Last November, Oklahoma voters approved a ballot measure that would ban courts from considering Shariah (Islamic law) or international law when making decisions on cases. Now, Tennessee state legislators have proposed a bill which would criminalize the practice of Shariah, and thirteen other states are considering similar legislation. These bills, if they become law, will (thankfully) likely not stand up in court. A federal judge already issued an injunction against the Oklahoma law because it violates the Freedom of Establishment clause in the First Amendment, and many, if not all, of these other bills would face the same ruling.
In reality, these bills are just more examples of the lack of education and understanding about Islam, or in some cases, the outright rising and pervasive trend of Islamophobia in the U.S. The proposed Tennessee bill negatively mischaracterizes Shariah as a system that “requires all its adherents to actively and passively support the replacement of America’s constitutional republic” and says that “Shariah in particular includes a war doctrine known as jihad.” However, the bill completely misunderstands and misrepresents Shariah, which is simply the set of religious laws, principles and practices by which Muslims live; it derives from the Qur’an and the life of Muhammad, much as the rules laid out in the Torah or the Bible dictate how Jews and Christians live their lives, and the lives of prophets and saints serve as an example for Jews and Christians to follow.
Furthermore, these anti-Shariah bills are redundant because the authority of the U.S. Constitution was never in question. People in the U.S. must adhere to federal law, regardless of their religion, so there is no reason to pass legislation forbidding Shariah; religious legal codes do not trump the Constitution to begin with. State governments would do better to spend their time dealing with issues like education, rather than engaging in pursuits that simply further the trend of anti-Muslim bigotry.
Click here to listen to Haroon Moghul, Executive Director of The Maydan Institute, which works to build understanding between Muslims and the West, talk about the Oklahoma anti-Sharia inititative on the November 13, 2010 State of Belief Radio. (Please note, this is an extended version of the interview originally broadcast nationwide.) -Ed.