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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Linda Sarsour has been taking a new tack lately to defend Islamic laws: by saying that they are exactly the same as Jewish laws.

Sarsour is very wrong.

Unlike Christianity which is faith-based, normative Judaism and Islam are above all legal systems. What people are and aren't allowed to do is determined using a loose, mostly decentralized judicial system. Every aspect of both Jewish and Muslim lives, for believers, is determined by legal rulings. Both systems have personal laws that look bizarre and arcane to outsiders.

But halacha developed in the Jewish Diaspora. The bulk of Jewish laws concern the day to day lives of Jews with the implicit assumption that they are living under non-Jewish rule. While halacha can deal with matters of Jewish sovereignty, those discussions are for the most part theoretical. (Just as halacha can address theoretical questions about how to pray in the Space Shuttle or on the moon.)

Sharia, however, developed in countries that were majority Muslim. This marks the biggest practical difference between Islamic law and Jewish law; Islamic law is meant to apply not only to Muslims as individuals but to Muslims as a nation (umma.)

This is why so many Westerners get Islam wrong. Sure, it is a religion, but it is also a political philosophy (or, actually, a set of several related philosophies.)

As a political philosophy, Islam is objectively awful compared to modern political philosophies in terms of human rights and modern liberalism. But people are afraid to criticize it because they have been brainwashed to believe that it is purely a belief system and not a political worldview.

Sarsour pretends that sharia is only personal, like halacha almost always is, but then she is forced to ignore the Quranic-based laws and punishments that exist, today, in Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan.

She is forced to ignore how Palestinians are arrested during Ramadan for publicly eating - and that goes for Christians, too.

Poster seen in the UK
And many Muslims do not limit their demands for sharia to only Muslim majority countries. As the graphic at the top of this article shows, sometimes they demand sharia for Western countries as well, or in areas where they are predominant:

And that brings up the next difference between sharia and halacha: Societies based on sharia law, loosely or strictly, force non-Muslims to adhere to that law as well. The constitutions of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Iran and other countries specifically say that Sharia or Koranic law are major parts of their legal system.

Oh, and so does the constitution of "Palestine". Article 4, paragraph 2, says "The principles of Islamic Shari’a shall be the main source of legislation."

Israel does not base its legal system on halacha. And very few people want it to, at least before the Messiah's arrival. But Sharia is not merely a personal legal system; it is meant to be enforced on a national or pan-Muslim basis.

At least.

When Muslims like Sarsour insist that American law of course supercedes Islamic law in the US, they are adding an implicit "for now." Because Islam's legal based system includes the political constructs of Dar al Harb, where  (according to many but not all Muslims) the Western nations are places to be attacked or conquered.

There are fatwas that support killing Americans, suicide bombing Israelis, beating wives, and any number of major human rights violations. One can argue that these fatwas are not universally accepted, but they are based on Muslim religious sources and have a level of support. One cannot easily dismiss them without showing a Sharia-based argument that they are wrong - which is not always so easy, since Islamic law has not really evolved over time.

Which is perhaps the most important difference between sharia and halacha.

Halacha evolves - slowly, to be sure, but it does.It finds loopholes - solidly based in Jewish sources, of course, but they are loopholes - to allow things that would be forbidden in the strict halachic sense. The community interest can and does steer halacha away from things that would look bad or unfair or unpleasant. The concepts of "deracheha darchei noam" and "darchei shalom" and "kovod habriut"  and "sha’at ha-dehak" and other meta-concepts are sometimes invoked to modify strict interpretations of halacha - or to accept previously rejected minority opinions -  to make Jewish law more in line with general community sensibilities or to avoid a clearly undesirable outcome.There is a sanity check that great rabbinic decisors can, sparingly, impose on the halachic process.

In other words, halacha has a built-in mechanism to modify (i.e., modernize)  itself when necessary. It is invoked reluctantly, just as adding an amendment to the Constitution is deliberately made difficult under American law, but the ability to evolve is part of the halachic process.

Sharia, as far as I know, does not have this self-modifying property that can be used to modernize Islamic law.

So, for example, slavery is allowed in strict halacha. In reality, nowadays it is prohibited. You will not find a rabbi nowadays that says that it is permitted to own slaves for various reasons that are halachically based. But sharia has no such loophole to prohibit slavery, and slavery is still practiced in some Muslim countries, according to sharia.

As far as I can tell, a Muslim cannot say that something that was allowed in the Quran is prohibited today. They can say that they choose not to own slaves, of course, but they cannot say that it is prohibited.

These are just a few of the differences between halacha and sharia. Anyone who tries to say they are the same thing is simply not telling the truth.

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