Thursday, August 18, 2016

Khizr Khan and Sharia: Is there a meaningful connection?

I am not endorsing anything Mr. Khan is saying - nor am I saying Mr. Trump's behavior is in any way justified.  I am merely commenting on the evidence people seem to have which suggests Mr. Khan has a favorable opinion of Sharia law.

In an Islamic nation (like the UAE, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran etc...) all aspects of the legal system including the Constitution are defined by direct linkage to concepts discussed by Islamic religious scholars over the centuries. These centuries old concepts are broadly referred to as "Sharia Law" for want of a better word. Wikipedia has a good description of some of the key issues that come up under the rubric of "Sharia Law".

As the entire concept of the nation itself - as laid out in the constitution is defined with reference to ideas in Sharia Law - no practicing lawyer in an Islamic nation like UAE or Pakistan or KSA or Iran or whatever can write a legal position without referencing both the constitutional literature and the underlying Sharia concept. No judge in an Islamic nation can offer a judgement without similarly referencing either the appropriate constitutional image and its implicit Sharia guidelines.  When you are called to the bar in these countries you take an oath to protect the underlying principles of the legal system.

In the US (or India or UK or France ) - the place accorded to Sharia law in Islamic nations is taken by a less formalized canon of egalitarian concepts that arose during the European renaissance. Any lawyer in these countries writes an opinion or legal position by referencing specific constitutional clauses (and thus implicitly the underlying egalitarian ideals) . When you are called to the bar in these countries again you take an oath to protect the underlying principles of this legal system.

As Mr. Khan has indicated when he took the citizenship of the US, he offered his unquestioning loyalty to the US Constitution. As practicing lawyer he would have no option but to use only the principles and clauses of that same constitution in his daily life. Whatever his (or his peers') opinions about Sharia while lawyering in Pakistan or UAE might have been - they would be rendered irrelevant the moment he chose to work as a professional lawyer in the US.

Think of it like this - you grow up in Pakistan fixing cars. All your world revolves around is the Suzuki Mehran. You are good - you can take that apart and put it back together in your sleep. You dream of fixing Mehrans. But then you move to the US and you learn how to fix Fords, Chevys and so on. The detailed knowledge of the Mehran is completely useless when it comes to fixing cars in the US. So you learn new skills, forget about the Mehran and only dream of fixing American cars.

I realize this doesn't really address the question of where Mr. Khan's instantaneous loyalties lie. I don't think I can answer that question. I obviously respect the sacrifice of a "Gold Star" family. And it appears that Mr. Khan has already said he only places his faith in the US Constitution. So the prima facie evidence supports him.

If we are to consider prior statements as indicative of present intent, then Mr. Trump will be in big trouble as he seems to suffer from a perennial inability to maintain any kind of position on any issue. If Mr. Khan's prior statements are admissible than so are Mr. Trumps. I don't know if people who support Mr. Trump want that to actually happen.

I also concede that Mr. Khan certainly has a flair for the political. And I freely concede that Mr. Trump seems to be intent on political suicide.

Regarding Mr. Khan - a line from the movie Gandhi comes to mind - the line is supposed to something similar to what a well-to-do trader by the name of Haji Dada Abdullah said [1]

"I'm sure our community could keep you in work for some time, Mr. Gandhi - even if you caused a good deal of trouble. (Gandhi reacts uncertainly.) Especially if you caused a good deal of trouble."

[Hint Hint].


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