President Barack Obama’s adviser on Muslim affairs, Dalia Mogahed, has provoked controversy by appearing on a British television show hosted by a member of an extremist group to talk about Sharia Law.
Miss Mogahed, appointed to the President’s Council on Faith-Based and Neighbourhood Partnerships, said the Western view of Sharia was “oversimplified” and the majority of women around the world associate it with “gender justice”.
The White House adviser made the remarks on a London-based TV discussion programme hosted by Ibtihal Bsis, a member of the extremist Hizb ut Tahrir party.
The group believes in the non-violent destruction of Western democracy and the creation of an Islamic state under Sharia Law across the world.
Miss Mogahed appeared alongside Hizb ut Tahrir’s national women’s officer, Nazreen Nawaz.
During the 45-minute discussion, on the Islam Channel programme Muslimah Dilemma earlier this week, the two members of the group made repeated attacks on secular “man-made law” and the West’s “lethal cocktail of liberty and capitalism”.
They called for Sharia Law to be “the source of legislation” and said that women should not be “permitted to hold a position of leadership in government”.
Miss Mogahed made no challenge to these demands and said that “promiscuity” and the “breakdown of traditional values” were what Muslims admired least about the West.
She said: “I think the reason so many women support Sharia is because they have a very different understanding of sharia than the common perception in Western media.
“The majority of women around the world associate gender justice, or justice for women, with sharia compliance.
“The portrayal of Sharia has been oversimplified in many cases.”
Sharia in its broadest sense is a religious code for living, which decrees such matters as fasting and dressing modestly. However, it has also been interpreted as requiring the separation of men and women.
It also includes the controversial “Hadd offences”, crimes with specific penalties set by the Koran and the sayings of the prophet Mohammed. These include death by stoning for adultery and homosexuality and the removal of a hand for theft.
Miss Mogahed admitted that even many Muslims associated Sharia with “maximum criminal punishments” and “laws that… to many people seem unequal to women,” but added: “Part of the reason that there is this perception of Sharia is because Sharia is not well understood and Islam as a faith is not well understood.”
The video of the broadcast has now been prominently posted on the front page of Hizb ut Tahrir’s website.
Miss Mogahed, who was born in Egypt and moved to America at the age of five, is the first veiled Muslim woman to serve in the White House. Her appointment was seen as a sign of the Obama administration’s determination to reach out to the Muslim world.
She is also the executive director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, a project which aims to scientifically sample public opinion in the Muslim world.
During this week’s broadcast, she described her White House role as “to convey… to the President and other public officials what it is Muslims want.”
Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America, said Miss Mogahed was “downplaying” Sharia Law.
“There is a reason sharia has got a bad name and it is how it has been exercised. Regrettably in the US there have been acts of injustice perpetrated against women that are driven by the Sharia-type mindset that women are objects not human beings,” she said.
She cited the example of Muzzammil Hassan, a Buffalo man who ran a cable channel aimed at countering Muslim stereotypes and was charged earlier this year with beheading his wife after she filed for divorce.
“Americans understand by example, it’s not as if we are an ignorant mass of people. Just as we don’t broad brush all Muslims, so should Dalia not downplay the serious nature of sharia law.”