With the concept of Shariah cropping up in forums across the country, and states moving to ban courts altogether from the consideration or use of Shariah, the Islamic Circle of North America is taking action. The organization’s “Understanding Shariah” campaign is geared to tackle what can easily be labeled one of the most controversial and misunderstood issues in the nation today.
Launched in May 2011, the Understanding Shariah campaign is an educational initiative that hopes to “help the public understand Shariah and counter the rise of Islamophobia in America.” Naeem Baig, Executive Director of the ICNA Council for Social Justice hopes the campaign will further shift focus from the misnomer “Shariah law” and draw attention to what he feels is really at stake here—religious freedom. “[Because of the freedoms granted under the First Amendment] Jewish family law is acceptable in civil courts today,” says Baig. “Muslims are as American as any other faith group, and are deserving of these rights as well.”
ICNA is working on a comprehensive website to be launched as part of the campaign; the site will archive articles and references to Shariah, answer common questions on the topic and include specialized action alerts so individuals across the country can contribute to the campaign. The ICNA Shariah Council will also hold online lectures and open Q & A sessions to discuss what Shariah means, provide Imams with material for Friday sermons and pen rebuttals to hateful and misinformed reports on Shariah.
ICNA will also host educational seminars in major cities across the country, along with a daylong conference on Shariah in Washington, DC. Two special editions of Message Magazine will be dedicated to the campaign, and an estimated 200,000 copies of the magazine will be distributed nationwide. ICNA also hopes to create a public service announcement and documentary on Shariah, along with mobilizing its chapters will partner with various civic and faith based organizations, as well as local Islamic centers and national Muslim organizations to achieve these goals. The campaign is expected to last until the end of 2012.
A major objective of the campaign is to educate the “movers and shakers of society,” including senators, governors, assemblymen, professors and even high school teachers on the concept of Shariah. ICNA President Dr. Zahid Bukhari says by reaching out to these individuals, as well as print and electronic media outlets, the organization will be able to make a significant change in the understanding of Shariah amongst the American public. Organizers also hope the campaign will move people to see the anti-Shariah movement for what it is—“an attempt by Islamophobes to spread misinformation about Islam and target one religious community for cheap political gain.”
As Baig brings up, GOP presidential hopeful Herman Cain recently stated he would not appoint a Muslim to his cabinet—a comment that was met by the applause and enthusiasm of many. “Fear-mongering and hate-mongering are becoming the norm,” says Baig, “and it is alarming and disturbing on so many levels.” This, as Dr. Bukhari points out, is the perfect time for ICNA and other Muslim and faith based organizations to get involved. “Shariah continues to persist as a topic of debate in both state and national settings. This is the right time for us to discuss Shariah and educate the public on this matter.”