Sharia law dispute goes to court

Judge to consider arguments on injunction of ban in Okla.

A federal judge will hear arguments Monday on a preliminary injunction against one of the most contentious ballot measures in this month’s elections — an Oklahoma referendum that banned state courts from considering international or Islamic law when deciding cases.

U.S. District Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange already had blocked certification of SQ755, which passed Nov. 2 with 70 percent of voters backing the measure. Monday’s hearing in her Oklahoma City court will focus on a request for a restraining order that would block the law from taking effect until the lawsuit has been resolved.

The case was brought by Muneer Awad, executive director of the Oklahoma Council for American Islamic Relations, on the grounds that the amendment is religious discrimination and would invalidate his will, which is partially based on Islamic law, also known as Sharia law.

The measure has prompted confusion and heated debate over exactly what the measure would ban, with Muslims and other opponents calling the referendum a cheap bit of “Islamophobia” ginned up against a non-existent problem, while anti-jihad activists and the measure’s proponents accuse Muslims of bad faith and blame the state for causing the confusion in the first place.

While Muslim groups are angry about the Oklahoma referendum, leaders of their community say the way the U.S. currently handles matters pertaining to Sharia law is fine.

Mr. Awad said Muslims support the way U.S. secular courts currently handle Sharia-related issues — by calling in Muslim scholars and imams as expert witnesses in such cases as wills and divorce decrees that specify the use of Sharia principles but by ruling themselves on the legal disputes.

“Sharia is not a code of laws … it’s more of a guidance,” Mr. Awad said. “I can have a [Sharia-]compliant will and still have the U.S. court handle it.”

However, that’s not enough assurance for anti-jihad activists and Muslim watchdog groups that say there are theological differences between Judaism and Christianity on the one hand and Islam on the other, particularly in matters of their relationships to secular government.

“Jewish law specifically says that you abide by the country’s laws,” said John Guandolo, a national security consultant who co-authored a report on the threat of Sharia law in America. “Where Sharia exists, only Sharia exists. Its goal is to subordinate any other law to Sharia.”

Anti-jihad commentators also accuse Mr. Awad and CAIR of bad faith on the issue, pointing to the contradictory claims both that the law wouldn’t do anything and then suing to stop it.

“The position Mr. Awad is taking is contradictory,” said Robert Spencer, founder of Muslim watchdog blog Jihad Watch. “If he has no intention of imposing Sharia laws on the United States, why is he against this amendment?”

However, Jamal Badawi, professor emeritus at St. Mary’s University, said that Sharia law isn’t as clearly defined as some Muslim critics claim it to be.

He stressed a difference between Sharia, which he called very broad in scope, and Fiqh, or jurisprudence, which is the human interpretation of Sharia. He also said critics of Islam are misinformed in their statements that Muslims wish to make Sharia the law of the land.

“Muslims who are living in non-Muslim countries are required to follow the law of the land unless it prevents them from performing their fundamental religious duties such as their freedom of belief, worship, or obligations such as prayers, charity, fasting and pilgrimage,” he said.

The referendum was most notably supported by a nonprofit group that fights the threat of radical Islam. The group, Act For America (AFA), spent more than $60,000 in a campaign to pass the law, consisting of 650,000 automated phone calls informing voters of the law, and several weeks of radio ads.

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