Hypocrisy ad infintumPosted: March 25, 2011
I actually know something about Sharia’h compliant finance and banking systems. They’re roughly similar to those used by orthodox Jewish communities in places like New York state that follow the biblical imperative of no usury. Just as orthodox Jewish communities have long been allowed clauses in laws providing institutions that reflect the no interest imperative, Minnesota had a program to help strict followers of the same Islamic imperative. That is until today when Governor and Presidential Wannabe Tim Pawlenty shut down a program aimed at structuring loans that would be compliant in both faiths. I want you to remember and read his rationale first.
Pawlenty’s objection: “The United States should be governed by the U.S. Constitution, not religious laws,” Conant said.
This is from a man that wants his extremist Christian views defining abortion rights among other things. Here’s some of the background from Adam Serwer who framed the Minnesota Housing program as Pawlenty’s “Sharia problem”.
Abid Lakhani wanted to buy a home.
Unfortunately, as an observant Muslim, his options were limited. Many Muslims hold that the paying or charging of interest is prohibited, which makes it difficult to purchase a home in the United States.
“The house I was living in, I was living in it for 22 years because I don’t believe in getting interest-bearing loans,” the 44-year-old insurance salesman and father of four explains. But after years of renting, he was finally able to acquire a home for himself and his family this month through University Islamic Financial, Corp., which structures house payments so as to avoid charging interest. “For a Muslim living in this day and age, it’s difficult to practice and stay within the rules of the faith,” Lakhani says. “These kinds of options weren’t available before.”
Sharia-compliant financing is a growing industry, particularly when it comes to mortgages. “Traditional secular, money lending banks are setting up Sharia-compliant products because they make money,” says Abed Awad, an attorney who specializes in Islamic law. Companies like Citigroup and Visa have tried their hand at Sharia-compliant products. Usually companies structure the payments in a sort of house-buying layaway plan. “It’s a major moneymaker for banks.” Shariah compliant mortgages allow observant Muslims like Lakhani to buy homes, where previously they were stuck renting to avoid interest payments.
There’s nothing sinister about the growth of Sharia-compliant finance. It is just capitalism at work, an emerging market in which firms are meeting demand for a particular kind of product. But a decision by one 2012 Republican hopeful, Tim Pawlenty, may come back to haunt him in the GOP presidential primary, where any association with Sharia-compliant finance could be toxic.
Yes, there is absolutely nothing sinister about Sharia’h finance or any other numbers of laws that we have that help people’s religious tenets co-exist with modern, secular life. This includes allowing Jehovah’s witness’s to forgo “so help me god” in oaths so they don’t take their god’s name in vain. They can say “I so affirm” instead. This clause lets me–an atheist and vajrayana Buddhist–say the same so I don’t have to violate my Buddhist and atheist precepts. I’m not suppose to do anything that puts any worldly gods ahead of dharma, sangha, and buddha. This includes all the possible monotheistic and polytheistic combinations of gods you can come up with. Every time I have to swear an oath, it puts an earthly god in front of my own beliefs. This really makes me highly uncomfortable. As a matter of fact, having to recognize some one else’s invisible friend creeps me out completely. So, you know that it’s not like I want to establish religious laws. I do believe that we can do things to accommodate various belief systems and this one is no more than an accommodation. Like I said, we have accommodated the same set up for Orthodox Jewish Communities for years. There were three people in Minnesota that used this particular accommodation.
Here’s Sewer’s explanation in The American Prospect which makes it even more sad that it was his article that motivated Pawlenty to remove the program from devout Muslims in Minnesota. Talk about stoking the flames of bigotry and hatred. Pawlenty’s probably afraid it will bite him in his extremist Republican ass; just as the article speculates.
While many conservatives believe Sharia-compliant finance is part of a “stealth jihad” to subvert the Constitution, Islamic finance is no more frightening than Kosher food. “You have a segment of society willing to pay more for products as long as they comply with their religious strictures,” Awad says. “We want to grow our businesses and make more money. This is the American way.” In 2005, when the MHFA issued its plan for increasing minority homeownership, the idea of the U.S. coming under Taliban-style Islamic law was still a fringe conspiracy theory, if it existed at all.
This just makes me sick. Pawlenty can’t rise above naked political pandering or the opportunity to be hatefully macho in the face of right wing republican religious extremists. Not even a subtle gesture of accommodation can ever be made by an ideologue and his fanatical followers.