Caliphate on the range? The shariah precedent in American courts

Asma Uddin writes:

Judging by how Oklahoma voted in the recent election, one might conclude that despite its tiny Muslim population, Oklahoma was on the verge of becoming an Islamic caliphate in Middle America. The reality is of course far different. Oklahoma State Question 755, which passed, asked voters whether state courts should be forbidden “from considering or using Sharia Law.” Similar legislation is being considered in Tennessee, and Louisiana recently became the first state to pass several bills banning international law from its courts. Although the Louisiana bills didn’t mention shariah explicitly, they were apparently motivated at least in part by a similar distaste for Muslims and their religious law, and a desire to “protect” constitutional law. These constitutional law protectors appear, however, to be a little fuzzy on what constitutional law actually means, how it allows for various forms of religious arbitration and what the state can and cannot do to regulate religious freedoms.

In the discussion and debate surrounding Question 755, supporters in search of an example where the bogeyman shariah was permitted inside American courtrooms kept pointing to a New Jersey case where the court denied a restraining order to a woman who was sexually assaulted by her then-husband. The judge ruled that the husband did not have a “criminal desire to or intent to sexually assault” her as the husband was merely under the impression that he was exercising his prerogative as a husband under Islamic law. What’s rarely reported, however, is that the decision was promptly overturned on appeal because the application of shariah, or the “cultural defense,” conflicted with civil law.

This example is noteworthy not just because the decision was overturned because it got the law wrong, or that it is the only one of its kind, but because it is an atypical example of how shariah has made an appearance in American courtrooms. The typical cases are far from frightening. For example, arbitration under shariah law is permitted in the U.S., just like arbitration according to Christian principles or Jewish religious tradition is permitted, or according to any other set of rules two contracting parties may agree to. Indeed, prominent Christian groups like PromiseKeepers have long required Christian arbitration clauses in their contracts with vendors.

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4 thoughts on “Caliphate on the range? The shariah precedent in American courts

  1. dickerson3870

    RE: “Caliphate on the range?” – Woodward
    MY CHORUS: Oh give me a home, where Sharia don’t roam…

  2. Ahmed

    Asalaam Alaikum
    Thank you for your post. I find it ridiculous that ultra-conservatives and anti-religion people believe that Islam is trying to take over the world. Historically, Islam provided a peaceful, egalitarian global community and the Shariah was the first law used in a global community that worked and was perfect. The Jewish Halakha and the Islamic Shariah are so much the same also. Why is Shariah targeted and not the Halakha? Both are religious laws and both are practiced within nations or self-practiced. Why are Muslims targeted?

  3. David Marchesi

    An excellent point from Ahmed, since it is evident that “orthodox” religious people, Jewish, Amish or other do not conform to the norms of their secular societies, even in Israel.Issues such as holy days, dress , polygamy ,military service, ritual mutilation (e.g., circumcision of male babies) require a tolerance by the (majority) society in which the religious folk work etc. Why persecute only Muslim practices ? A clear case of discrimination, which could set a far-reaching precedent and would eb in total violation of the US constitution and Bill of Rights.

  4. Norman

    Why are Muslims targeted? I would say that it has to do with 9/11, the Iraqi & Afghanistan wars, the Neocons ginning up the fear of said Muslims, the ignorance of the American people at large to believe the “boogieman” is a Muslim, they are different, they are going to take over the world, etc., etc., also, that Muslims are perhaps a minority in this country. One has to look carefully at who the targeted audience is, how the general thinking, education, exposure to other cultures are, then one can begin to understand why bigotry is such an easy target here. Fear, the number one plot that allows the flimflam orators that are so prevalent today in the communication industry. Fear allows the masses to be led around by their nose whether or not they possess a ring in their collective nose, which comes back to education. Religious habits also play an important role in American society, especially from the self delusional. So, it’s not just 1 or 2 or3 reasons, but many that are allowed to fester, like an infection, if not treated at the beginning.

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