Opinion

Khaled Abou El Fadl: Ambassador for Sharia

The Omar and Azmeralda Alfi Professor of Law at UCLA interlaced biographical narrative with Islamist-tinged political commentary that was both illuminating and disturbing.

The University of California, Los Angeles. Credit: Michael Gordon/Shutterstock.
The University of California, Los Angeles. Credit: Michael Gordon/Shutterstock.
Andrew E. Harrod
Andrew E. Harrod, a Middle East Forum Campus Watch fellow, freelance researcher and writer, is a fellow at the Lawfare Project. Follow him on X @AEHarrod.

“We are ambassadors for a historical legacy that we identify as Sharia law,” proclaimed Khaled Abou El Fadl to his fellow Muslims during a March 26 keynote speech for the National Muslim Law Students Association 2022 conference.

The Omar and Azmeralda Alfi Professor of Law at UCLA, Abou El Fadl interlaced a biographical narrative with Islamist-tinged political commentary that was both illuminating and disturbing. In typical Islamist fashion, he insisted on the centrality of Sharia to Muslim life, whether in the West or in Muslim nations.

Noting the growing number of Muslim lawyers in America, Abou El Fadl discussed how, while a law student at the University of Pennsylvania, “being the only Muslim, I felt a deep sense of isolation and otherness.” At the time, Muslim immigrant communities in America favored their children to strive for computer science, engineering or medical degrees. In contrast, law school was “evidence that you are a disappointment to your family and a disappointment to life,” he said.

Certain incidents manifested Abou El Fadl’s loneliness. His Islamic prayers in the law school library were reportedly so odd to his inquiring fellow law students that during his prayer breaks, he wore a sign on his back that read “Muslim in prayer. Please don’t disturb.”

Shockingly, he claimed to have once received a note with “camel jockey, go back to your camels” amid his torn mail. The law-school administration did not send a general note to its student body about mutual tolerance and respect, Abou El Fadl noted with dismay. Yet later, a swastika drawn on a Jewish student’s locker prompted a school circular from the law-school dean and a school investigation. These two reactions, he noted, were “very different.”

Rather than evoke sympathy among non-Muslims, Abou El Fadl’s explanation for why many American Muslims did not study law in years past would disturb non-Muslims. “The question that I would most often get from my fellow Muslims was, ‘Isn’t it haram to study kafir law?’ ” he asked, indicating that many Muslims considered infidel (kafir) American law to be prohibited (haram). This Muslim aversion to non-Islamic influences contradicted this Sharia apologist’s plea to non-Muslims to accept Islamic law as benign: “Please understand the historical reality of Sharia law and please don’t be hostile to the historical reality.”

Abou El Fadl labored—and failed—to present Sharia as one of many benign legal systems from around the world. “There is something in the Western psyche and deep in the American psyche that would like to keep Muslims boxed in with the exotic concept of Islamic law as foreign law,” he protested. Therefore, Muslims should get Americans “to have the same attitude towards Sharia law that they would, for instance, towards Jewish law or towards any other foreign legal system.”

For Abou El Fadl, concerns about Sharia stem from bigotry. “In this day and age, ‘Islamophobia’ has become an inescapable reality,” he said. “I have watched ‘Islamophobia’ grow and become a beast.” Of course, he conveniently omitted Sharia’s oppression of women, slavery, dhimmitude for non-Muslims and draconian punishments, including capital punishment for apostasy from Islam and stoning for adultery—all sufficient reasons for preventing its use in any Western polity.

But determined to find prejudice where only common sense prevails, Abou El Fadl protested that “all the occupants of Guantanamo are Muslim,” an absurd complaint since the post-9/11 “war on terror” responded to jihadi attacks against the United States and the wider world. He similarly condemned former President Donald Trump’s misnamed “Muslim ban” without explaining why the United States should not impose travel restrictions upon terrorist hotspots in Muslim countries.

Unintentionally undercutting his allegations of societal inequality in America, Abou El Fadl cited the Western tradition of redress under equality of the law, something for which Sharia is not well-known. “Among the most distinctive features of the Western civilization at large, but the American civilization, in particular, is the power of law,” he said. “Law in this society is a vehicle to power, and we have to matter in the political map of this country,” he insisted.

What Abou El Fadl intends to do with such power is alarming, even as he discussed human-rights abuses against China’s Uyghurs or Myanmar’s Rohingya. Along with such issues, “Allah cares far more about what you as a Muslim do about Jerusalem and Israeli apartheid” than “polite platitudes you can say about Sharia law,” he said. This allusion to longstanding jihadist efforts to destroy Israel only underlined Sharia’s bloody legacy. His allusion to the Al-Aqsa mosque on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, where Muslims often react with rage to the slightest Jewish presence on Judaism’s holiest site, only highlighted this history.

Not that Abou El Fadl feels bound by historical fact, given his reliance on the apocryphal tale that Muslims from Spain and West Africa arrived in the Americas in the 10th century. Therefore, he claimed that “Islam was part of the reality of the United States even going back to Native American populations”—i.e., pre-Columbian. In this, he drew on the historiography of pseudo-scholarship from a variety of sources, both Afrocentric and Islamocentric, which scholars of the region have been thoroughly discredited. That a chaired UCLA law professor would hawk such myths further evinces academe’s decadence.

Similarly revealing was his disappointment that Muslim immigrants have joined those of other backgrounds in assimilating to American culture—hardly shocking for a Sharia advocate. “The reality that is rather uncomfortable is that successive waves of Muslims have come to the West, including the United States, and eventually became absorbed and vanished,” he grumbled. Thus, “there has been a consistent trend for Muslims to eventually assimilate” and “to become absorbed and eventually swallowed up and lose their Islam in the West, generally, but in the United States, particularly.”

While Abou El Fadl’s frustrations offer some consolation, it is alarming that an advocate for the brutal laws of Sharia enjoys an endowed perch at one of the country’s elite universities.

Andrew E. Harrod, a Campus Watch Fellow, freelance researcher and writer, is a fellow with the Lawfare Project. Follow him on Twitter at: @AEHarrod.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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