by Deanna Othman
Every so often we hear new phrases popularized by the media which begin to take hold after being emblazoned into our collective consciousness as readers, viewers and listeners. They have brought us such terms as “terrorist,” “Islamist” and headlines have been rife lately with the newest addition to the bunch, “creeping shariah.”
When it appears in articles or on television, the word shariah is almost always accompanied by the modifier “creeping”—an interesting word choice, consider it is implied that something which creeps moves about stealthily, so as to avoid immediate recognition. The creeping phenomenon slowly slides in and supplants whatever was there before it. We’ve heard this term used before with other ideologies. (remember creeping socialism?) The word creeping certainly engenders fear. Even if you don’t know what shariah is, you certainly are going to be weary of it if it creeps.
Recently, CNN aired a special highlighting the drama that has been unfolding surrounding the proposed building of a mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. The allegations and disputes regarding the mosque’s construction have centered around the fact that the Muslim community allegedly seeks to overthrow the civil order in the community and replace it with shariah as the supreme authority. Opponents of the mosque have gone as far as to argue that Islam is not a religion, and therefore Muslims do not enjoy first amendment protection of their rights to practice their faith.
Anyone with the simplest understanding of what Islam or shariah is would have the mental capacity to realize the absurdity of those claims. The latest addition to the Islamophobia parade is Chuck Norris. Yes, you read that correctly. Chuck Norris, of karate and Walker, Texas Ranger fame. Norris, a self-exonerated non-Islamophobe, wrote in a series of articles on the dangerous infiltration of shariah into American life that people “…fail to see how Shariah law has already been enabled and subtly invoked in our country, and that any such induction like it is brought about by understated lukewarm changes, like a frog boiled in a kettle by a slow simmer.”
Wow. I must have missed these subtle changes. Maybe I am that frog Norris speaks of that doesn’t yet realize is being boiled.
The popularization of this utterly untenable argument that Muslims have covertly hatched a plan for shariah to dominate American life illustrates how easy it is for a claim to gain wide acceptance if it is propagated by the right people and groups, regardless of the fact that it has no basis in anything even resembling a fact.
With the recent enactment of the “burqa ban” in France, an imposition on the rights of women to practice their faith as they see fit, it is disheartening to witness the progress of movements to create a barrier between Muslims and the societies in which they live.
Muslims are part and parcel of American, and Western society, and cannot be marginalized without compromising the integrity of society as a whole. Muslims need to explain the significance of terms like shariah so the word loses it pejorative connotation, and the ignorance of those abusing the term will become readily apparent.