FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (Sept. 29, 2011) -- After attending his class on Sharia law, Professor Raj Bhala hopes U.S. Army Special Operations officers will have a better understanding of what motivates Muslim extremists.
"Should they encounter violent extremists, they can look at that person and say: I know that what you're saying about your own political system is wrong," Bhala said.
Associate Dean for International and Comparative Law and Rice Distinguished Professor at the University of Kansas School of Law, Bhala recently published a book, "Understanding Islamic Law (Shari'a)." He is teaching an elective to Command and General Staff College students through a program funded by the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School. Bhala, an American Catholic, has practiced international banking law at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, which twice granted him the President's Award for Excellence.
Bhala started his class by explaining that Sharia law, meaning "the path," has its source from the Muslim holy book, the Quran. Unlike western law, which often has inspiration from Judeo-Christian values, Bhala said religion and law are inseparable in the Muslim world.
"We don't conceive of American law as a path to eternity," he said. "It's not a whole way of life for our public and private behavior."
Sharia law governs many things such as property law, business contracts, banking, sex crimes, drinking and stealing, and many others.
The spectrum of what Sharia laws mean and how they are practiced vary for Muslims in non-Muslim countries and even Muslim countries. There are supporting texts, such as the Sunnah. In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Iran, Bhala said, Sharia is the source of law. In Turkey, Muslim law is part of the culture for Muslim people, but not the principal source for the country's legal system. After the Arab Spring, many countries are disputing the way these laws are practiced and enforced, Bhala said.
"Every legal system has this kind of battle -- what's authentically in the constitution and what's a reasonable extension," he said.
Bhala said in the case of violent extremists, many times Muslims don't understand Sharia or are manipulated with advice based on bad or politically motivated legal texts.
"It's an odd situation where there not only needs to be re-educating in the Muslim world, but also, we need to do the educating," he said.
For Muslim women, Bhala said, it is not authentically Islamic to give women lower quality food or less education.
Linda Ryan, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency student in the Intermediate Level Education class 2012-01, said she's heard many misconceptions about Sharia law.
"People have these perceptions about the Islamic religion, and a lot of it for me has been dispelled just by doing the reading," she said.
Lt. Col. Joe Cieslo, CGSC facilitator for the class, said Special Operations officers study Sharia law to better understand their operational environment. These include Special Forces, Civil Affairs and Military Information Support officers, formerly Psychological Operations.
"They're not part of the legal body, but have an influence," Cieslo said of the Special Operations officers serving in Afghanistan.
Cieslo said as part of counterinsurgency warfare, these Soldiers have the responsibility of helping local leaders rebuild their nations.
"It just really helps understand the nuances of their society and culture," he said.
The program funded by the JFK Special Warfare Center and School allows for Special Operations officers to receive a master's degree in global and international studies from KU while attending ILE at CGSC.