The word “sharia” has become almost a slur in conservative discourse recently. Protesters at Ground Zero wave signs showing the word in blood. A pamphlet at a recent tea party event asked, “Why do Muslims want to take over the world and place us under Shariah law?” And Newt Gingrich recently gave a speech decrying “the problem of creeping sharia.” But many Muslims tell the Washington Post that the word is getting a bad rap, and it doesn’t apply exclusively to extremism.
Sharia simply means “way” or “path” in Arabic. It refers to God’s law, but Muslims interpret that law in different ways. Some see it as “mandating that we live as Muslims did 1,300 years ago,” one imam says, but many others simply see it as a collection of principles to live by. Imam Feisal Rauf, the man heading up the Cordoba House, falls into the latter camp; he’s created a progressive Sharia Index, which rates countries’ “Islamicity” based on broad principles like protection of life, property, and religion.