COLUMBIA — You notice his energy first. Then, the humor. And yes, the sarcasm and hyperbole make their way in soon after.
But Haroon Moghul warned the audience in MU's Memorial Union that they were in for a lecture.
“Because the one thing you want to do on a Thursday night after your classes is attend another class,” Moghul said.
To an audience of mostly students, some fulfilling class credit, the joke resonated.
More than 150 people filled the room and spilled into the hallway to hear the keynote address for Islam Awareness Week, put on by MU’s Muslim Student Organization. His lecture gave a condensed lesson on what Shariah means, in hopes of dispelling misconceptions about the codified set of laws based on the Islamic religion.
He called it one of the most complicated topics in the world and made light of the fact he had only 45 minutes to teach it. He told the audience although he would fail to cover all of the nuances of Shariah, he would “hit all of the bases.”
Moghul is one of 300 global Muslim Leaders of Tomorrow, and he is a contributor to the Huffington Post, as well as Religion Dispatches. Moghul is The Maydan Institute's executive director. The group, according to Moghul's blog, Avari, works to improve relationships and communication between Muslims and the West.
Conflict between cultures
Muslim Student Organization vice president Mahir Khan explained that in the last few years, Shariah has become taboo, especially in the political arena. Legislation in several states has been introduced that would ban Shariah, among other foreign laws.
In spring 2011, two bills were introduced into the Missouri Statehouse that would ban foreign law in state courts. One targeted Shariah law specifically.
These bills prompted the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri Muslim Rights Task Force to gather last spring in Jefferson City, and increase Muslim participation in the legislative process.
Khan said the bills, which never became law, were introduced because of fears that Islamic beliefs would invade public policy. He further said that in order to understand Shariah law, it must be thought about in a modern context and used Indonesia, the country with the largest Muslim population, as an example. Voters there elected a woman as president from 2001 to 2004.
“If you go into it word for word, some laws violate human rights, so you have to take it in context of where and when it was first written. Most countries that have a significant Muslim population apply [it] differently,” Khan said.
Aspects of Shariah law
Moghul asked for a pen and held it up above his head.
He promptly dropped it.
“The pen, to the Muslim perception, is Muslim,” he said.
He said that the pen had no choice but to obey God's laws of the universe. The only thing in the physical world that doesn't have to obey is humankind, he said. People are put on the earth to willingly submit to God, unlike the rest of the world.
“The way that God communicates this is through revelation," Moghul said. "People were chosen as prophets to communicate the message ... The final messenger is Muhammad, peace be upon Him.”
Muslims rely on two sources of guidance:
- The Quran, which, in the Muslim belief, is God’s revelation to humankind through Muhammad.
- The morals, life circumstances, character and actions of Muhammad, along with what he approves or disapproves of.
These two things together are Shariah, which literally means in Arabic, “the path to the water.”
This law is divided into two spheres: Acts of worship and worldly affairs. Acts of worship are like sacred law, and acts of worldly affairs are like secular ones. An act is a worldly affair in Islamic law if you can determine the legal reasoning behind a judgment. But, if it falls under an act of worship, it is beyond human comprehension.
In the Islamic tradition, Muslims pray five times a day.There is no definitive legal reasoning for this number, Moghul said, so it is a sacred matter and an instruction from God.
He said most Muslims don’t care about Shariah in the sense of a political agenda.
"What they care about, when they talk about Shariah, is following their religion," Moghul said. "Now, the question of whether a religious law should become political law in the United States is a completely different question ... I would argue that there are no grounds for it."
Over the course of four days, a single post from the Mizzou Facebook page garnered 100 “likes,” 11 shares and nearly 150 comments, both heralding and lambasting Islam Awareness Week’s events.
Several comments were removed from the thread, as pointed out by users questioning MU’s policy on social media comments.
Plenty of opinionated comments remained on the page, with several users posting that the terrorist attacks from Sept. 11 were “enough Islam for me” and that the Muslim faith is “dangerous.”
Arwa Abdelhadi, a member of the Muslim Student Organization, said that she had mixed feelings about the posts, but ultimately decided that it was mostly positive because it gave a driving force behind efforts to educate through Islam Awareness Week.
Khan, the student organization vice president, pored over the posts for several hours and decided that it doesn't matter what you believe in, as long as you have an open mind. He wrote, in a Facebook post as part of the discussion, that the point of the week is to educate people and instill that understanding of others' beliefs.
"These are the values that the Columbia Muslim community has been built on, and these are the values that this great nation is built on as well," he wrote. "I ask all of you, what is more American than that?”