Law professor draws parallels between Shari’ah, Constitution

Katie Glueck

A Harvard law professor who provides analysis on CNN has a lot in common with a scholar of Islamic law, said the Muslim-cultural Student Association’s spring speaker Asifa Quraishi on Tuesday night. The University of Wisconsin law professor spoke to an audience of about 55 in Fisk Hall, drawing parallels between the U.S. Constitution and Islamic law.

“These two legal worlds are usually described as completely alien to each other, but as an American Muslim, I’m completely comfortable looking at similarities,” Quraishi said. “We’re at a place in the world’s lifetime that it might help looking at similarities.”

Azam Siddiqui, the co-president of McSA, said he hopes Quraishi could make Islamic law seem less foreign to Northwestern students.

“We’re trying to clear up misconceptions about Shariah,” the Weinberg junior said. “It’s not what the media portrays, or how certain extremists have altered its meanings overseas. It was written 500-600 years ago, but it’s relevant to our Constitution.”

Quraishi opened her talk by defining Shariah law, a term often thrown around incorrectly by the media, she said.

“There’s a sense that Islamic law is this code,” she said. “Like it’s scary, bad for women, good for terrorists. The sense in the public view is that it’s monolithic, but I don’t see it that way.”

She described Shariah as a combination of “pluralistic schools” interpreted by a body of legal scholars, much like the legal interpretation of the Constitution.

“There are problems that aren’t answered in the actual text (of the Koran) or issues that didn’t come up in Mohammed’s lifetime,” Quraishi said. “What about euthanasia? Using cell phones? Nuclear bombs? You gotta do a little more work than just looking up what it says in the text.”

In her 90-minute talk, Quraishi went on to discuss the relationship between temporal rulers and Islamic law in classical Muslim societies before colonialization. Like in the United States, there was a division of power between religious and state authorities, she said.

“Temporal law was binding and usually uniform,” she said. “But the interpretation of divine sources, like rules of worship, was non-binding. Why is what’s coming from God non-binding? Because God knows best, and (they) didn’t want any situation where someone is forced to follow a law to a potentially wrong conclusion.”

For McCormick freshman Najim Yaqubie, Quaraishi’s overall message was pertinent to today’s political environment, he said.

“There are obvious misconceptions about Shariah,” Yaqubie said. “But the major thing is that Shariah and Constitutional law aren’t opposites. It doesn’t have to be one way or the other.”

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Disclosure: the reporter is co-president of Students for Israel