Note: News connected with Islam fills the papers every day –often linked
with abrasive conflicts after 9/11. We are working a long-term project —
voir dire questions when the accused is Muslim. To adequately prepare, a
litigator must understand at least the fundamentals of Islam. Much of the
following material is based on an excellent Books on Tape by Prof. Mark
Berkson of Hamline University and the comments of Adam El-Halim, a gifted
law student in North Carolina.
Islamic history is an amazing story encompassing clerics, scientists, and
philosophers. It encompasses many schools of law and theology.
Learning about the beliefs and practices of Islam is essential to understand
a Muslim client and prepare a workable voir dire questionnaire for potential
Some interesting specifics:
• Islam is a faith community of around 1.5 billion followers, between
20 – 25% of the world’s population
• It is one of the fastest-growing religions
• That growth is also occurring within the United States, with
between 3 and 7 million Muslim adherents [statistics are sketchy – religion
is not routinely recorded by census takers].
• It is probably one of the most misunderstood faiths Most
non-Muslim Americans gain their knowledge from feverish newspaper headlines
or TV news focusing on conflict and contentious politics.
• Where do most Muslims live? Surprisingly for many, the answer is
South Asia. Only about 20% of the world’s Muslims live in the Arab Middle
East, thus, Anyone who thinks of the “typical” Muslim as being Arab has a
The word “Islam” means absolute submission to the will of God. A Muslim is
a believer in the Islamic faith and “one who submits.” The word “Muslim” can
be a noun or adjective. But there’s a difference between saying that
something is Muslim and saying that something is Islamic. For example,
Turkey is a Muslim country – almost all Turks are adherents. But it would
be misleading to call Turkey an Islamic country. In contrast, Iran is
certainly Islamic – and includes that word in its official title –because
its leadership claims to govern in accordance with the Koran.
The word “Islam” is associated in believers’ minds the concept of peace –one
can only know through peace by following the will of God. Thus, the most
common Muslim greeting – “peace be upon you.”
In pre-Muslim days, the East was often the choke point where goods moved
from one part of the world to another. There were a few settled urban
communities, but the majority was Bedouin tribes that often moved. The tribe
was central and commanded great loyalty. That loyalty could easily lead to
revenge if a member of the tribe was dishonored. .
Even in pre-Islamic times, there was an emphasis on the spoken word and the
value of eloquence – bards often preserved the history of the tribe through
poetry and epic stories. Before Mohammed, the old religion was largely
polytheistic with various deities, associated with natural forces. Mecca
was a place of shrines to these gods. Back then, some Jews and Christians
also lived in the area. As a result, monotheism was known – but not
generally accepted by the Bedouin tribes. However, there was one strain
of belief in a “High God” in addition to tribal deities.