Ok­la­homa may ban Is­lamic law

Back­ers say it isn’t a prob­lem – but ‘why wait?’ Mus­lims call the bid a ‘scare tac­tic.’

Los Angeles Times - - The Nation - Ni­cholas Ric­cardi ni­cholas.ric­cardi @latimes.com

As the coun­try grap­ples with its worst eco­nomic down­turn in decades and per­sis­tent un­em­ploy­ment, vot­ers in Ok­la­homa next week will take up an­other is­sue — whether they should pass a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment out­law­ing Sharia, or Is­lamic law.

Sup­port­ers of the ini­tia­tive ac­knowl­edge that they do not know of a sin­gle case of Sharia be­ing used in Ok­la­homa, which has only 15,000 Mus­lims.

“Ok­la­homa does not have that prob­lem yet,” said Repub­li­can state Rep. Rex Dun­can, the author of the bal­lot mea­sure, who says sup­port­ers in more than a dozen states are ready to place sim­i­lar ini­tia­tives be­fore vot­ers in 2012. “But why wait un­til it’s in the courts?”

Some con­ser­va­tive ac­tivists con­tend that the U.S. is at risk of fall­ing un­der Sharia law. They point to Europe, with its larger Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion and var­i­ous ac­com­mo­da­tions to the Is­lamic re­li­gious law.

In Eng­land, Mus­lims can en­ter spe­cial Sharia courts to de­cide divorce and cus­tody cases if both par­ties agree. Crim­i­nal and other civil cases are still heard in sec­u­lar courts.

In the U.S., those who warn of the dangers of Sharia can point to only a hand­ful of cases that merely al­lude to the cen­turies-old, com­plex tan­gle of Mus­lim re­li­gious law. And in none of the cases cited has any U.S. court held that Sharia law is the law of the land here.

Is­lamic groups say the Ok­la­homa ini­tia­tive, which was placed on the bal­lot by the Leg­is­la­ture, is noth­ing more than an ef­fort to stig­ma­tize their re­li­gion in or­der to whip up votes. “There’s no threat of Sharia law com­ing to Ok­la­homa and Amer­ica, pe­riod,” said Saad Mo­hammedof the Is­lamic So­ci­ety of Greater Ok­la­homa City. “It’s just a scare tac­tic.”

Un­til re­cently there was lit­tle cam­paign­ing over the mea­sure, known as State Ques­tion 755. The only pub­lic poll con­ducted on the mat­ter found it had the sup­port of 49% of vot­ers, with 24% op­posed and 27% un­de­cided. That was in July.

Last week a group called Act! for Amer­ica, which says it ex­ists to fight rad­i­cal Is­lam, be­gan air­ing ra­dio ads and mak­ing au­to­mated calls to Ok­la­homa vot­ers, urg­ing ap­proval of the amend­ment.

“The threat at this point is not that a coun­try in Europe or the U.S. will for­mally adopt Sharia law, but that Sharia law will be ac­com­mo­dated along­side Western law,” Guy Rodgers, the group’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, said via e-mail.

Back­ers of the amend­ment have cited only three cases that they con­tend show the threat of Sharia law. In each case, though, the courts gave no spe­cial dis­pen­sa­tion for Sharia law. The ac­tivists say the judges erred by treat­ing Mus­lims as they would other re­li­gious groups be­cause Is­lamic law does not give women the same rights as men.

In the first case, a Mary­land court up­held a cus­tody or­der from a Pak­istani court that was de­cided un­der Is­lamic law. Judge

in the U.S. are re­quired by fed­eral law to up­hold for­eign cus­tody or­ders if they com­ply with Amer­i­can le­gal val­ues, but Rodgers ar­gued that no Is­lamic court could ever meet this cri­te­ria.

In the sec­ond case, a Texas court let a cou­ple to me­di­ate a prop­erty dis­pute with a pri­vate ar­bi­tra­tor. That ar­bi­tra­tion was con­ducted un­der Is­lamic law.

It is not un­heard of to have re­li­gious law dic­tate pri­vate ar­bi­tra­tions in the United States — some ob­ser­vant Jews ar­bi­trate dis­putes in a rab­bini­cal court — but Rodgers con­tended that Mus­lims should be treated dif­fer­ently be­cause their le­gal sys­tem is in­her­ently flawed.

In the third case, a New Jersey judge ruled that a Mus­lim man could not be guilty of rap­ing his wife be­cause, due to his re­li­gion, he be­lieved that a woman is re­quired to have sex with her hus­band. An ap­pel­late court swiftly over­turned the rul­ing, not­ing that it con­flicted with long-es­tab­lished 1st Amend­ment ju­rispru­dence that holds that re­li­gion does not ex­cuse crim­i­nal con­duct. The ap­pel­late court noted that the same ra­tio­nale was used, er­ro­neously, to jus­tify polyg­a­mous Mor­mon mar­riages in the 19th cen­tury.

Dun­can, an at­tor­ney, said that his amend­ment did not tar­get Mus­lims. In­stead, he said, it sin­gles out “ac­tivist judges.... That’s all I’m pick­ing on.”

The mea­sure also would ban judges from re­ly­ing on for­eign laws in any way, a re­ac­tion to a 2005 Supreme Court rul­ing that cited other coun­tries’ le­gal norms in out­law­ing the ex­e­cu­tion of mi­nors.

“When you have a jus­tice on the United States Supreme Court who has stated pub­licly that the U.S. Supreme Court ought to be able to look to the laws of other coun­tries, it isn’t a stretch to think that some lower court state judge, be it in New Jersey or some other state, would come to the same con­clu­sion,” Dun­can said.

Mo­hammed, of the Is­lamic So­ci­ety, said that he feared that the mea­sure could lead to politi­cians in other states try­ing to cash in on bash­ing Sharia law and Is­lam. “This garbage could re­ally make things bad for Mus­lims,” he said.

On the other hand, he added, since there is no Sharia in Ok­la­homa, the amend­ment is also largely harm­less. “I think so lit­tle of it,” Mo­hammed said. “Whether it passes or not, I don’t think it’s go­ing to af­fect any­one.”

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