American Law: Integrating Ultra-Traditional Muslims Through Accommodations


[This is the eighteenth in a series of my notes on the International Institute of Islamic Thought conference on approaching the Qur’an and Sunnah held in Herndon, VA. These notes are raw material for an edited report I will write on the conference later and represent my perception of the discussion. The proceedings will be published by IIIT at a later time. The Minaret of Freedom Institute thanks IIIT for the grant that makes the publication of these notes possible. Responsibility for any errors in the notes is mine alone.]

Session 18. Introduction by Yaqub Mirza

Doctoral thesis presentation by Mohammad El-Sanousi

“American Law: Integrating Ultra-Traditional Muslims Through Accommodations”

The dissertation deals with the disastrous consequences of the “Muslim Tablighi Jamaat of Arabi, Louisiana” opting out of insurance before Hurricane Katrina and the necessity of legal accommodations to allow them to obtain “Shariah-compliant” (takâful) insurance.

The Hasidic Jews following Lobovich, mainly in Brooklyn, are similar to the Tablighi Jamaat in their isolation. I look at the history of insurance in America and the communitarian element. I look at the incompatibility of commercial insurance with “Shariah compliance” and the passage of the “Takaful Act.”  I than ask what are the regulatory impediments. Insurance regulations are at the state level, which makes it easier to reform the system. The chapter on the legal structure is very lengthy and deals with religious freedom issues and the challenges of implementing the free exercise clause. There are legal accommodations, monetary accommodations, and permissive accommodations and limits on the accommodation. Despite these, we face implementation problems. I conclude that America is well prepared to accommodate religious groups of diverse traditions such as the Tablighi Jamaat.

I am specifically asking for accommodation in state laws by the insurance interpreting the law to permit takâful or else for legislators to amend the laws accordingly.

Hisham Altalib: Shariah has become a dirty word to the American public. What two sentences would you give the American public to reassure them?

Senusi: They think Shariah is about beheadings and stoning—

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad: –and burkas!

Senusi: Shariah should not be understood as something to be imposed on everybody. Even in the Muslim world there are many rights granted to people of other faiths.

Aisha Musa: Newt Gingerich is asking for a federal law that would prohibit what you are asking for. Gingerich’s call has been roundly condemned, but do you see a danger they may succeed?

Senusi: For a short while they will succeed, as they initially did against Islamic finance, but in the long run, because of the way this country is built, we will succeed. Not along ago I was asked would there ever be hijab the military, we have that right now.

Ahmad: You should be more specific as to what the legal obstacles are and what is required to remedy them.

Senusi: Letter 885 gives banks permission to engage in murâbiha or mudârabi.

Mirza: Mutual banking is already allowed, we only need interpretation to allow the investments.

Barzinji: This is as much a challenge for us as Muslims as to the states. We greatly admire the fact that we were given accommodation in financing homes Islamicly. I don’t see what changes are required. Is the only change needed to allow mutual banks to engage in professionally managed Shariah compliance financing? How can we do this without permitting reinsurance?

Senusi: By law you must have auto insurance. Tablighi Jamaat take that, but not property and casualty, which are optional. In comparing the laws of Texas and Virginia, we find the former more difficult, so we should establish it first in Virginia. Their argument against insurance is that they must rely on Allah (tawâkul).

Ayoub: In what way is insurance any less compliant with Shariah than going to a doctor?

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute

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