Commentary Magazine


Misguided Alarmism About Sharia Law

Rumors about the supposed ascendancy of sharia law in the West–a staple of a certain strain of conservative alarmism–are greatly exaggerated. That at least is the only conclusion I can reach based on the news from Canada where three members of an immigrant family from Afghanistan were convicted of murder in the deaths of four female relatives who had supposedly dishonored their clan. Those found guilty were Mohammed Shafia, his wife, Tooba Mohammad Yahya, and their son, Hamed, 21. The elder Shafia was apparently the ring leader, masterminding a conspiracy to kill three of his daughters and his “other” wife–he was living in a polygamous marriage–because he believed the young women, ranging in age from 13 to 19, were “whores” who had been polluted by the licentious ways of the West–they were wearing revealing clothes, running around with boyfriends, etc. Shafia’s first wife was killed along with them because he blamed her for their daughters’ supposed immorality.

The case was widely reported to be one of “honor killing,” with Shafia and his wife and son engaging in murder to supposedly cleanse the stain on their family’s honor. If Canadian courts were in fact respectful of such an extreme interpretation of sharia, they might have gone along or at least handed out a reduced sentence. But that is not what happened. The judge sentenced the culprits to life in prison and strongly denounced their behavior: “It is difficult to conceive of a more despicable, more heinous, more honorless crime,” the judge told the defendants. “The apparent reason behind these cold-blooded, shameful murders was that the four completely innocent victims offended your completely twisted concept of honor, a notion of honor that is founded upon the domination and control of women.”

What are the odds that in the future any other sentence could possibly be reached in such a case in Canada, the U.S., or any other part of the West?  I’d say the odds are pretty slim. Which is one reason–not the only one–why alarmism about the spread of sharia is so misguided. In fact, only the most fanatical interpretations of sharia would countenance such cold-blooded murder.

The meaning of sharia is as vague and open for debate as the meaning of the Talmud or Catholic theology. Some people will have fundamentalist interpretations, but other interpretations will be more moderate. There is nothing particularly alarming about Muslims volunteering to agree to abide by the laws of their faith in certain matters pertaining to family law, just as some observant Jews, Catholics, and other religious believers do. What would be repugnant and alarming is if some cockamamie interpretation of sharia were infringing on the freedoms of unbelievers or jeopardizing the safety and well-being of those entitled to the full protection of the law. But as the Shafia case in Canada shows, that is not what is happening. And I predict it will not happen in the future either.