In recent years the New York Times has published more than its share of slippery apologias for Islam, but the op-ed it ran on September 2 in defense of sharia law was not only slippery but curiously feeble as well. Eliyahu Stern, an assistant professor of religious studies and history at Yale, harshly criticized the attempts currently underway in over a dozen U.S. states to pass legislation prohibiting the introduction in those jurisdictions of sharia courts. "Some of these efforts," Stern lamented, "would curtail Muslims from settling disputes over dietary laws and marriage through religious arbitration…."
What to say about this? First, let's be clear that even a sharia court whose authority was strictly confined to dietary and marital questions would be a matter for concern. Take marriage, for example. Under sharia, marriage is a very lopsided affair, rights-wise. A man can divorce his wife at will — all it takes is saying the words. (One sharia judge recently ruled that a brief text message from husband to wife is sufficient to end a marriage.) By contrast, a woman who wishes to split from her husband must submit to a lengthy and often very expensive process of litigation that may very well end with her being turned down and forced to return home. Under sharia, she has no automatic right to a divorce. (Indeed, under sharia she hardly has any right to anything.)