Alabama Sharia Law Ban

An Alabama legislator wants to ban the use of Islamic law in the state's courts -- just in case Muslims take over.

An Alabama legislator wants to ban the use of Islamic law in the state’s courts — just in case Muslims take over.

Tim Lockette of my hometown Anniston Star has the details (“Legislation would ban Islamic law in Alabama courts“):

A bill introduced Tuesday in the Alabama Senate would ban the use of Islamic law in Alabama courts.

The bill’s sponsor said the measure was designed to protect future generations from erosion of the Constitution. One Birmingham area Muslim leader said the move was an effort to “demonize Islam and Muslims.”

But no one — not even Sen. Gerald Allen, who sponsored the bill — can point to examples of Muslims trying to have Islamic law recognized in Alabama courts.

“It’s not about what’s happening right now,” Allen, a Republican from Cottondale, said in a telephone interview. “I’m thinking about 10 years down the road, 20, 30, 40. Time has an effect on these things, and I’m thinking about the future.”

Allen is the sole sponsor of SB 62, a bill that would ban Alabama courts from using Shariah law or international law in making legal decisions.

Leaving aside the anti-Muslim hysteria, this doesn’t even make sense. Alabamians are overwhelmingly Evangelical Christian but, so far as I’m aware, neither the King James Bible, the pronouncements of the Southern Baptist Convention, nor the teachings of John Wesley have any legal weight in its courts, except to the extent that Christian values shape state law.

Furthermore, if Alabama gets to the point–20, 30, 40 years from now–where Muslims constitute such a large chunk of the population that Sharia law starts having a major influence on legislation, the passage of those bills would, by definition, render Allen’s statute moot. That legislators can’t bind their successors with mere legislation is a fundamental principle of Anglo-Saxon law.

An amusing sidenote:

The bill defines Shariah as “a form of religious law derived from two primary sources of Islamic law: The divine revelations set forth in the Qur’an and the example set by the Islamic Prophet Muhammad.”

That definition is the same, almost word for word, as wording in the Wikipedia entry on Shariah law as it appeared Thursday. Allen said the wording was drafted by Legislative staff. A source on the staff at the Legislature confirmed that the definition was in fact pulled from Wikipedia.

So, at least they’re basing the law on sound research.

FILED UNDER: Islam, Law and the Courts, Quick Takes, Religion, , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. John Peabody says:

    Wikipedia strikes again! Hey, somebody should change the definition….see if it spurs an amendment.




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  2. Ashton says:

    “Leaving aside the anti-Muslim hysteria . . .”
    What “anti-Muslim hysteria”?

    “[N]either the King James Bible, the pronouncements of the Southern Baptist Convention, nor the teachings of John Wesley have any legal weight in [Alabama] courts . . .”
    Exactly. And so there should be no legal weight given to Sharia Law either, yet that is precisely what Muslims often seek.

    “That legislators can’t bind their successors with mere legislation is a fundamental principle of Anglo-Saxon law.”
    True, but what about the judicial precedent of decisions that would incorporate this proposed law?

    “Furthermore, if Alabama gets to the point–20, 30, 40 years from now–where Muslims constitute such a large chunk of the population that Sharia law starts having a major influence on legislation . . .”
    Forty years is not so long a time. Think of Great Britain forty years ago and take a look at it now: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1197478/Sharia-law-UK–How-Islam-dispensing-justice-side-British-courts.html

    Sincerely,

    From Florence, AL




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  3. Robert in SF says:

    IANAM & IANAL but it seems to me that Ashton isn’t clear on the topic here, or at least isn’t presenting any facts clearly and completely to back up his opinion…

    He states, “And so there should be no legal weight given to Sharia Law either, yet that is precisely what Muslims often seek,” yet there are no examples presented of Muslims petitioning to have Sharia law applied in the criminal or civil court rooms or in legislation…

    And the article he links to even states,

    “Sharia courts are classified in the same way as arbitration tribunals – with rulings binding in law provided both parties in the dispute agree to give them the power to rule on their case.
    However, a Muslim couple must still be divorced in the British courts for it to recognised under British law. The same provision in the Arbitration Act applies to Jewish Beth Din courts, which resolve similar civil cases.”

    To me, this is similar to the fact that a divorce in the courts might not be recognized by the Catholic church, and a marriage in a religious ceremony won’t be recognized by the State without all the right paperwork filed.

    That should clear up apprehension about Muslims wanting to enforce their religious laws and beliefs through the national and local courts, since there’s no evidence to support it as a systemic issued, and no cause for alarm since the legal system already has controls in place to address this kind of application

    But still he presents his case as though it’s clear to any reasonable viewer that Muslims are trying to do just that, and are supposedly getting away with it too!




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  4. It doesn’t make sense because you’re only thinking of the impacts this law would have on the criminal courts. If you consider civil courts as well, there’s more to be concerned about. If someone, for example, enters into one of the various mortgage type contracts used in Islamic banking to deal with the Sharia ban on charging interest, for example, and one side defaults, can the other party expect the contract to be enforced?

    In Alabama, they may not be able to, so this law has the effect of making it difficult for Muslims to finance homes in the state.




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  5. Robert in SF says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    IANAL but I think the common sense answer is yes. The contract is enforceable through the courts. Just as any contract would be. Just because they formed the contract because they wanted to be compliant with their religious laws doesn’t make the agreement any less legally binding.

    Not to show too much legal ignorance, but I think there are some contractual agreements that are null and void under the legal system, such as you can’t contractually obligate someone to give up certain rights under the law, but I don’t trust my memory to recall examples…If someone here AIAL then perhaps they can weigh in.

    BTW, did you see the reference in the linked article or quote from it I included about this parallels the Jewish civil law courts? Perhaps you feel they should be consistent about application of these religious laws not be applied in court to Jewish law as well?




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  6. Axel Edgren says:

    I am OK with this – but they should ban any Christianist or Judaist legislation while they are at it.




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  7. Ashton says:

    @Robert in SF:

    Sorry I was not clearer.

    “[Y]et there are no examples presented of Muslims petitioning to have Sharia law applied in the criminal or civil court rooms or in legislation…”
    That’s because I am not aware of any, at least not in America. Muslims have done this, though, in a number of European countries, and it is causing some problems.

    You quoted from the article I linked. Here’s another quotation:

    “While sharia gives Muslim women a chance to escape unhappy marriages, it fails to grant them equal status – they are considered inferior to men as witnesses, they have unequal status in divorce and custody of the children, and abuse by the husband is not directly tackled by the courts. All these things go against the equality of British law.”
    Sharia law even regulates how a man may legitimately beat his wife and children. How such a legal system can be reconciled with British or American law is beyond me and is cause for concern (but not “anti-Muslim hysteria”).

    “But still he presents his case as though it’s clear to any reasonable viewer that Muslims are trying to do just that [official, legal recognition of Sharia law], and are supposedly getting away with it too!”
    Again, I was not only thinking of America but also the experience of Europe. And I never even intimated that Muslims are “getting away with” something. Like they’ve done in Europe, Muslims will OPENLY push for official recognition of Sharia here, and I think it appropriate to openly oppose it.




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  8. michael reynolds says:

    Can’t we just simplify this all and ban morons?




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  9. sam says:

    “Exactly. And so there should be no legal weight given to Sharia Law either?”

    See, Eugene Volokh, Islamic Law in U.S. Courts:

    I think courts should indeed generally enforce religiously inspired contracts, whether prompted by an Islamic marriage, a Jewish marriage, or other events, so long as the contracts expressly set forth obligations in terms that courts can enforce while applying neutral principles of contract interpretation law. Courts should also generally be open to enforcing arbitration agreements where the arbitrators are applying religious law, pursuant to the terms of a contract that calls for such law (though I’m not sure how U.S. law would treat such arbitrations if there is evidence that the tribunal may have applied sex-discriminatory or religion-discriminatory procedural rules).

    I also think courts should be open to applying, say, Saudi law — which incorporates Islamic law — when the normal choice-of-law rules (where related to contracts, torts, family law, or what have you) call for the application of Saudi law, just as similar rules call for the application of Canadian law or Mexican law in other cases. If there is some public policy objection to a particular aspect of Saudi law, that aspect wouldn’t be enforced (just as speech-restrictive European law wouldn’t be enforced in defamation cases filed in U.S. court); but that is no reason to generally reject the application of Saudi law in other contexts. The courts wouldn’t be deciding what true Islam calls for, but just evaluating what legal rules are actually part of the Saudi justice system.

    The basic idea is that when it comes to contracts, the contracting parties are free to forge the contract on the basis of foreign law. The courts would only be required to ascertain, in case of dispute, if the rules of the foreign law had been followed. Of course, if the contract contained provisions that were at variance with established US law, say civil rights law, those provisions would not be enforceable in our courts. But, generally, there is no bar to contracting on the basis of foreign or religious law. A problem would only arise, under the First Amendment, if the court engaged in interpreting some religious principle.

    Moreover, to deny someone the ability to forge contracts on the basis of his or her religion would violate the First Amendment:

    [R]efusing to enforce a contract simply because of its religious source or motivation would itself violate the Free Exercise Clause, because it would deny people an important generally available right (the right to have contracts enforced) because of their religious motivations. A person who has a religious reason for entering into a contract is just as entitled to enforcement of the contract as a person who has a secular reason for doing so. [Islamic Agreements in Civil Courts]

    There are, of course, caveats about all this, and you can read the full text of the cites for them. But in general, state legislatures would have to tread very carefully in this area. For instance, if a state legislature banned citizens from using Islamic law as a basis for contracting but did not also ban, say, the use of Jewish law, that would, I think, be grounds for an equal protection challenge. And I think we can all agree, state legislatures seeking to ban Sharia law, or Islamic law, will not be careful in the drafting of the laws. Therefore, I doubt such laws would survive a challenge in the federal courts.




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  10. Ashton says:

    @Sam:

    Thanks. This was helpful, and the following was reassuring, “Of course, if the contract contained provisions that were at variance with established US law, say civil rights law, those provisions would not be enforceable in our courts.”




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  11. sam says:

    Ashton, you might find this interesting, Lawless:

    When Gingrich argues that “radical Islamists want to impose Sharia on all of us,” I can’t imagine how he sees that happening, short of the largest land invasion in human history of foreign Muslim soldiers, administrators, and religious scholars with the connivance of millions of Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, and pagan American collaborators. And look out, Mitt Romney and the Mormons!

    The stealth scenario is slightly less preposterous—jihadis insinuating their way through our legal and political systems to slowly Islamize a credulous U.S. public degree by degree—but many times more repugnant. It is necessarily premised on the idea of a United States that has lost all faith and confidence in its own values and an intellectual and political elite too stupid to tell the difference between our founding principles and Islamic obscurantism. In this scenario, the same nation that came out of its Civil War a more perfect union is now just a few headscarves and beards away from becoming a Taliban backwater.

    It’s worthwhile, I think, to put the word ‘sharia’ in shudder quotes to indicate that the concept is being wielded here and there by essentially political operatives for the furtherance of secular goals and is a distortion. The article is worth reading.




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