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The importance of minority rights

In response to: Walking and talking in the Arab street

I read with interest Christopher Shea ’91’s article describing Professor Amaney Jamal’s studies of Arab public opinion. Professor Jamal’s polls offer the following insights:

1) “Muslims ... don’t want to be in a situation where there is going to be another 9/11 ... that could set the community’s efforts at integration back a hundred years.”

2) What Muslims “value the most about the United States is that this is a country that allows for religious ­practice.”

3) “In all of the countries except religiously diverse Lebanon, majorities thought that legislatures must pass laws that accord with Sharia, or Islamic law.”

4) “Majorities in those countries also said that they did not believe that non-Muslims should have fewer rights than Muslims. ... [T]hey had a[n] ... elastic concept of Sharia. ... ‘It’s all about justice, or about democracy, or equality.’”

The common thread between these issues is minority rights. Exploring expectations regarding minority rights is on the same order of importance as understanding the struggle between moderation and extremism as these cultures interact. It would be interesting to ask some specific questions like these in a follow-up survey:

1) Should non-Sharia law overrule Sharia   law for Muslims where they are a minority?

2) Should Sharia law overrule non-Sharia law for minority populations in Muslim-majority countries?

3) How should a convert to Islam be treated under secular law in a Muslim-minority country?

4) How should a convert from Islam be treated under Sharia law in a Muslim-majority country?

5) What distinction should be made under Sharia law between Christians, Jews, Hindus, and atheists?

Michael Singer ’77
Santa Cruz, Calif.

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