by Zahid Mian
Sharia Law is a complex set of guiding principles–quite literally it means “the path” and cannot be understood by Muslims who lack knowledge and wisdom. There are relatively few specific laws in the Quran and even those require wisdom and knowledge to correctly interpret. Most of Sharia Law is derived from other sources like Sunnah and Hadith (respectively, the practices and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) and the interpretation of various scholars in Islamic history. So when an individual demands special treatment to fulfill some presumed Sharia requirement, it only fuels the mockery of critics.
A few weeks ago Ariens, the manufacturing company famous for its snow blowers, changed its policy that allowed Muslim workers to take 10-15 minutes off work to offer their Salat (prayer services) at the prescribed time. Muslims are required to pray five times during the day: at dawn, right after the sun has reached the zenith, late afternoon, right after sunset, and finally about an hour after sunset. Because the timings are tied to the position of the sun, there is no fixed time for Salat. The company changed its policy, so that they could no longer take time off for prayer, but instead had to offer the prayers during their normal break times. More than 100 Muslim employees threatened to quit. Similarly, Muslims in a Colorado meat packing plant were fired because they refused to show up at work when they weren’t allowed to take time off to offer Salat in congregation (in this case the employer’s only request was that employees not leave all at once).
Nevertheless, both cases are examples of demands that are more selfish than practical. There’s no doubt that Muslims are encouraged to offer their Salat at its appropriate time and in congregation, but in the Quran we are taught that God does not want to create hardship for us in our worship (22:79). These employees were wrong to make this demand of their employer because had they pondered over the meaning of their worship they would have realized that the rights of God need to be balanced with the rights of man. There is enough flexibility in the timings of Salat that the employees should have worked with the employers to reach a compromise that would have benefited both parties instead of simply refusing to work.
Then there was the truly scandalous case of a few Muslims in Minnesota that demanded halal food be available at their local food bank. Again, there’s no doubt that Muslims are encouraged to eat halal food, but what really is halal food? The Quran explicitly states that the following foods are forbidden: pork, any animal that dies of itself, and any animal that was slaughtered in the name of another deity. Furthermore, allowance is granted to those that are driven by necessity to eat even these forbidden items. So unless the chicken at the local food bank was slaughtered in the name of Lucifer, that chicken is halal for them as long they personally recite the name of God on it. Not only should Muslims eat whatever they are provided in such dire circumstances, unless it is explicitly forbidden, but to make such demands is against the spirit of Islam and common courtesy.
There are many more cases like these where a handful of Muslims have wrongly interpreted Islamic teachings to suit their own personal attitudes. There was the case of a Florida woman who refused to be photographed for her driver’s license. The Muslim who sued Costco for discrimination because he didn’t want to handle pork. The Muslim men who began praying in the aisle of retail store when it was time for Salat. While no one should deny their claim to being a Muslim, Muslims like these need to reflect deeper at the spirit of Islamic teachings to not only better implement them in their own lives but also to reflect them positively in our greater communities.
One of the root causes for this disparity in thought between Muslims who rigidly apply what they interpret to be Sharia and those that see it as dynamic and flexible religion is a lack of unity. This is where Muslims need a Khalifa, a man of God who can best guide people in tough times. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has a Khalifa and that is why you have never seen such extreme demands from its members. In fact, the second Khalifa of the community, Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmood explicitly forbade workers from striking against employers because it was counterproductive for both employer and employee. The fourth Khalifa, Mirza Tahir Ahmad repeatedly mentioned the mercy of God and the allowances He has granted worshipers. The current Khalifa, Mirza Masroor Ahmad, has repeatedly emphasized that injustice alone is the root of many of our problems today. If we can overcome our biases and demand justice when it is due, then Muslims who make these extreme demands will not have any support.
This is not to suggest that discrimination against Muslims is not real. It happens in the United States, in Europe, and most regrettably even in Muslim countries. We all know at least one American Muslim who was profiled and unjustly interrogated, or someone who’s property was vandalized, or someone who was asked to “go back to your country.” Not only are these incidents physically and emotionally threatening, but they can lead to real problems like despair, mistrust, and political resentment.
I am not advocating for Muslims to stop demanding their legal rights, but when they conveniently use Islam to promote their own lifestyle, it benefits no one. Islam is a unique religion because it emphasizes both personal and social forms of worship, but it clearly does not advocate rigidity. The Quran clearly states that there is no compulsion in religion because right has become distinct from wrong (2:257). This is the spirit Muslims need to adopt rather than making demands based on spurious religious grounds.