By Sandra Wideman
This week, one of the leading authorities on Islamic Law and Chair of the Islamic Studies Program at UCLA, Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl, spoke at the 2011 Kenner Lecture Series at Lehigh University's Zoellner Center. Dr. El Fadl served on the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom under President George W. Bush. He is considered a prominent scholar in the field of human rights. Having received 13 years of "systematic instruction in Islamic jurisprudence" in Egypt and Kuwait, Dr. El Fadl's discussion entitled "Is Shari'ah the Solution? The Promises and Problematics of Divine Law Today" focused primarily on Egypt's post-revolution and restructuring in the context of Islamic jurisprudence.
Speaking in a casual, relaxed style, Dr. El Fadl walked his audience -- students, professors, and local community -- through a ten-point document issued earlier this year by Al-Azhar University. Al-Azhar is the pre-eminent, thousand-year-old institution of learning and seat of Sunni-Muslim authoritative Islamic Law in Cairo. After citing each of the ten items which were comprised of words sounding like the basic precepts of Western secular democracy -- freedom, justice, and human rights -- Dr. El Fadl added that the "Puritans" (Wahabi and Salafi) in Cairo and elsewhere in the Middle East object to it on the basis of its incompatibility with hand-chopping and stoning as punishments commonly in use today in the Middle East. However the Muslim Brotherhood accepted the document in its totality.
Laying out Muslim dissension over the Al-Azhar document Dr. El Fadl hoped to prove that Islam is divided between the Muslim "extremists" like the Wahabis and Muslim "moderates" like the Muslim Brotherhood. Despite the fact that all Muslims (whether active or non-active) believe in one Islam, one of Dr. El Fadl's apparent specialties and the theme of his book, The Great Theft, is concerned with ensuring the proliferation of the misleading argument held by some that because the majority of Muslims do not act according to their faith as spelled out in the Koran that Islamic doctrine is justified as good. Even worse, the divided response to the Al-Azhar document as he described left his audience with the general impression that the Muslim Brotherhood is moderate and, by definition, a rational, non-violent, pro-democracy organization.