Last month, voters in Oklahoma passed an amendment to the state constitution that prohibits state courts from considering international law and Muslim, or Shariah, law in deciding cases. Supporters of the ballot initiative agreed there have been no instances where state courts actually considered Shariah law.
It was, they said, a preemptive action. Newt Gingrich, a former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, is demanding a federal law that would ban Shariah in the United States.
The amendment was challenged in federal court in Oklahoma, where Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange blocked the measure. “This order addresses issues,” she wrote in her ruling, “that go to the very foundation of our country, our Constitution, and particularly, the Bill of Rights. Throughout our country’s history, the will of the ‘majority’ has on occasion conflicted with the constitutional rights of individuals.”
Based on the media frenzy preceding the ballot initiative, you might have thought that Oklahoma was being overrun by Islamic fundamentalists. This charade would have been comical had it not been so flagrantly unfair and blatantly Islamophobic.
Leading the charge were the usual right-wing politicians, clergy, and talking heads on radio and television. These Chicken Littles convinced voters in Oklahoma that the sky was falling.
The people who propagate misinformation about Islam do not know what constitutes Shariah law. To them, the law means cutting off the hands of thieves, killing non-Muslims, and subjugating women.
To the best of my knowledge, no hands have been chopped off in the Muslim world. During Pakistani dictator Zia ul Haq’s rule, surgeons refused to carry out amputations. The other two assertions have no foundation in Shariah law.
Islamic law is rooted in the Qur’an and the traditions, sayings, and life of the Prophet Mohammed. The Qur’an is the primary source, while such things as prophetic sayings are considered secondary sources.
During the first 300 years of Islamic history, Muslim scholars and theologians debated the validity and relevance of the religious laws that governed their lives. A number of schools of Islamic jurisprudence sprang up that interpreted the primary and secondary sources of the law differently and came to different conclusions on given questions.
Today, four main Sunni schools and one Shia school of jurisprudence survive. All are considered authentic and valid.
Shariah law, like secular law, encompasses criminal, political, and economic aspects of society as well as personal matters such as marriage, divorce, and family disputes.
Among the four main Sunni schools, the Hambli School is the most orthodox and rigid. It is prevalent mostly in Saudi Arabia and remains the source of some of the harshest punishments meted out by the Taliban.
The Hanafi School, more relaxed and accommodating, is dominant in China, Central Asia, and the India-Pakistan subcontinent. The other two schools of jurisprudence — Shafii and Maliki — are somewhere in between and are prevalent in parts of the Middle East and Africa. Most Shias follow what is called the Jaffari school of jurisprudence.
The contrast between the followers of these schools is apparent. While women in Saudi Arabia cannot travel alone, and are required to cover themselves totally in public, women in Iran wear only head scarves and are an integral part of public life.
In many Islamic countries, both Shariah and secular laws are followed, but Shariah law yields to secular law when disputes reach the highest court in the land. So Shariah law could not trump the laws of the United States.
Even if courts allowed arbitration between consenting parties using Shariah laws, that would not be a first in the United States. For many years, religious courts have been an option for Jews and Catholics.
Arbitration can be made between consenting parties in Jewish Halakha courts. And many Catholics accept arbitration under canon law, which governs the Catholic Church. Secular courts accept those decisions.
The sky is not falling. Let’s all take a deep breath and look at the whole picture, not just a snippet taken out of context.
Dr. S. Amjad Hussain is a retired Toledo surgeon whose column appears every other week in The Blade.
Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org