At least, not yet.
On Monday (March 14), Missouri state Rep. Don Wells introduced a
proposed constitutional amendment aimed at blocking Shariah — the
Islamic legal code — from being used in state courts. Another Missouri
lawmaker introduced a bill to ban the use of any foreign laws in state
Wells said he introduced the Shariah ban out of concern that there
is a global push to accept Islamic laws that he views as oppressive to
women and as calling for violent punishment for minor offenses.
“I think it’s just absolutely a guarantee to my children and
grandchildren that in the future they will live under the same laws that
I grew up under,” Wells told The Associated Press.
Earlier this month, Tennessee lawmakers began consideration of a
bill that would make the practice of Shariah law a felony. The bill was
introduced by conservative legislators with ties to ongoing efforts to
block the construction of an Islamic center near Ground Zero in New York
City and the expansion of a mosque near Nashville.
Similar laws have been proposed in a dozen other states, including
Oklahoma, where last November voters approved a constitutional amendment
banning the use of Shariah law in state courts. That ban has since been
challenged as unconstitutional in federal court.
The moves come amidst controversy over congressional hearings on the
spread of “radical” Islam in the United States. Proponents say their
efforts are a reaction to what they see as a move to have Shariah
supersede U.S. civil law.
But critics say those efforts amount to little more than blatant
anti-Muslim bigotry and fly in the face of the First Amendment’s
protection of the “free exercise” of religion.
Some called the congressional hearings a “witch hunt” and compared
them to those convened by Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the 1940s and `50s to
ferret out Communists and their sympathizers.
“Today, millions of Muslim Americans are subjected to thoughtless
generalizations, open discrimination, and outright hostility because of
a tiny minority whose acts of violence deny the teachings of the Quran
and are denounced by other Muslims,” said the Rev. Michael Kinnamon,
general secretary of the National Council of Churches.
A poll last August by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found
that Americans remain deeply conflicted about their opinions of Islam in
the U.S. The study found that only 30 percent hold a “favorable” opinion
of Islam, a drop of more than 10 percent since 2005.
Thirty-five percent of those surveyed said they believed Islam
“encouraged” violence compared to other religions, while 42 percent said
it did not, according to the Pew poll.
Testifying at the hearings convened by House Homeland Security
Committee Chairman Peter King, Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., the first
Muslim elected to Congress, conceded that some individuals, “including
some who are Muslims, are violent extremists.”
“However,” he added, “these are individuals, not entire communities.
When you assign their violent actions to the entire community, you
assign collective blame to a whole group. This is the very heart of
stereotyping and scapegoating.”
Shariah is a set of guiding principles derived from the Quran, which
were then interpreted over centuries by Islamic religious scholars.
Shariah addresses a broad spectrum of issues, from crime and economics
to hygiene and sexuality. While most Muslims accept Shariah as sacred,
its interpretation and application vary widely depending on religious,
cultural and geographic points of view.
Viewing Shariah as one set entity is akin to viewing the Bible and
Christians’ interpretation thereof as a singular thing. There are as
many ways to view the Bible and its teachings (and laws) as there are
American Islam, like American Christianity, is not a monolith.
“It’s anything but,” Syracuse University professor Gustav Niebuhr,
author of “Beyond Tolerance: Searching for Interfaith Understanding in
America,” told the PBS program “Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly” recently.
“There are people who are wealthy. There are people who are
white-collar. There are all sorts of professionals. There are
blue-collar people. There are people who have been here since the 1960s,
people who’ve recently arrived.
“At the very time that you’ve got people fighting for freedom and
human rights in North Africa, you have internationally televised
hearings questioning the patriotism of at least some American Muslims,”
Niebuhr said. “What’s hopeful is that people … have stood with Muslims
– and stood with Muslims as Americans — in this country. And I hope
that the latter is received more strongly than the former, at least for
American interests abroad.”