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Sharia law dispute goes to court

Judge to consider arguments on injunction of ban in Okla.

- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 21, 2010

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.

"We were not involved with the creation of the idea," said Kelly Cook, national field director for AFA, "but we could see that there was confusion among the voters as to what a 'yes' and 'no' vote meant."

Mr. Cook also claimed that the Oklahoma attorney general wrote the ballot in an intentionally confusing way. He added that this controversy is not about freedom of religion, but about protecting the Constitution.

Sharia law has already been used in a New Jersey court in a decision that acquitted a Muslim immigrant from Morocco who repeatedly raped his wife based on the rights that Sharia law gives husbands with regard to sexual rights of men and women. An appellate court later reversed the decision, saying that the judge was mistaken in believing that the religious beliefs of the defendant were a valid argument for his acquittal.

"We see evidence already of Sharia law taking root in America," Mr. Cook said, in reference to the New Jersey case.

The issue of the use of Muslim law in secular courts, combined with charges of disloyalty and Islamization, has become increasingly prominent in recent years throughout Europe and North America as the Muslim propulation in these countries grows.

Sharia courts already exist in Britain, which at last count had 85 Sharia courts operating within its borders. Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williamson took some heat for backing these courts and calling the role of Sharia law in the country "unavoidable."

These courts operate in much the same way as ecclesiastical and rabbinical courts operate in America to resolve private disputes between Catholics and between Jews. In those cases, if the parties voluntarily agree to submit their case for arbitration, the religious court's ruling generally acquires the force of law if the ruling does not violate some state or federal law.
Indeed, opponents of the referendum point to these accommodations U.S. secular courts already have made to Judaism and Catholicism as proof that Oklahoma's ballot measure is religious discrimination.

Catholics in America currently can settle disputes that call for a consideration of canon law in Catholic tribunals. These cases mostly deal with divorce and abortion, and the consequences of the rulings mainly deal with a withholding of Holy Communion in divorce cases or excommunication in some abortion cases.

"Civil courts can't adjudicate canonical matters for a variety of reasons, but among them would be that common law simply knows next to nothing about how canon law works," said Edward Peters, a canon lawyer and professor at Sacred Heart Major Seminary.

Mr. Peters added that canon law "knows how to work with various secular legal systems in a way that respects both lawful civil authority and the integrity of the Catholic faith."

Many anti-Sharia spokesmen accuse CAIR of secretly trying to bring down American law. Mr. Spencer said, "CAIR ... wants to see Islamic law in the United States," and Mr. Guandolo agreed, saying that "CAIR is a Hamas front."

The FBI placed surveillance upon CAIR's founders, and during its 1993 founding meeting, the FBI stated that "all attendees of this meeting were Hamas members." The group also has been named an unindicted co-conspirator in a court case involving the diversion of Muslim-charity to terrorist groups.

Mr. Awad blames the amendment on what he claims is popular "Islamophobia" in America, but critics of CAIR and Sharia law say that the only reason Americans are wary of Islam is the actions of Muslims influenced by Sharia.

"If there's suspicions about Muslims in the U.S., the only people to blame are Muslims," said Mr. Spencer. "People see what Islamic law is ... they don't want Islamic law in the United States, and they vote against it."

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