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CAIR-CAN: Sharia Debate Deserves a Hearing

CAIR-CAN: Sharia Debate Deserves a Hearing

Sheema Khan, Globe and Mail, 9/15/05

[Sheema Khan is the chair of CAIR-CAN.]

Sharia is an Arabic word that literally means “a path to water,” the source of life. For Muslims, it is a comprehensive framework of justice based on the Koran and the example of Prophet Mohammed. Sharia’s aim is five-fold: protection of life, faith, wealth, intellect and progeny. Sharia has spanned 14 centuries, numerous cultures and has given rise to at least five recognized schools of jurisprudence. It covers such disparate fields as economics, criminal justice, international relations and family matters. The study of sharia is so important that in the 1990s, Harvard law school launched an Islamic legal studies program.

Yet, many Canadians have opted for a more facile description: sharia, bad. Globe columnist Lysiane Gagnon equated it with incest. Anti-sharia activist Homa Arjomand has called for the imprisonment of sharia advocates. And Quebec MNA Fatima Houda-Pepin — ripping a page from what might be called The Protocols of the Elders of Mecca — continues to warn about the international conspiracy of Islamists to compliant Quebec media outlets. It’s the same mantra she used a decade ago, dismissing those of us who campaigned for the right to wear the hijab as unwitting pawns of those same Islamists. Great fodder for Jon Stewart and The Daily Show — except no one is laughing.

Undoubtedly, sharia-phobia has skewed the debate over Ontario faith-based arbitration to such a frenzied level that lies were perpetuated as facts, paranoia as patriotism. Just as the neo-conservative lobby peddled the bogus threat of Iraqi WMD, our own neo-secularists (including several Muslims) brazenly peddled Muslim family law as an existential threat to Western liberal democracy. As in the case with Iraq, the audience was a fearful public ready to accept its own biases coupled with sensational media accounts.

And it worked. Like the French decision to ban “conspicuous” religious symbols in public schools, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty’s decision to ban all faith-based arbitration was aimed primarily at Muslims. Other religions were included to provide a veneer of fairness. At least the Quebec Legislature had the candour to express its animosity toward sharia alone, remaining silent on all other faiths.

Not so, you protest, there are legitimate issues of debate. Yes, but consider the following: During the 14 years of operation of Jewish, Aboriginal and Ismaili arbitration tribunals, the issues of “one law for all Ontarians,” of “parallel justice systems” and the “ghettoization of minority groups” were never raised by the public. Why all the hue and cry when Muslims wish to avail themselves of the same rights as their fellow Ontarians?

And for those who view this as a victory for the protection of women — think again. There are too many unqualified, ignorant imams making back-alley pronouncements on the lives of women, men and children. The practice will continue, without any regulation, oversight or accountability. Muslim women (and men) will still seek religious divorces and settlement of inheritance matters in accordance with their faith. And not just the ubiquitous downtrodden immigrant Muslim woman who speaks little English. Our overburdened courts will still need to rely on experts in Muslim family law to deal with pre-nuptial contracts. Nothing has really changed — except the fact that we have missed a golden opportunity to shine light on abuses masquerading as faith, and to ensure that rulings don’t contradict the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. (MORE)


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