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Appeal sought in US Sharia case
A case for including Sharia in state law will likely be appealed as judge who blocked it is labelled "liberal activist".
Last Modified: 02 Dec 2010 04:10
Opponents of the "Ground Zero" mosque in New York City used fear of Sharia as a rallying cry [File: EPA]

The Oklahoma State Election Board has voted to ask the attorney general to appeal a court's decision to grant a preliminary injunction on a ban preventing the use of Sharia and other international laws in the state.

The vote comes after the state legislator who wrote the proposal on Tuesday lashed out at the judge who blocked it, calling her a "liberal, activist judge".

The Associated Press reported that Rex Duncan, a former Republican state representative, criticised US district judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange's ruling this week to grant a preliminary injunction, preventing the state from certifying the results of the November 2 election.

More than 70 per cent of voters approved State Question 755 (the "Save Our State Amendment" proposition), which would place the Islamic (Sharia) law ban into the state constitution. The question proposed to preemptively ban "considering or using" international law and Sharia.

Duncan said "one would surmise that her [judge's] sympathies were with the plaintiff".

"But hers won't be the final order on the matter," he added. 

The plaintiff, Muneer Awad, is a Muslim living in Oklahoma who claims the proposed ban is unconstitutional.

Along with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in Oklahoma, Awad sued to block the law from taking effect. He argues the ban on Islamic law likely would affect every aspect of his life as well as the execution of his will after his death.

Duncan has charged that Muslim rights groups such as the CAIR want to hijack the US legal system. 

Precedent-setting potential

He said he has also heard from legislators in as many as a dozen US states who are interested in introducing similar bills intended to prevent foreign laws from being used, although he declined to say which states.

What is Sharia?

Sharia generally refers to rules based on the Quran, the statements and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad combined with  scholarly and legal consensus. These rules tend to be interpreted differently from region to region, community to community, and judge to judge. They can be used as basis of law to govern a country, as a personal code or as a means of settling domestic and commercial disputes.

The move could also complicate the way US courts already recognise some aspects of Sharia, as National Public Radio reported, in business contracts and divorce settlements.

But when pressed, the courts will always rely on US laws over faith-based ones and avoid having to interpret religious laws.

Noah Feldman, a Harvard law professor specialising in US constitutional law and religious studies, told Al Jazeera that the ban in Oklahoma "almost certainly" violates the First Amendment rights of of Muslims.

He called the ban "a surprising piece of legislation that came out of the Islamophobia that has unfortunately surfaced in the US in the past few months", and said that striking the ban down is the right course of action for the courts to take.

"Under existing law, you cannot endorse or disfavour a particular religion, and the passage of this constitutional amendment is intended to disfavour Islam," said Feldman, who was unaware of any similar precedent.

"It's a violation of the free exercise of Muslims in Oklahoma and it's a violation of the separation between church and state."

International issue

Sharia and other faith-based laws were used in Ontario, Canada since 1991, allowing Christian, Jewish and Muslim Canadians access to faith-based tribunals to resolve family and domestic disputes.

But a major backlash against specifically the use of Sharia put an end to the practise in 2005, effectively doing away with faith-based courts in the country.

One of Canada's national newspapers, the Globe and Mail, reported at the time that "moderate Muslims" were "overjoyed" and that orthodox Jews and Christian leaders were "disappointed" by the decision.

In Britain, faith-based courts, including ones following Sharia are commonly used and groups in Sweden and Holland have also had debates on the issue, with - in Sweden's case - Sharia courts operating outside the scope of the law.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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