Florida and Oklahoma just passed legislation restricting the use of foreign law in state courtrooms, and many other states are considering similar laws. These laws are designed to halt the use of Islamic law, Sharia, by American judges – a measure that many see as necessary, since Sharia has already been involved in cases in twenty-three states. Yet many such initiatives, including an earlier one approved in Oklahoma by seventy percent of the voters, have already been stopped by activist judges who see them as encroachments upon First Amendment protection of religion; however, anti-Sharia laws do not actually infringe upon religious freedom at all, and become more urgently needed by the day.
The prevailing mainstream media view is that anti-Sharia law, and the more general laws banning the use of foreign law in American courts that are now being passed, are simply a manifestation of “Islamophobia” and bigotry. In criticizing Oklahoma’s earlier attempt to pass an anti-Sharia amendment to the state constitution, which was struck down, Daniel Mach, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, said: “This amendment did nothing more than target one faith for official condemnation. Even the state admits that there has never been any problem with Oklahoma courts wrongly applying religious law. The so-called ‘Save Our State Amendment’ was a solution in search of a problem, and a blatantly discriminatory solution at that.” Ryan Kiesel of the ACLU’s Oklahoma branch declared: “No one in Oklahoma deserves to be treated like a second-class citizen. This proposed amendment was an affront to the Constitution and everything it stands for.” The Muslim writer Reza Aslan hysterically and inaccurately charged that “two-thirds of Americans don’t think Muslims should have the same rights or civil liberties as non-Muslims.”
In reality, the properly formulated anti-Sharia laws neither infringe upon Muslims’ civil liberties or religious freedom nor address a non-existent problem. Last year in a critique of anti-Sharia initiatives published in First Things, law professor Robert K. Vischer articulated some reasons why Americans are concerned about Sharia: “Proponents of this legislation tend to focus on manifestations of Sharia overseas: the stoning of adulterers, cutting off of the hands of thieves, and the denial of basic freedoms for women in some Islamic countries,” and that “there are many schools of interpretation among Islamic legal scholars, and some interpretations stand in tension with the rights that we have come to take for granted in liberal democracies, including the rights of women, homosexual persons, religious minorities, and religious converts.”
Vischer meant to imply that Muslims in America have no intention, now or ever, of bringing “the stoning of adulterers, cutting off of the hands of thieves, and the denial of basic freedoms for women” to America, and that there are schools of interpretation among Islamic legal scholars that do not “stand in tension with the rights that we have come to take for granted in liberal democracies.” In reality, however, there is no school of Islamic jurisprudence among either Sunnis or Shi’tes that does not mandate stoning for adultery, amputation of the hand for theft, and the subjugation of women. Stoning adulterers is in accord with the words and example of Muhammad, whom the Qur’an holds up as the supreme example of conduct for believers (33:21); amputation of the hand for theft is mandated in the Qur’an itself (5:38); and the oppression of women in numerous ways is amply attested by the words of both the Qur’an and the prophet of Islam. Opponents of anti-Sharia laws have no basis for their assumption that no Muslims will ever try to bring such laws here. While there are individual Islamic legal scholars who have crafted interpretations of the Qur’an and Sunnah that are more compatible with Western pluralism and liberal democracy than is Sharia in its classic formulations, these have never gained any significant traction among Muslims. Wherever Sharia has been the law of the land, throughout Islamic history and in Saudi Arabia, Iran, and other areas of the Islamic world today, it has had largely the same character – one that has never resembled liberal democracy by any stretch of the imagination. Sharia polities throughout history and today have denied the freedom of speech and the freedom of conscience, and mandated discrimination against women and non-Muslims.
Sharia is also political and supremacist, mandating a society in which non-Muslims would not enjoy equality of rights with Muslims. And that is the focus of anti-Sharia laws: to prevent this authoritarian and oppressive political and social system from eroding the freedoms we enjoy as Americans. It is plainly disingenuous to claim that anti-Sharia laws would infringe upon Muslims’ First Amendment rights to practice their religion. As Thomas Jefferson said, it doesn’t matter whether my neighbor believes in one god or seventeen; it neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg. It is only when my neighbor believes that his god commands him to pick my pocket or break my leg that his beliefs become a matter of concern for those who do not share them. No one wants to restrict individual Muslim religious practice, or even cares about it. The purpose of anti-Sharia laws is not to stop Muslims from getting married in Islamic religious ceremonies and the like, but to stop the political and supremacist aspects of Islam that infringe upon the rights and freedoms of non-Muslims.
The Islamic state, as delineated by Sharia, encroaches on the basic rights of non-Muslims. It would be a sad irony for non-Muslims to oppose anti-Sharia laws and thereby abet their own subjugation.
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