Law researcher dispells myths about shari'a

Julie Macfarlane has a simple message for all of those who believe that Islam’s proponents are trying to take control of western civilization by following their own set of laws that disregard current governing legislation.

“There is no such thing as shari’a law,” says the UWindsor Faculty of Law professor, “because shari’a is the code, the guidelines, the personal conscience that each Muslim pays attention to according to their interpretation of what the Koran says.”

Ever since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, there has been a great deal of controversy – and misinformation – regarding Islam, the Koran and the principles of shari’a and most of that has been guided by ignorance and fear, Macfarlane said. Islamic law, which guides traditions of marriage and divorce, is a subset of shari’a but is not enforceable in any western court, she added.

“Shari’a was never intended to be a rigid system,” said Macfarlane, who will appear on CJAM 99.1 FM this afternoon to discuss her research on the subject. “It was actually developed out of the idea that Muslims were often moving, migrating between different places and they would inevitably start their communities in places that were not governed by Islamic law. So it became something they could evolve for themselves that could satisfy their conscience.”

Over the last five years, Macfarlane has conducted with hundreds of Muslim men, women and Imams to get a sense of what shari’a means in their everyday lives. Her studies have shown that for most, shari’a is a private system of morality and identity, focused primarily on family issues such as marriage and divorce, which most understand as fully compatible with the American legal system.

She has published a number of articles on her research including Shari’a Law: Coming to a Courthouse Near You?, When It Comes to Shari’a, Can Knowledge Trump Fear?, and Why Are We So Threatened by Shari’a? Oxford University Press recently published her new book called Islamic Divorce in North America: A Shari’a Path in a Secular Society.

Macfarlane will appear today on Research Matters, a weekly 30-minute talk show that highlights the work of University of Windsor researchers and airs on CJAM 99.1 FM every Thursday at 4:30 p.m.

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