As the United States Supreme Court judges sit in their chamber, to their right, front, and the left sides are friezes depicting the 18 greatest lawgivers of the world.
The second frieze to the right features a person holding a copy of the Quran, the Islamic holy book. It is intended to recognize Prophet Muhammad as one of the greatest lawgivers in the world, along with Moses, Solomon, Confucius, and Hammurabi, among others.
Here is what the Supreme Court’s website says about this frieze:
Muhammad (c. 570 - 632) The Prophet of Islam. He is depicted holding the Qur’an. The Qur’an provides the primary source of Islamic Law. Prophet Muhammad’s teachings explain and implement Qur’anic principles. The figure above is a well-intentioned attempt by the sculptor, Adolph Weinman, to honor Muhammad, and it bears no resemblance to Muhammad. Muslims generally have a strong aversion to sculptured or pictured representations of their Prophet.
In the year in which the frieze of Prophet Muhammad was erected, Franklin D. Roosevelt was president, and Charles Evans Hughes was the Chief Justice. It is not known how the court deliberated on this architectural contribution. No one at that time thought it inappropriate to include Prophet Muhammad as one of the greatest lawgivers of the world at the chambers of the United States Supreme Court. This was despite the fact that American society at that time was not as diverse as it is today. Women had just acquired the right to vote, and Japanese-Americans were about to be sent to concentration camps.
While the learned people in our country knew of the contribution of Prophet Muhammad, our neighbors today are given regular doses of misinformation about the Prophet and Sharia, the path of the Prophet, more commonly described as Islamic law.
Prophet Muhammad’s Peace And Justice Movement
Prophet Muhammad envisioned a just and peaceful society. With a mass peace movement, he achieved this goal during his life. He hated war and always preferred a peace treaty with his opponents, even if it was not favorable to his and his followers’ interests. He established his first peace sanctuary in the city of Madinah without any war whatsoever. While he did fight to defend that peace sanctuary, it is critical to note that the total time of actual fighting defending his people was not more than six days in his life of 63 years. He struggled to secure a peace that ensured justice and liberation for all people, especially for those most marginalized and oppressed.
Here are some of the Prophet’s notable contributions
He taught that there is one God for all mankind.
He taught Muslims to believe in all of the prophets and all divinely revealed scriptures, especially Biblical ones.
As the Prophet established a peace sanctuary called Madinah after his migration from Makkah, he negotiated treaties with the Jews and the pagans of Madinah. Muslims consider these treaties to be the first written surviving constitution in the world. The constitution guaranteed freedom of religion, self-governance, and legal autonomy in all matters. It called for the common defense of Madinah, and declared the Jews, pagans, and Muslims of that treaty to be one nation, or “one Ummah.”
He prohibited hunting and the cutting of trees in the peace sanctuary of Madinah.
He declared killing non-combatants to be illegal, placed severe restrictions on how warfare could be conducted, and even paid compensation for the killing of some dogs by one of his commanders.
The Prophet’s teachings and the Quran are the two major sources of Sharia. Some of his precepts include the following:
Moral behavior: personal cleanliness; emphasis on preservation and nourishment of all life forms, including plants and animals; rituals and spirituality of prayers; fasting and charity; righteous conduct and good deeds; and rights of parents, children, spouses, and neighbors.
Interpersonal relations: teaching to enhance human relations and to avoid breaking relationships; encouraging mutual consultation in all affairs; prohibiting bigotry and racism; and emphasizing kindness and hospitality toward others, especially the weak and the poor.
Financial guidelines: encouraging charity, rights of the poor, respect for workers, and rejection of exploitation; and circulation of wealth among all classes.
Personal rules and laws regarding privacy, gender relations, marriage, divorce, and inheritance.
Criminal laws implementing the many of the Ten Commandments. (The only one of the Ten Commandments not having a parallel statement in the Quran is the one having to do with keeping the Sabbath.) Less than two percent of Quranic verses deal with the criminal law of Islam, which is a part of the Sharia but not the totality of it.
The Prophet asked his judges to make things easy for people, not difficult.
He declared all sins forgivable as long as a person asks God’s forgiveness and that of the one who has been wronged.
The Prophet gave special emphasis to honoring treaties, standing up for justice, and opposing oppression.
Why Muslims Often Demand Sharia In The Muslim World
In the Muslim world, many Muslims are sick and tired of their corrupt leaders. As such, they demand Sharia, envisioning a return to a just and peaceful system like the time when a caliph would submit himself without any immunity to a judge on an equal footing with his accuser. The United Nations gives all nations the right to self-determination. That is how even in the U.S.-brokered constitutions of Afghanistan and Iraq there is importance given to Sharia principles.
Unfortunately, the brutal and often biased implementation of criminal law in some Muslim countries has given Sharia a bad name. The Prophet would be horrified to see this merciless brutality in the name of Islam by some Muslims.
It Is Against Sharia To Impose Sharia On Anyone!
Almost all the Sharia with which Muslim Americans deal relates to personal religious life, ethics, morality, and human relationships. Practicing Muslims live Sharia every day as they pray, fast, eat Halal (permissible in Islam) food, practice charity, raise families, and serve communities. Sharia is like Halacha, which is practiced by Jews in America. Jews in America even operate Jewish courts in the U.S., called Beth Din. Muslim Americans do not operate any such courts.
Muslim Americans are subject to U.S. laws, just like any other citizens. No Muslim has called for the replacement of the U.S. Constitution with Sharia. Sharia is neither a constitution nor is it all law. It is actually against Sharia to impose Sharia on anyone. Further, Sharia only applies to Muslims, not to non-Muslims.
Muslims have been demanding equal protection under the U.S. Constitution since their rights are regularly violated in the current Islamophobic environment in which we are living, where Muslims are continuously targeted and subjected to bigotry and prejudice.
America’s Founding Fathers were wise people. Today’s Islamophobes can learn a great deal from them. In the Treaty of Peace and Friendship (1796) between the United States and Tripoli they stated:
“As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion, as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen (Muslims)…”
For more Muslim perspectives about Sharia please visit Sharia101.org.
Please also read Rose Wilder Lane’s Discovery of Freedom. She is the daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder, of Little House on the Prairie fame. She considered Prophet Muhammad, Prophet Abraham, and the American Revolution to be the three major sources of freedom in the world.
Muhammad: A Prophet For Our Time, by Karen Armstrong, published by HarperCollins Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources, by Martin Lings, published by Inner Traditions