Of all the evasions, obfuscations and diversions uttered by UCLA's Professor of Law Khaled Abou el Fadl yesterday at the Harvard Divinity School, none was more revealing than his opening declaration that Sharia Law's compatibility or incompatibility with human rights was wholly "vacuous" and "irrelevant." None of the 60 or so, mostly Muslim attendees, seemed to have had a problem with this statement. The audience reaction, from both Mr. Fadl's academic colleagues (among whom was Harvard's Roy Mottahedeh, Gurney Professor of History, specialist in Persian history) and students was more disturbing than the actual presentation.
Mr. el Fadl has been described by Daniel Pipes as a "stealth jihadist," ostensibly anti-Wahabbist, anti-extremist, but whose actual public statements appear to belie his "moderate" persona. For example:
On Saudi Arabia:
"The Wahhabis do not seek to dominate-to attain supremacy in the world...they are more than happy living within the boundaries of Saudi Arabia."
On Shari'ah Law (the law that punishes apostasy and homosexuality with execution and delineates inferior status for women and non-Muslims):
"Shariah and Islam are inseparable"
"the struggle waged to cleanse oneself from the vices of the heart" and "Holy war is not an expression used by the Qur'anic text or Muslim theologians..."
Aside from these disturbing pronouncements, el Fadl is internally inconsistent. In 1999 he wrote, "There is no doubt that Muslim jurists do equate just war with religious war (Jihad)."
Appointed to President Bush's Commission on International Religious Freedom, el Fadl has finally come out in the open by affirming to us that Shari'ah is Shari'ah and any expectations of its conforming to fundamental human rights is irrelevant and a product of -- you guessed it -- the dreaded "Orientalism".
It is not surprising that el Fadl declined to discuss the memorable 1990 Cairo publication of The Universal Islamic (could be the most obvious oxymoron of the 21st Century) Declaration of Human Rights, Islam's rejoinder to the UN's document adopted in 1948 and (up until now at least) regarded as the defining set of global human rights principles devoid of religious directives.
The UIDHR, on the other hand, obliges the world to submit to "an Islamic order." Beneath all the vaunted calls of equality, civil rights, labor rights and educational rights lies the process of "the Law", which, under the heading of "explanatory notes", refers exclusively to Shari'ah.
And so, as there is no other god but Allah, there is no other law but Shari'ah. You can get scared now.
As the Cairo declaration affirms at the outset, "Islam gave to mankind an ideal code of human rights fourteen centuries ago. Based on the Holy Qu'ran and the Sunnah (the life, acts and sayings of Mohammed), all of mankind look no further (my italics) than Islam for all its fundamental rights."
Right. Tell it to the women, Copts, animists, Christians, Jews, Bahai's and innumerable others who might be just a bit nervous about their place in an Islamic universe.
Professor Mottahedeh lamented the fact that Muslims have spent too much time trying to reconcile Shari'ah with the UN Declaration of Human Rights, urging the world to supplement it with the Muslim version. Of course, the former is truly universal, the latter particularistic.
And so, a Harvard tenured professor would essentially replace one with the other in a kind of perfecting process. Harvard seems to have heard Mr. Mottahedeh's message recently when it accorded exclusionary rights to Muslims by banning men from one of its gyms at designated hours to accommodate Muslim women. Given the professor's desired trajectory of Islamic "ethics", we might even see the ultimate penalty for apostasy applied to those foolhardy students who decide to change their religion while at Harvard.
"It is time to consider what the West has lost by not including the Islamic tradition and what it has to say about human rights" concluded Professor Mottahedeh. Considering the body count attributable to the application of Shari'ah from ancient Sindh (India) to the current slaughter in Darfur, that's a tradition better left unlearned.
Professor el Fadl was quite pleased by the reception he received.