left to right: Rabbi Dr. Ron Kronish, Interfaith activist Brenda Rosenberg, TMO CEO Dr. A.S. Nakadar, and Chief Qadi of Jerusalem Iyad Zahalka.
The current trend of anti-Muslim bigotry, using Sharia as an excuse, is highly disturbing. This tide is on the increase and has crept into state legislatures around the country. The idea that anything Islamic is un-American is unjust and discriminatory. Laws that single out the Sharia violate the first amendment.
In the US the mere mention of the word Sharia evokes an undesirable reaction from non-Muslim Americans. By contrast it is interesting to see how other countries of the world respect and have incorporated Shari laws as part of their legal system.
For example the UK has Sharia Councils, Israel has Sharia courts in each of its regions, and India has the All India Muslim Personal Law Board. The Philippines has Sharia district courts and Shariaâ€™s circuit courts since the presidential promulgation in 1977. Recent polls show 65% of the people in Canada support it. Therefore there are non-Muslim majority countries which practice and support Sharia courts.
In the UK Sharia law operates under the Islamic Sharia Council, parallel to the British legal system, since 1982. There are some 86 such Sharia Councils in UK and they are expanding. As the demand for Sharia thrives, a number of British law firms are starting to tap into the booming market.
The reason why Sharia law is flourishing is simple, it is inexpensive, verdicts come within a few days, it is hassle free and it fulfills Muslimsâ€™ obligations. It has taken the load and pressure off the British legal system.
In Canada, legal experts and lawmakers suggested the implementation of Sharia in 2004. The provincial governments of Canada for years have tacitly recognized Sharia law for Canadaâ€™s Muslim minority. But due to pressure from vested groups it has not achieved legal status. However the sharia law operates in certain quarters in the province of Ontario that has a Muslim population of over 500,000. Sharia practice is advancing in Canada at both provincial and local levels.
In the largest world democracy, India, the Sharia law is legal and flourishing even today since its introduction by the Ottoman Empire in 16th century. Subsequent ruling dynasties of Mughals followed it and the British continued to practice it.
Americans might be surprised to know that most of the Western countries have adopted Sharia in one form or another. For example many banks in Europe, Canada and the USA have departments that carry out financial transactions in accordance with the Sharia.
There are at least 10 states that have passed â€œhalalâ€ laws in conformity with Islamic methodology of slaughtering animals.
It is unfortunate that many non-Muslim Americans have no clue what the â€œShariaâ€ is. Their information is limited to out-of context-references such as â€œsubjugation of womenâ€ â€œchopping of handsâ€ of thieves and â€œstoning to deathâ€ for women committing adultery.
The media has played a critical role in the dissemination of misinformation about Sharia. And politicians have relished this innocent prey for their political gains by using Muslims as a boogeyman, to consolidate and garner votes of the majority.
In this climate, it is no wonder that I was surprised to receive an invitation from my friend, Jewish community activist Mrs. Brenda Naomi Rosenberg, to meet Qadi (Judge) Iyad Zahalka, head of Sharia court in Jerusalem and Rabbi Dr. Ron Kronish, a noted Rabbi and the founder and director of IICI, the umbrella for 75 organizations of Christians, Muslims and Jews working for peace.
I learned from these scholars the workings of Sharia courts in Israel. These courts have jurisdiction for personal status issues like marriage, divorce, inheritance, adoption, legal contracts and contract disputes, for Muslim citizens of Israel.
According to the 2012 census, the total population of Israel is 7.9 million–with a Muslim population of 1.4 million.
After we were all introduced, we settled at a round table in a large contemporary living room that overlooked a magnificent lake–adding to the serenity.
Qadi Ilyad Zahalka explained there are 11 Sharia courts headed by a Qadi (a qualified Muslim judge), in Israel. One each for the eight regions in Israel and three Qadis sit on the appeals board.
I asked Qadi Ilyad Zahalka what happens in case of marriage across religious lines. He said in that case each party will obtain permission from their respective courts. For example in a divorce if one party is Jewish and the other Muslim, both will have to obtain permission from their respective courts. The judgment is binding on parties and civil courts canâ€™t overrule them. However they can appeal to their respective appellate courts.
I asked the rabbi, â€œDo you think the Sharia laws questions the sovereignty of Israel or challenges its constitution?â€
The rabbi looked straight in my eyes and said: â€œIsrael has no constitution.â€
â€œWhat? Israel has no constitution?â€ I couldnâ€™t hide my ignorance.
He said: â€œYes, we donâ€™t have a constitution.â€
â€œHow is Israel governed then?â€ I asked.
The rabbi coolly answered, â€œIsrael is governed by a set of laws.â€
I asked him: â€œAny particular reason Israel has not adopted a constitution?â€
Rabbi Ron Kornish without any hesitation answered: â€œYes, there are many reasons. One is deep differences among us. For example I am a Reform Rabbi and the conservatives, especially ultra conservatives, do not consider us â€œJews or Israelis.â€ He continued: â€œSo you see, we are considered as non-Jews and non-citizens in our own country, Israel.â€
I said â€œOh! That sounds familiar.â€
He continued, the other reason is: â€œWe have a large, almost 22 to 23% Arabs citizens of Israel and we need to take them into consideration. And there are other reasons apart from geographical.â€
â€œWhat are the other Western Countries that practice the Sharia?â€
Qadi Iyad Zahalka answered, â€œIsrael is the only â€˜Western Countryâ€™ that practices Sharia law in a true sense. While the UK practices Sharia law the grieved party could challenge the Sharia ruling in a civil court, but not in Israel.â€
We discussed about Palestinian statehood and Dr. Ron Kronish was emphatic in saying that two states, Israel and Palestinian, living side by side is the peace making solution. He added, â€œIf these politicians could understand it and let the people live in peace.â€
We discussed various topics for almost an hour and from the discourse it was obvious that they were on a mission of peace. The joint appearance of the Rabbi and a Qadi in their presentation at Wayne State University, and the Presbyterian Church in Birmingham and other places on the topics of Sharia, Palestine and on other relevant topics such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam were spirited evidence of their common mission to spread peace.