Monday, July 11, 2011

Islam, U.S. Courts and state sponsored discrimination

(During the Islamic Society of North America's recent convention I was part of a panel discussing various legislative attempts to pass laws that would single out the Islamic faith for treatment different than other faiths in our country. An attendee sent the below questions were to me afterward. Muneer Awad of CAIR-Oklahoma contribute to both answers.)

Question # 1: How can the Islamic sharia be effective in any American court. (For example: is there any judge who gives a decision basing on the Islamic sharia.)

Answer #1: The U.S. Constitution is the law of the land. Individuals may enter into agreements based on their faith. Such practices are reasonably common. However, any such agreement must comply with U.S. law. So if I choose to finance my house with a sharia-compliant company, the resulting contract must be within the boundaries of standing law.

Here are some examples of how Islamic principles can come into play in a US court:

Agreements and Contracts
Judges may be asked to enforce the terms of an agreement, or the terms of an arbitration decision, that was based on Islam/Sharia. Consider the numerous documents Muslims agree to that are based on our faith:
  • Enforce the terms of a will
  • Enforce the terms of a divorce or marriage contract
  • Enforce the terms of Islamic financing agreement
  • Enforce terms of an arbitration agreement that compels mosque employees to take grievances with regards to mosque governance to a local Islamic shura council before taking legal action.
The Constitution does not necessarily cover such issues, but like all agreements, can never violate the constitution.

Victims of Discrimination  
In a discrimination case, a Muslim must introduce evidence of his or her religiously held beliefs. If Islamic principles are banned in certain courts, then
  • How can I introduce evidence to a judge about the nature of hijab?
  • How can I introduce evidence to allow a judge to balance between my beard and my work?
  • How can I introduce evidence to allow a judge to consider my need for halal food in the cafeteria?
Question #2: How will these new bills affect the Muslims?

 Answer #2: Depends on the form the final law takes, each state is considering their own version. Essentially, though, such laws could result in state-enforced discrimination against Muslims.

Let me examine two:

Oklahoma’s amendment to its state constitution would ban courts from considering sharia or international law. This means if your marriage contract contains a Mahr, the court could not act on it during a legal dispute such as divorce. If your will is based on Islamic principles such as instructions for being buried facing Mecca, the court could not consider it. Similarly, since a sharia-compliant loan is based on Islamic principles, a judge would be compelled to rule it inadmissible in court proceedings.

The Tennessee bill said, “’Sharia’ means the set of rules, precepts, instructions, or edicts whichare said to emanate directly or indirectly from the god of Allah or the prophet Mohammed…” and “Any rule, precept, instruction, or edict arising directly from the extant rulings of any of the authoritative schools of Islamic jurisprudence of Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i, Hanbali, Ja’afariya, or Salafi, as those terms are used by sharia adherents, is prima facie sharia without any further evidentiary showing…”

It then said two or more people practicing sharia would be in violation of the law. Since the above definition encompasses all of Islam the bill would have made it illegal to practice Islam in the state of Tennessee. Fortunately, the bill did not pass.

See here for some more information.

CAIR’s executive director in Oklahoma, who filed the lawsuit that has so far successfully challenged the anti-Muslim amendment to that state’s constitution, adds this to my answer to the second question:

I would include the fact that Islam, and Islam alone is the target. If we acknowledge, as many legal experts have already, that these amendments are unnecessary then we must acknowledge that the only goal is to target American Muslims. These amendments will permanently label Muslims as a threat to the state.

If we listen to any of the rallies behind these amendments, or the words of supporters and authors of these amendments, then we understand that these amendments are rooted in Anti-Muslim bigotry, and will serve the purpose of supporting Anti-Muslim bigotry. 

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