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Can We Compromise?

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Muslim Brotherhood group lobbies Congress
U.S. Capitol building (Photo: JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

 

Islamism is a political ideology based on a specific religious understanding of Islam. It’s this blurring of religion and which makes Islamism so objectionable. But targeting Islamism cannot be allowed to become targeting of Islam in general.

So which laws would constitute a reasonable, fair and relatively lasting platform upon which to base societal relations on issues of religion and state? Here are outlined several possible compromises which in the author’s opinion preserves Islamic religious rights without legitimizing extremist Islamist politics.

 

Religion and State

Separation of religion and state, at least insofar as the source of legislation goes, is key. In America this is already guaranteed by the constitution. In particular, it’s guaranteed by the “supremacy clause,” which states, “This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land.” As long as this clause remains it will be legally impossible for sharia to become the law of the land.

However, many politicians are deeply religious individuals who find in their faith sources of comfort and moral guidance. To deny Muslims the right to draw on their traditions for inspiration while in office while allowing the same thing to Christians and Jews would be unethical and unfair. Saying things like “God bless America” or even having prayers before congressional meetings or whatever is perfectly reasonable, since it is symbolic. It is also perfectly reasonable for Muslims of deep faith conviction to publicly hold that their politics are influenced by their faith, in much the same way that Christians often say these things.

 

Freedom of Expression

Muslims must remain free to practice their faith. This is guaranteed in the first amendment and attempts to prevent prayer and other legitimate religious expression should be prevented. However, as guaranteed by the constitution of the U.S., lampooning, criticizing or mocking Islam must similarly be permissible in the public sphere. Not only that, but violent assaults and death threats against those who mock and criticize Islam must be prosecuted, rather than pushing cartoonists and comedians to back down. It is of course an equally-protected expression of free speech to explain why such cartoons or criticisms may be offensive to Muslims.

However, not all speech is protected by law. There are a number of basic categories that are not protected by the constitution — particularly words that incite imminent violence, real threats and, according to some legal experts, treason.

Freedom also extends to the arena of clothing. Burkas and hijabs must be legal to wear, just as it must be legal to refuse to wear such clothing. Restrictions on face veils, however, because of security concerns or identity theft are legitimate.

 

Marriage

If couples obtain a sharia marriage but don’t register that marriage with the state, they should not be considered married, with the exception of those states that allow for common law marriages.

However, education about what rights a person has and what a state marriage provides is essential to preventing women from being abused by sharia courts with no authority to perform marriages. Heavily fining imams who perform sharia marriages without telling the couple they are not legally married could be one approach.

 

Education

Faith schools should be permitted. However, they must also teach secular subjects including literacy and arithmetic. The state should ensure that minimum standards are upheld and that schools are not permitted to teach extremist beliefs, as has happened repeatedly in the United Kingdom.

For non-faith schools, institutions with large numbers of Muslim pupils should make reasonable provision for halal food if it is something that parents demand. A vegetarian option is reasonable since sourcing halal meat can be difficult.

 

Work

Muslims should get breaks to pray, provided they work a full day. Employers should cooperate with employees to ensure that reasonable religious needs are met. However, where religious practice unduly impedes performing the job, such as refusing to sell alcohol when working at a supermarket, thereby forcing another employee to come over and deal with the transaction, is unreasonable. In such situations perhaps there are other duties the employee can be given so they can retain employment without sacrificing their religious faith.

These policies are mostly already in place in Western countries. For example, in America, an employer must provide “reasonable accommodations” for religious practices, provided they do not result in a hardship for the employer.

None of these accommodations should be considered concessions to Islamism. Free societies flourish when all are afforded equal rights and Muslim citizens must be no exception to this rule.

 

RELATED STORIES

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Defend the Constitution; Protect Freedom of Speech

Church & State — Is There Really a Separation?

 

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Elliot Friedland

Elliot Friedland is a research fellow at Clarion Project.