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California’s Shariah-Compliant Newspaper By: Lloyd Billingsley
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, April 01, 2009

That is the pull quote and nut graph for a remarkable page-one, above-the-fold story in the Sacramento Bee on Monday, March 30, headlined “Islam’s financial laws can protect followers,” in the print version. On the website of the Bee, the only daily in California’s capital, the headline reads “Islamic laws of finance a cushion in hard times.”

“The recession gripping the nation has taken less of a toll on American Muslims who follow age-old Islamic laws against paying – or charging – interest,” says the lead of the story, by Stephen Magagnini.

“They've also been shielded by socially responsible retirement plans because Shariah– Islamic law – forbids investments in banks and mortgages as well as tobacco, alcohol, gambling, pornography or weapons.”

The pull quote, “If everybody was Shariah-compliant, there would be no recession,” comes courtesy of Farouk Fakira, a Yemeni immigrant who last recently moderated a discussion on Islamic finance at Sacramento's Masjid Annur Islamic Center. Imam Abdul Azeez of the Sacramento Area League of Associated Muslims (SALAM) defines Sharia as 1,400 years of Islamic legal knowledge based on the words of the Prophet Muhammad, and which guide Muslims in daily life.

A page-one sidebar also explains three Shariah prohibitions: Gharar, or risk; Maysir, gambling and Riba, interest or usury. Imam Azeez says that if students can’t get loans interest free, they should get one with a rate as close as possible to inflation because “they cancel each other out.”

The article estimates that 20 percent of the Sacramento area’s 50,000 Muslims closely follow Islamic rules of finance. Some appear to follow them not so closely. Deya Dean Elghassein, a Palestinian American, explains that he uses credit cards but pays them off in full at the end of the month. He declines to invest in Costco because it sells pork and alcohol, but he and others shop there “out of necessity.”

Irfan Haq, an economist and president of the Council of Sacramento Valley Islamic Organizations, tells Mr. Magagnini that “Muslims in general have been much less affected by the recession because they're very cautious and conservative in matters of finance and take a longer-term view of life. . . They want to invest their funds in a way that pleases God so they can sleep peacefully – they care about the afterlife.”

The piece also cites Mohammed Memon, a Pakistani American who has a 401 (K) through Amana Mutual Funds “a Shariah-compliant fund” based in Bellingham, Washington. Such funds, he says are “relatively better than other funds.”

Egyptian microbiologist Hamza El-Nakhal did get a bank loan to buy a house when he came to the United States 40 years ago. Then there were no Islamic lending institutions but now they exist, such as Shariah-compliant Lariba Bank of southern California, founded in 1987. Lariba lends without interest and instead charges its clients rent on the property.

How this works in practice will not be entirely clear to the general reader. Neither will the contention that if everybody were Shariah-compliant there would be no recession, which could use some scrutiny by an economist or two, and which recalls the declaration of Lorenzo St. Du Bois in The Producers that “if everybody had a flower instead of a gun there would be no wars.”

In a news story it is customary to balance sweeping assertions with contrary information. At no point, however, does the Bee’s Stephen Magagnini do anything but record the statements of his Islamic subjects. Readers are evidently to assume that Shariah prevents inflation, that Shariah-compliant funds are indeed “relatively better” and that Shariah-compliant retirement plans “socially responsible.”

Might other plans along more standard lines be irresponsible or morally suspect? The author does not take up the question, and raises none of the church-state entanglement issues normally brought to bear on religious themes. For example, if a local minister had proclaimed, “If everybody was a Baptist, there would be no recession,” one may be sure, contrary opinion would be mandatory, along with a quote from the ACLU.

This amazing page-one story, with multiple photos, gives no clue that there might be any clash between Shariah law and the Constitution of the United States. The treatment of women under Islamic law, for example, does not exactly square with U.S. law and general practice in Western societies, likewise the treatment of homosexuals. Criminal law in Western societies is decidedly at odds with the Shariah approach. And if Islamic law is such a flywheel of prosperity and security, one wonders why anyone would bother moving to the United States.

The story does not mention attempts to allow Shariah law in Ontario, and does not cite Australian finance minister Peter Costello. In a 2006 speech, Costello said that those who want to live under Shariah law might feel at ease in Iran and Saudi Arabia, but not in Australia, where there was “one law” that proceeded from “the democratically elected legislature.”

Nobody is talking that way in America, certainly not in the politically correct capital of America’s most populous state, where the only daily newspaper is fully Shariah-compliant and runs Shariah ad-copy free of charge on the front page.

Lloyd Billingsley is the author of From Mainline to Sideline, the Social Witness of the National Council of Churches, and Hollywood Party: How Communism Seduced the American Film Industry in the 1930s and 1940s.

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