KARAMAH on Shari’ah and Religious Freedom: University of Richmond

On October 20, 2011, KARAMAH held a Town Hall meeting on Shari‘ah and Religious Freedom in the US at the University of Richmond School of Law. Joining KARAMAH was the First Freedom Center and the Richmond Muslim Law Student Association. The driving motivation behind the event was to provide an open environment for exchange and dialogue on the true nature of Shari‘ah and the constitutional protections of religious freedom in our country as well as to quell the numerous misunderstandings that have developed since the anti-Shari‘ah legislation movement began. While the event did achieve this, its aftereffects clearly demonstrate that more events such as these and further discussion are absolutely necessary to dispel the rampant misinformation spreading about Shari‘ah and Muslims in general.

The meeting was composed of a panel featuring Dr. Azizah al-Hibri, Founder and Chair of KARAMAH: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights, Commissioner on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (speaking in her private capacity), and professor at the T.C. Williams School of Law at the University of Richmond; Ambassador Randolph Bell, President of the First Freedom Center, Former Ambassador at Large and Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues; and Tommy P. Baer, Partner at Canfield, Baer & Heller LLP and former President of B’nai B’rith International.

During the event, Dr. al-Hibri delivered a scholarly presentation to demonstrate that rather than being a harsh, violent rule of law, Shari‘ah in fact governs a Muslim’s personal relationship with his or her Creator. As such, Dr. al-Hibri explained that a ban on Shari‘ah is an infringement on the fundamental constitutionally protected civil liberties of millions of American-Muslim citizens and residents. A robust question and answer session followed the lecture that tackled issues of ‘honor killings,’ terrorism, and American-Muslim civil liberties. The event was well attended, attracting students, scholars, and the surrounding Richmond community. The Richmond Times-Dispatch and The Collegian Newspapers both reported on the event. A recording of the entire proceeding is available on the KARAMAH and Richmond Law School websites.

As a follow up to the Shari‘ah Town Hall event, The Collegian asked the President of the Muslim Law Student Association to write an Opinion Editorial on Shari‘ah Law for the benefit of the greater University of Richmond student body. After publishing this piece, The Collegian later published another Opinion Editorial written in response to the MLSA President’s article. While the response relied heavily on anti-Islam rhetoric and unreferenced claims, it spurred a conversation throughout the undergraduate university, the Chaplaincy, and the Law School. The misinformed response demonstrates the dire need for Muslims around the nation to speak up and properly define Shari‘ah, instead of letting the definition come through those ignorant of Islam’s true teachings of peace and pluralism. The net result of this conversation has been positive, however, as the greater Richmond community has expressed through their words, emails, and requests that the conversation on Shari‘ah continue. Accordingly, the University of Richmond Muslim Law Student Association will continue to invite Dr. al-Hibri to lead an event on this topic at least once a semester.

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