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Shariah law widely misunderstood, Islamic expert says

Khaled M. Abou El Fadl, a professor in Islamic law at UCLA School of Law and chair of UCLA’s Islamic Studies Program, delivers the annual Kenner Lecture at Lehigh.

Shariah law, which is under attack in the United States and other countries around the world, is far more flexible than most people believe, one of the world’s leading authorities on Islamic law and Islam told a Lehigh audience Tuesday.

“What is Shariah? It is not the Koran. It is not some traditions attributed to the Prophet,” said Khaled M. Abou El Fadl, a professor in Islamic law at UCLA School of Law and chair of UCLA’s Islamic Studies Program.

Abou El Fadl delivered the 2011 Kenner Lecture in Zoellner Arts Center’s Baker Hall on the topic: “Is Shariah the Solution? The Promises and Problematics of Divine Law Today.” His talk explored the differences between Shariah and the broader body of Islamic law.

The complexity of the law and its interpretation allows for flexibility and evolution, Abou El Fadl said. For example, he said, the majority of people in the Muslim world do not agree with such punishments as stoning in cases of adultery or cutting the hands off thieves.

“Many of these laws are temporal in nature because they are not extensions of God’s beauty,” he added.

But the same complexity also allows for confusion. When asked about the bans on Shariah that several U.S. states are considering, Abou El Fadl called such actions “a slightly camouflaged expression of racial hatred.

“I don’t think people who work to ban Shariah are experts on Shariah. It’s remarkable to me how sure they are of what Shariah is,” he said.

“If you are ugly, you will produce ugly Shariah. If you are beautiful, you will produce beautiful Shariah.”

A scholar in the field of human rights who is noted for his approach to Islam from a moral point of view, Abou El Fadl writes on humanity, morality, human rights, justice and mercy. He is known for his writings on beauty as a core moral value of Islam.

“At a time when so many Americans remain woefully misinformed about Islam, Dr. Abou El Fadl offers a voice of reason and compassion, grounded in a deep understanding of the rich historical links between the Muslim world and the West,” Robert Rozehnal, associate professor of religion studies at Lehigh and director of the Center for Global Islamic Studies Islamic Studies, said in introducing Abou El Fadl.

“Shariah is the way or path to wellness or goodness. … It is a broad concept of inclusive and transcendental paths to and from God. Islamic law refers to a cumulative body of jurisprudential thought centered on the divine will and its relation to public good,” Rozehnal said.

The Kenner Lecture was established in 1997 by Jeffrey L. Kenner ’65, who holds degrees in industrial engineering and business. He is the president of Kenner & Company Inc., a New York-based private equity investment firm which he founded in 1986. Kenner served as a Lehigh trustee from 1995-2002 and has been a longtime member of Lehigh’s Asa Packer and Tower Societies.

Photo by John Kish IV

Story by Emily Groff

Posted on Wednesday, September 14, 2011

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