain that honor killings and other forms of domestic violence are not permitted in Islam. It is a seemingly endless battle to correct these misunderstandings, and not a battle I would have expected to wage in the pages of the Chronicle. Perhaps I underestimate its open-mindedness.

So I challenge the Chronicle’s editors to correct me. Please support your statements by identifying the source in Islamic law that permits honor killings, domestic violence, genital mutilation and forced marriage. And if the point you are attempting to make is that the suffering of maltreated Muslim women is in and of itself evidence that sharia supports it, explain how it can be that the millions of Muslim women who lead happy, healthy, productive lives are breaking the mandates of their own religion.

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31 Comments

31 Comments

  1. theManOfFewWords

    February 25, 2008 at 10:41 AM

    This is the most ridiculous post I have ever read!!! Are you actually saying that you want journalists to be accountable for what they say and present valid sources backing up their claims? Shame on you for even suggesting such a thing!

  2. Amad

    February 25, 2008 at 11:12 AM

    Did anyone notice the peculiar similarity of this editorial to the article by Kathleen Parker:
    Canterbury and other tales from Europe’s Dark Ages

    It seems that someone just tried to summarize and add their own buffoonery to Kathleen’s dark and ignorant moments.

    By the way, you can add comments online to the editorial.

    You can also send in a letter to the editor:

    Send letters to the editor, 250 words or less, as part of e-mail text to viewpoints@chron.com. Include name, address, and day and evening phone numbers for verification purposes only. Letters subject to editing.

  3. Shirien

    February 25, 2008 at 11:35 AM

    Well written masha’Allah. Women in Islam has to be one of the biggest misconceptions in the west. I did a survey one time to 200 students on my campus. One of the questions was “How does Islam view women?”

    97% of 200 people said they were oppressed and/or second-class citizens.

    Pretty sad.

  4. JDsg

    February 25, 2008 at 11:58 AM

    You’ve read this article yet? “Sharia is Not the Problem”

  5. Irum Sarfaraz

    February 25, 2008 at 12:15 PM

    Absolutely super response…and do keep us posted on how the editors respond to this. They will not respond because they are so very wrong. The words ‘I challenge the editors’ were absolutely awesome!!! You should have added, ‘the one who is wrong will parade the streets of Houston reciting the Kalma’…..The Americans love to play ‘I dare you’, so you could have played with this them…!!!! And please do please ignore the manoffewwords who is asking us to take the insults of American editors with heads bowed and hands folded.

  6. AnonyMouse

    February 25, 2008 at 1:16 PM

    Excellent… I hope the Chronicle responds!

    Sis Irum, I believe br. manoffewwords’s comment was in jest :)

  7. Amad

    February 25, 2008 at 1:36 PM

    with regards to MOFW… definitely, that’s a trademark style for the man with many thoughts. I am becoming a fan!

  8. MR

    February 25, 2008 at 1:45 PM

    May Allah (swt) make your efforts successful. Ameen!

  9. Organic Muslimah

    February 25, 2008 at 1:52 PM

    Great job, Ruth! I can understand how ‘some’ people can confuse Islam with the misdoings of Muslims in the West (Honor killings, etc), but as you state, we would expect professionalism and research-based claims from a major newspaper. How ignorant!

  10. ruth nasrullah

    February 25, 2008 at 3:15 PM

    Thanks for all the comments, everyone.

    I should have included a link to the Chron post – it would probably count for a lot if more Muslims commented there. It’s

    http://blogs.chron.com/thestraightpath/2008/02/my_challenge_to_the_chronicles.html

  11. Malik

    February 25, 2008 at 5:33 PM

    You should have added, ‘the one who is wrong will parade the streets of Houston reciting the Kalma’

    So, you want to have a person who makes a mistake about Islam be forced to submit to your religion?

    Nah, the critics of Islam are all wrong. /snark

  12. Sofia

    February 25, 2008 at 6:11 PM

    I live in the UK and the archbishop’s comments were actually taken completely out of context. Having said this, he was either stupid/naive or both to have made the comments he did at the time he did, and also knowing that the media would eat him alive.
    I find this subject amusing since Muslim women all know what their rights are, it’s a matter of getting the muslim men to acknowledge this. Women don’t even have proper prayer faciliites in many many mosques and then ignorant ppl talk of shariah. For a start, it’s a moot point as ppl have to be ready for shariah which is clearly not the case in all circumstances. Shariah is already being used in marriage, divorce, finance etc, but it is used in an adhoc manner…and often abused (especially in cases of marriage)..so for this debate to carry on, it needs to be done in a sense outside of the media…in circles where men and women can have their say and voice their fears/concerns in an open manner.

  13. Asim

    February 25, 2008 at 6:44 PM

    whack chronicle…thats texas for ya (well part of it)

  14. MYS

    February 25, 2008 at 8:46 PM

    Can someone ask these critics of Islamic laws that how many cases of honor killings, domestic violence and forced marriages actually occur in the name of Islam as compared to the rape victims resulting from the irresponsible behavior of the so called well-educated societies in the world? All this western media needs is an “issue” to talk about Islam.

  15. Shawna

    February 25, 2008 at 9:25 PM

    One thing that always bugs me about the focus on mistreatment of Muslim women is that just as many non-Muslim women are mistreated daily in the U.S. and around the world. Why? It’s not based on religion at all. Abuse is abundant, as is the denial of basic human rights. And it’s perpetrated by people who want control due to fear or ignorance or both.

    I see claims such as this article makes as just another way to perpetuate the mythical divide between Muslims and non-Muslims when it comes to problems we have and the ways we deal with them. These issues are universal. It took a lot of work for women in the U.S. to even be able to pretend to have the rights enjoyed today.

    Maybe if the U.S. spent more time doing charitable work instead of waging war we would see positive changes in the world, including the world of women. Why not spend U.S. dollars on shelters and domestic helplines in other countries. Lord knows we could use more of them here.

  16. Amad

    February 25, 2008 at 9:33 PM

    Shawna: You make excellent points. It seems like a 1-way street… all bad things committed by Muslims reflect on Islam. But all bad things committed by non-Muslims reflects on their upbringing, society, community or whatever.

    Anyone notice that no one talked about the religion of the deranged dude who just killed 5 students at the Illinois university? Imagine if his name was Mohammad or Ali or something!!

  17. imran khan

    February 25, 2008 at 10:06 PM

    To continue from what SOFIA said about “Shariah is already being used in marriage, divorce, and often abused (especially in cases of marriage)..”
    Now take look that the link below about a sister surfing in silence and her plight after seeking help.

    http://theangrymuslimah.wordpress.com/2008/02/18/confessions-of-a-first-wife1/

    http://theangrymuslimah.wordpress.com/2008/02/24/you-are-my-wife-and-i-will-beat-you-or-screw-you-when-i-want-tomashaallah/#comments

    My question is what safeguards does sahariah law/system has to prevent abuse of power???

  18. Amad

    February 25, 2008 at 10:33 PM

    Imran, if you take some time to read the “angry Muslimah”‘s blog, it is obvious that she is very angry and uses the blog to vent. And she has very good reasons to be angry… I think we all agree on that.

    However, if you read about the type of community she lives in, the people that she is dealing with, etc… it does seem that that she is part of one of those cultish “sunnah beards and thowbs” areas. I mean the whole story and her other posts describe a very perverted view of Islam. I have never, in my 15 years of being in America, lived in such a community with such an Imam. I don’t deny they exist… and I reckon I can point to a few masajids where stuff like this may be happening (around Philly/Jersey), but the point is that this is NOT normal. Such “imams” are not normal.

    So, how do you stop such imams from taking positions in Sharia council. There are many ways:
    (1) The Imams have to be qualified and well-known and loved in their communities. I think the latter is subjective but can be easily determined with surveys and discussions. Needless to say, this story’s Imam wouldn’t make it because I am quite sure that he has no real Islamic education (even the most conservative Imams I have seen would never treat a sister like this, NEVER!) and he would not be loved by his community.
    (2) As with the Islamic arbitration that does exist in UK, for instance, the one that Sh. Suhaib is part of– decisions are not made by ONE person, but by a committee. So, this helps even out mistakes.

    I think it is a mistake to take such stories of cultish communities and consider that as a representative sample. If we did so, then we would have to, for instance, suspect all Catholic priests of child molestation.

    I pray that this sister finds a better community and helps others escape this cult with her.

    w/s

  19. Irum Sarfaraz

    February 26, 2008 at 10:28 AM

    Well I guess the MOFW is not the man of as few words as he claims to be!! I missed the jest. I believe I need to get a little more used to his style…!!!

  20. Ansar

    February 26, 2008 at 4:20 PM

    As Ruth says, people should visit her other blog, good comments coming there also. Keep up the good work.
    But folks, I browsed through the comments and really what glares out at me is that these are words from us to comparatively speaking a very small audience.
    My advise to myself and others is to advertise this, talk about it with your friends. Unfortunately there is a big vacuum out there who are oblivious of what Islam really is and they get it from ill-informed so-called journalists like Ms. Parker. I wrote to her and the Chronicle but they did not print my letter.

  21. imran khan

    February 26, 2008 at 4:55 PM

    Amad:, I take your point out the Cult mentality. Unfortunately we have these Cults in UK too
    http://www.siratemustaqeem.com/phpBB/viewtopic.php?t=3995&highlight=cult

    http://www.siratemustaqeem.com/phpBB/viewtopic.php?t=4307&highlight=cult

    Hoverer even if I was to overlook this isolated cult. I sill believe that British Muslims have enormous cultural baggage that influences their Islam, as a result, i for one don’t trust a Muslim doctor or an imam. Muslim girls in UK (if she was in Deep End) wouldn’t trust her Muslim Family Doctor.

    I accept Sharia in UK courts in Principle but the conditions is not right yet. So I say NO for the time.

    http://www.arabnews.com/?page=1&section=0&article=106995

  22. Suhail

    February 26, 2008 at 7:39 PM

    Brother Imran,

    Conditions will never be right according to your criteria.

    Muslims are human being and will always make mistakes, commit crimes and stuff.

    According to you the shariah is not right at this time so that means that Allah (SWT) didnt knew that shariah is bad for people in the 21st century. I mean what can i concur from your message that it is not the right time for shariah.

    You are basing your whole argument on one case while there are many cases in which shariah has brought good in the community. There will always be people who will do unjustice even if shariah is not implemented so that mean that there will never be right time to implement shariah.

    Your post also suggests that for the time being English law is better than Shariah law. Am i right about that?

    When you say it is not a good time then when is the good time can you elaborate on that. I mean if you are thinking that every Imam in the world is just and god fearing, every muslim will be just and will commit no sin than i think it will never ever happen.

    Allah(SWT) has ordained its law for humanity from the time Prophet(SAW) came to the Day of judgement. When Allah(SWT) made it clear that you can’t rule by other than what Allah has prescribed upon you then how can somebody come up and say “No it is not the right time” while Allah(SWT) is saying that you have to apply the law of Allah at all the times.

    I really dont agree at all with your conclusion to say ‘NO’ just because some Imams among the muslims are unjust. I mean when will that time come?

  23. ruth nasrullah

    February 27, 2008 at 9:31 AM

    The Chronicle published a letter to the editor today criticizing the editorial.

  24. imran khan

    February 27, 2008 at 10:45 AM

    Brother Suhail
    …”According to you the shariah is not right at this time so that means that Allah (SWT) didnt knew that shariah is bad for people in the 21st century”..
    1) Nice try but I that’s not mean and I didn’t say that.
    “You are basing your whole argument on one case while there are many cases “…. Go back and check my post, I said “Hoverer even if I was to overlook this isolated cult. I sill believe that British Muslims have enormous cultural baggage that influences their Islam”.
    2)Without eradicating these cultural practise (believed to be Islam) you will not be able achieve the desired out come of Divine Law. (Sharia in not codified even in KSA)
    “Your post also suggests that for the time being English law is better than Shariah law”
    3)No you assume wrong. A side point. There are people in UK who want to re-introduce capital-punishment. I am for capital punishment in principle, however I have expressed my views to my MP that British justice system is must evolve before that. I rather see a person released form jail after 20 years as a result of an appeal, but if we chop his head off then what……???
    “ Allah has prescribed upon you then how can somebody come up and say “No it is not the right time” while Allah(SWT) is saying that you have to apply the law of Allah at all the times.”
    4) Emotions emotions. Lets implement sharai in a Muslim Majority country first thane use that (perfect model) to propagate else where shell we??? Go and ask any lawyers in Pakistan or in KSA and they will tell you how it is used/abuse.
    Normally when I discuss this subject with my friend I end up with lables such as liberal/coconut and more the often “A true Muslim can’t say that Imran”
    P.S I don’t like when people use emotion or ask for a Yes or No answer before declaring you “Not a proper Muslim”

  25. Nazia

    February 28, 2008 at 1:06 AM

    Br. Imran,

    When referring to British Muslims who have cultural baggage that they confuse with Islam, are you referring to laypeople or the knowledgeable, certified scholars in England?

    Also, do you think it’s fair to say that you wouldn’t trust a Muslim doctor or imam on a public forum where many non-Muslims come to read about Islam and contemporary issues? I feel like it’s a disservice to all the amazing Muslims I have met in these 2 professions. The problem is that in many cases, far from disclosing the secrets or problems of fellow Muslims, these people do not even disclose their own good deeds when HELPING people. Sometimes, I would find out from a person how much help they have received from another Muslim (I can think of imam and Muslim doctor cases) and I am so humbled.

    You can say that you are referring to a specific group of Muslims in your area, but from your post, it seems like a general dissatisfaction? You may have had bad experiences, but I have had really good experiences where I can say without a doubt that if I ever had a problem, I would definitely consult the righteous Muslims in my area.

    Allah knows best.

  26. Amad

    February 28, 2008 at 9:03 AM

    ASA,
    I believe, Sr. Nazia, that Imran has some legitimate concerns. I also believe that if there were enough checks and balances, and there needs to be, then reasonable people like him will come to terms with this.

    I think the bigger problem are the progressives/modernists/sell-outs who shriek at the word “shariah” as if this is a curse word. Their problem is inherently and essentially with Allah’s laws in itself. Somehow they feel that they know better than Allah. Some of them will try to be tricky and say “whose interpretation” of Allah’s laws, as if scholarship died for the last 1400 years ago and our new mujtahids have suddenly found a better way to interpret Islam. Indeed, they have found a better way to be deceived by Satan.

  27. Suhail

    February 28, 2008 at 12:06 PM

    Brother Imran,

    The thing is that Muslim countries are running away from Shariah to satisfy there desires and makes there masters happy. They have to answer to Allah for that.

    Secondly India has something called Muslim personal law. All the civil matters can be sorted out by the Qazi of the community. It has been there for years and is quite useful as you don’t have to register marriages in court and stuff.

    Regarding the cultural baggage stuff then most of that cultural baggage stuff is mostly within the lay person who is not allowed to give any ruling. There will always be a few alims who will have some cultural baggage for sure but most of the scholars are good Mashallah.

    Also the civil disputes is not solved by one man. It is solved by a shoora after listening to each side. There are checks and balances and that have to be maintained. If you take the example of India than there is Muslim Personal law board which makes all the rules according to the shariah and tries to put checks and balances where it is required.

    Another point being that until people solve there cultural baggage issue it is never going to get solved. Do you really think that in last 1400 years of muslim rule there was no cultural baggage. Also some cultural things are not bad and are allowed to perform since they dont contradict the law of shariah. I dont think there will ever be a time when you can find an ideal circumstances. There will always be mistakes and so injustice but Allah watches all and he will give everyone there due on the day of judgement..

    KSA is not an ideal Islamic system they have there flaws but still the system there works with some mistakes here and there. Also you need people who are educated in shariah to make rulings not some lay person walking down the street. As i said earlier there will never be a time when you wont find people lacking one thing or other but just because of that we say no to Shariah then i have to say that it is a very shallow approach. If you can live under a secular system which can be used and abused why cant you live under a shariah system.

  28. Suhail

    February 28, 2008 at 12:13 PM

    Also when you say that you dont like that yes or no answer then i think you should i also refrain from it which you didnt. You simply said ‘No’ because of this and this.

    Rather than that you should have pointed out where the checks and balances need to be made. If the shariah is used for civil law in Britain this has to be done etc.

    When you say ‘No’ to shariah don’t feel surprised when people start questioning your motive because they dont know what is in your heart and they can only see your apparent which is saying a big ‘NO’.

    I think rather then your approach of saying ‘No’ it would be wise to comment on how to stop people to abuse a system and to put correct checks. You have to contribute and work with people so that people dont abuse the system to get there way. Saying a big ‘No’ wont help either you or the community.

  29. Nazia

    February 29, 2008 at 12:19 AM

    Amad bhai,

    I don’t have a problem with Br. Imran being uneasy about certain changes in his country. He lives there and he may know better. I was not referring to that issue at all. I’m just uncomfortable with a general censure of Muslims based on a person’s individual experiences. Let’s be specific when addressing the problems within our community instead of using general terms and labels…that’s all I ask.

  30. thabet

    March 4, 2008 at 2:38 PM

    salaam,

    The Archbishop was not talking about “the British legal system”.

    He was talking about Sharia arbitration within English civil law. This is a crucial distinction.

  31. Nadeem Ahmed Raza

    August 16, 2008 at 4:10 AM

    Safe Exit of Musharaff will be the Greatest Victory of Evil

    In my opinion Mushraf is a sign of a dominating evil who has been demolishing the peace of the country and the people of the country as well, in order to prolong his job of a bloodthirsty mob. So, if the GOVT is interested in providing Musharraf a safe and honorable exit, then all offenders who, ve been behind the bar for ages, should be freed. And after giving him a safe passage, present GOVT should stop shouting that they’ll bring justice. Another crucial thing is that the only removal of Mushraff doesn’t make any difference, and that won’t be for the nation but for Zardari himself who is anxiously waiting for The President House to be free and The Nation will only get Namrood at the cost of Pharaoh. If Mushraff is not sentenced in a fair and honest way, then it won’t be paradoxical to understand the hidden and successful plan of Zardari.

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