The Quran, of course, is the Muslim Bible — the words of Allah conveyed to Muhammad between 610 and 632 CE by the Angel Gabriel. Its organization makes it difficult for non-Muslims to understand; it is not arranged by chronology or subject as are the Jewish and Christian Bibles, but from, with exceptions, the longest to the shortest Sura, or chapters. The Hadith are collections of accounts of what Muhammad did and said, or did not do or say, during his lifetime.
His behavior is viewed by Muslims as the model for the conduct of all people. For Southern Christians, this should not be mysterious; as we drive along in this beautiful state, there are numerous signs reminding Christians to think about “What Would Jesus Do.” That is what the Hadith asks, but of Muhammad? Jesus, and many Jewish biblical personalities, are recognized in the Quran as Messengers like Muhammad, conveying God’s message to generations before Muhammad. For Muslims, Muhammad is the last Messenger, with the final word of God.
For Jews like me, and for most Alabama Christians, this is not what we believe. As a Jew, I resist the insistence of Christians that Jesus is the Last Word of God. Christians have the same hesitation about Muslim insistence that Muhammad is the Last Word. Muslims have the same problems with more recent prophets who insist that they have the only truth.
I believe we in America are very blessed by living in a nation not governed by any single religious law code. Our law is based on the U.S. Constitution, a long tradition of English Common Law, and the principle that an independent judiciary is the final arbiter for all disputes, civil or criminal. We should celebrate and steadfastly maintain a strict separation of state and religion. Where there is any doubt about how to maintain that separation, I firmly believe the wall of separation be strengthened, not weakened.
All organized religions have laws to govern behavior of their adherents. Muslims have Shariah. Catholics have Canon Law. Jews have Halakhah. These legal systems have rules for both civil and criminal behavior. Under the American legal system, these religious systems can be used if both parties to a dispute agree to religious judgment. If either party does not agree, or if the religious law cannot be supported by our civil law, the civil law prevails.
There is no danger of Shariah, Canon Law or Halakhah becoming law for Americans. State legislation will have no impact on this. States can neither declare Shariah to be banned, nor can any state impose Catholic Canon Law or any other religious law. There is no way that a Shariah ruling can condemn a woman to death by stoning for adultery, or chop off the right hand of a thief for his crime. This is the nation we are, and should be proud of being.
I have also been disturbed by the inquisition of American Muslims sponsored by New York Rep. Peter King. Yes, there are American Muslims who have been inspired by Osama bin Laden and his ilk to attack Americans. Bin Laden is a criminal who should be squashed like a roach in your kitchen. His crimes are beyond any justification, in Muslim law or international law. Terrorists, regardless of their political aims (King was an ardent supporter of the Irish Republican Army), must be deterred, and if they kill they must be caught and brought to justice.
As an American Jew, I am very sensitive to generalizations expressed by non-Jews about what we are like. Having been born and raised in the South, a resident of Alabama since 1975, I am also sensitive about the views other Americans and foreigners have of the South. These stereotypes are very hurtful. I hope my fellow Southerners will resist buying into the presumption that all Muslims are terrorists bent on killing us. They are not. Many Muslims speak out against extremists and report the most dangerous to the authorities. Perhaps they should speak louder, but perhaps we should also speak louder about zealots like Timothy McVeigh and deranged people who murder doctors and nurses performing legal abortions or plotting violence against a federal government they believe is evil.
I hope Muhammad N. Haq will accept my calling him “Brother.” Our governor and the managing editor of The Anniston Star may restrict that relationship to only Christians who believe as they do. I choose to believe everyone is my brother or sister until their behavior challenges that belief.
Daniel E. Spector lives in Jacksonville.