It’s now clear to most Americans that while Imam Feisal Rauf has the right to build his mosque wherever he desires, his decision to build it near Ground Zero is grossly insensitive, to say the least, and flies in the face of his reputation as a "moderate" bridge builder. Let's take a closer look at whether Imam Rauf is truly a moderate Muslim leader whose teachings are in line with American principles.
New York Times’s Maureen Dowd insists that, “you have to be willfully blind not to know that the imam in charge of the project, Feisal Abdul Rauf, is the moderate Muslim we have allegedly been yearning for.” Others have suggested that Rauf can’t be a radical because he was selected to represent America to the Muslim world by President George W Bush. And many who have met him speak highly of his charm and apparent good will.
And yet, as we are by now well aware, Rauf has claimed that America’s policies “were an accessory” to 9/11, refuses to denounce Hamas as a terrorist organization, and proposes that our secular democracy be replaced with an Islamic state ruled by Sharia law. His supporters counter that the imam believes that the U.S. Constitution is already in line with Islamic law. Nonie Darwish, among others, has exposed the gross absurdity of that position.
A closer look at Imam Rauf’s published work on the topic of Sharia reveals a lot of what we need to know about this imam. His religious views are completely incompatible with the American social and political system.
In his book, What’s Right with Islam Is What’s Right with America, as well as during his numerous lectures at the Chautauqua Institute, Rauf postulated that the U.S. Constitution is the best embodiment of what he believes to be the second most important commandment from God: “Love thy neighbor.” But there’s a major caveat: according to Rauf, the American political system is missing the first and most important commandment: “Love thy God.”
It is on this specific assertion that Rauf departs from secular democratic ideals. Writing in Islam: A Sacred Law, What Every Muslim Should Know About Sharia, he points out the difference between the American government based on man-made law, and an Islamic system, which Allah authored:
God’s role in the explicit philosophical construct of the law makes a big difference between the modus operandi of a righteous Muslim judge in a Muslim court and a righteous Western judge in a Western court. […] The Muslim judge explicitly “reports to God.” The judge who sits in the Western court is only explicitly responsible to the Constitution, the interpretations of a civil law and its rules.
Rauf, then, is endorsing a theocracy in which there is no separation between religion and state. Indeed, he goes even further in his argument, claiming that religious Sharia law must govern all aspects of human life:
[S]ince a Sharia is understood as a law with God at its center, it is not possible in principle to limit the Sharia to some aspects of human life and leave out others. […]The sharia thus covers every field of law – public and private, national and international – together with enormous amounts of material that Westerners would not regard as law at all…
Among the fields of law Rauf claims must be governed by Sharia are laws controlling religious observances, criminal law (which, according to the Imam, “includes crimes such as murder, larceny, fornication, drinking alcohol, libel”), family law, and economic laws. According to him it is imperative that these laws be followed by all humanity for fear of displeasing God:
…if you don’t want to be accused by God of being a depraved, disbelieving wrongdoer, you’ve got to abide by "what Allah has sent down…"
Rauf’s book also describes the punishments that must be meted out to those who disobey Sharia:
Theft, for which the punishment according to the Quranic rule is: “As for the male thief and the female thief, cut off their hands, as a punishment for what they have earned, an exemplary punishment from Allah…”
The punishment for a fornicator, not bound by marriage, is according to the majority of jurists one hundred lashes of the whip and exile for one year.
Rauf diverges irredeemably from the core American principle separating religion and government in a secular democracy. For all the talk of his constitutional right to build a mosque, Rauf’s writings reveal his desire to ultimately extirpate the 1st Amendment (as well as the 21st) from the Constitution. No American, especially not self-described liberals like Maureen Dowd, should wish to see this happen.
Ilya Feoktistov is the Research Director of Americans for Peace and Tolerance, a Boston-based interfaith group devoted to promoting peaceful coexistence in an ethnically-diverse America.