It’s 2011, a few weeks after I had started wearing a hijab, and I’m rummaging through the chip section of a 7-11.
In the early stages of my hijab, there were days that I forgot I even had it on, and there were days that I was hyper-aware of every look I received or conversation happening in my vicinity. This day was the latter.
Across from me were two employees, struggling to get the Slurpee machine running again, glancing up at me every few minutes as I tried to decide between salt & vinegar or ketchup chips (I went with ketchup; sorry Americans).
As I made my way to the register, I overheard their muffled comments: “Are you sure she didn’t steal anything?”
“Yeah, I’m sure. Her brothers would cut her hands off if she did,” the other laughed.
I silently paid for my chips and left.
From “They’ll chop off your hand if they catch you stealing!” to “You’ll get stoned to death if you don’t follow their rules,” misconceptions and harsh narratives surrounding Muslims and our laws have followed the word “sharia” around like a dark cloud for years. These ideas are filtered through into Western media, pop culture, and even in kids’ movies (here’s looking at you, Aladdin).
Sharia law shouldn’t be a scary term, but thanks to the maintained Islamophobic narrative of Islam over decades, and lack of information, it is. And is often diluted down into an Islamophobic explanation meant to shame Muslims and make us sound barbaric, when in reality it’s a complex set of principles that has evolved and will continue to do so.
Beyond being taken out of context and misinterpreted, what should be a guideline to help Muslims get closer to God, has been refracted through xenophobic lenses. And capital punishment, in particular, is a point that is often twisted and criticised.
The narrative that has been written over and over again about the death penalty, specifically in Muslim countries, has been made very clear: It’s a barbaric act, carried out by a barbaric people. But on the other side of the world, as prisoners sit on death row for years, capital punishment (where legal) in the West is seen as an act of national security – a way to keep the public safe from an individual that has been deemed dangerous enough to be sentenced to death. And whether you agree with it or not, there’s no doubt that the connotation that capital punishment carries in the West is much more “justified” and “civilized” than its Eastern counterparts.
So this isn’t about whether or not you agree with the death penalty – this is about the fact Eurocentrism is still so deeply engrained that somehow the exact same act can hold such drastically different implications.
Sharia law has been deemed as a “danger” to the West, and with ill-informed anti-sharia movements popping up around every corner, it’s easy to forget that the death penalty – often regarded as the “most barbaric” – is very much a thing that happens in the West. This double standard is rooted in a multitude of things – the Western superiority complex, Islamophobia, a lack of education, etc. So this isn’t about whether or not you agree with the death penalty – this is about the fact Eurocentrism is still so deeply engrained that somehow the exact same act can hold such drastically different implications.
It’s important to understand that Islamophobia isn’t just microagressions and acts of violence; it’s a result of orientalism. And while Islamophobia itself is the child of ignorance, this particular brand of ignorance comes from a thirst for supremacy and authority. It’s an attempt to further “other” and exaggerate the differences between Muslims and everyone else, and further perpetuating dangerous stereotypes.
In the fight against ignorance, knowledge is always the most powerful weapon (as cliché as it sounds). The death penalty in Islam is a complex and multifaceted topic that can’t and shouldn’t be thinned into a fear tactic. And it’s easy to adopt an ill-informed opinion on something if you’re ignorant to its criteria, history, and specifics. The point is: If you’re going to have an opinion on something, make sure it’s based in some sort of knowledge, and keep that same energy when it comes to the dominate group.