Veiled woman with child attends a political rally about the Egyptian Constitution. Location, Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt. Photo Credit, the author.
According to Toni Johnson of the Council on Foreign Relations, Shariah guides "all aspects of Muslim life, including daily life, familial and religious obligations, and financial obligations." It is derived mainly from the Holy Quran and the Sunna, the path and practices of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH)
However, given that I am in Cairo, I decided to go to the source. Al Azhar University, located in Cairo, is Sunni Islam's foremost seat of learning. It is one of the world's oldest universities. Al Azhar teaches Shariah, among other things. According to scholar Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood, one must separate Islam from the cultural practices of a given country. For example, Islam insists on the free consent of bride and groom, so would in theory make arranged marriages illegal. Saudi Arabia forbids women from driving cars in that country, but according to scholar Maqsood, this "bizarre law has nothing to do with Islam." Afghani girls were cruelly banned from education under the Taliban, yet Islam encourages all Muslims to seek knowledge from cradle to grave, from every source possible.
In November, a law was passed in Oklahoma barring Oklahoma courts from considering Islamic Law (which my previous post establishes is actually fiqh, not Shariah) when deciding cases. US District Court Judge Vicki Miles LeGrange suspended the measure until a November 22, 2010 hearing. Amazingly, Fox News coverage of this story gets it right. They state "the implementation [of shariah] varies widely."
I think, my friends, that this is the point. Just as Christian pastors and priests vary in their interpretation of what Christianity requires, so to do Muslim clerics vary in their interpretation of what Islam requires. Indeed, this is the problem. Regardless of what the Holy Quran actually says, some countries have mixed in their intolerant, misogynist cultures, and used those cultural reasons to disenfranchise women. It is the implementation of the law we must resist, not Islam itself.
The Quran does advocate modest dress for both men and women. However, the interpretation of what is required varies widely. In Indonesia, most women do not veil. In Egypt, practicing Muslim women may wear no head covering, a Hijab covering the hair, or Nekab, covering everything but the eyes. According to Maqsood, only one verse in the Quran refers to the veiling of women, and that is in regard to the wives of the Prophet Mohammad, whose wives were to wear Hijab in the presence of male guests.
Indeed, Proverbs, Chapter 1, (King James Version) which is part of the Old Testament, a text respected and revered by Christians, Jews and Muslims instructs us to seek wisdom, justice, judgment and equity.
1 The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel;
2 To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding;
3 To receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity;
4 To give subtlety to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion.
5 A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels:
Let us educate ourselves on this matter of Shariah, before we make hasty and intolerant judgments.