“Nothing is off the table. I don’t think you could possibly insult me,” said Robert Azzi. His June 7th talk: “Ask a Muslim Anything” at the Berwick [Maine] Public Library began at 6:00 pm and I arrived five minutes late. Before I could find a seat and unpack my camera and recorder, the Q&A had started. The first question was something about President Trump not inviting Muslims somewhere. I didn’t hear it exactly and Aziz gave an answer critical of Trump and many in the audience giggled appreciatively. It was a clue about the political leanings of speaker and audience.
The first questions were from women concerning Muslim women driving in Saudi Arabia and wearing head coverings. Aziz offered a short history of women in Islam going back to “The Prophet” as he referred to Muhammed, who lived 1400 years ago. He described a rising patriarchy a few centuries ago and strengthening in 20th century Saudi Arabia.
Up to this point, Azzi answered questions graciously. Then a man asked: “Doesn’t that mean that she’s being ‘sharia compliant’ when she wears the head scarf?”
Azzi’s demeanor changed abruptly. “No!” he said.
A woman asked him to repeat the question and he did, whereupon the questioner said: “…and by the way I have several references in the Koran to where it’s mandatory and also in Muhammed’s Sunna…”
Azzi talked over him saying: “Let’s just take one question at a time, shall we?”
“Well, I wanted to go back to the other question…”
“Well, let me — let me talk about sharia for a minute, all right?” said Azzi, clearly agitated.
“Sure, that would be good,” said the man.
“I think, for example, that a lot of Muslims can lead a more sharia-compliant life the United States than they can in most Muslim majority countries, and that is…” Then he stopped, and said testily to the questioner, “Don’t look so puzzled. Let me finish here.” I recalled his opening assertion that nothing would be off the table and he couldn’t possibly be insulted.
“Sharia is not a body of law,” he claimed.
“But it is a body of law,” the man said. “It was codified in ‘The Reliance of the Traveller’ back in the 14th century.”
Talking over him again and stuttering about Torquemada and the Spanish Inquisition, he raised his voice and said: “Now let me finish!”
The rest is here.