Demonstrations against Islamic law Saturday in cities across the U.S. drew counter-protests by people who said they stoked unfounded fears and a distorted view of the religion.
Hundreds marched through downtown Seattle, banging drums, cymbals and cowbells behind a large sign saying “Seattle stands with our Muslim neighbours.” Participants chanted “No hate, no fear, Muslims are welcome here” on their way to City Hall, while a phalanx of bicycle police officers separated them from an anti-Shariah rally numbering in the dozens.
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In front of the Trump building in downtown Chicago, about 30 people demonstrated against Islamic law and in favour of President Donald Trump, shouting slogans and holding signs that read “Ban Sharia” and “Sharia abuses women.” About twice as many counter-protesters marshalled across the street.
A similar scene played out in a park near a New York courthouse, where counter-protesters sounded air-horns and banged pots and pans in an effort to silence an anti-Shariah rally.
“The theme of today is drowning out racism,” said counter-protester Tony Murphy, standing next to demonstrators with colorful earplugs. “The more racists get a platform, the more people get attacked.”
The rallies, held in more than two dozen U.S. cities, were organized by ACT for America, which claims Islamic law is incompatible with Western democracy.
The organization said it opposes discrimination and supports the rights of those subject to Shariah. However, the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, calls it the largest American anti-Muslim group.
“I don’t believe Islam can peacefully co-exist with the Constitution,” said Seattle anti-Shariah demonstrator Aaron Bassford, 29. “I’m not going to tell them they can come here and take away my Second Amendment right. We need unity in this country under no ideology and no banner except the Constitution of the United States of America.”
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But the overwhelming majority of Muslims don’t want to replace U.S. law with Islamic law, known as Shariah, and only “radical extremist groups” would call for that, said Liyakat Takim, a professor of Islamic studies at McMaster University in the Canadian city of Hamilton, Ontario.
Shariah, Takim said, refers to guidelines or principles – how Muslims should live. “Fiqh” refers to jurisprudence, or specific laws. The values embedded in Shariah do not change and are shared among Muslims, he said, while fiqh is open to interpretation and change, and in fact differs among Islamic sects and communities.
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“The Qur’an allows slavery, so does the Old Testament. That doesn’t mean we allow it today, too,” Takim said. “Laws are amenable to change.”
The marches come amid a rise in reports of anti-Muslim incidents in the U.S., including arson attacks and vandalism at mosques, harassment of women wearing Muslim head coverings and bullying of Muslim schoolchildren.
In St. Paul, Minnesota, the demonstrations were mostly peaceful until some people leaving a rally inside the Capitol encountered counter-protesters outside.
A confrontation that included shoving and punching occurred, The Star Tribune reported. The Minnesota State Patrol separated the groups and appeared to make at least one arrest.
In California, small but raucous demonstrations were held in a handful of cities, including San Bernardino, where a husband and wife inspired by the Islamic State group killed 14 people and wounded 22 in a 2015 shooting attack.
Clusters of protesters and counter-protesters gathered on four corners of an intersection at a memorial to the slain. Anti-Islamic law demonstrators marched past the building where the shootings occurred.
Denise Zamora, 39, of Upland said the group wasn’t opposed to all Muslims. “We’re anti-Shariah. We’re anti-radicals,” she said.
“It’s coming in very slowly, and a lot of the refugees are bringing that ideology here,” Zamora said of Shariah. “All of it is just barbaric.”
No arrests were made at the San Bernardino rally, and there were no reports of violence, police spokeswoman Eileen Hards said.
But it was noisy, with groups chanting, yelling and waving American flags and posters proclaiming various causes.
“There’s an anti-Trump, a pro-Trump, anti-extremists, so there are a variety of messages here,” Hards said. “There are so many messages going on that I’m not sure who’s who.”