News / USA

Analysts: Efforts to Ban Sharia in US States Reflect Continued Anxiety Over Islam

The Islamic Center of America mosque in Dearborn, Michigan (file photo)
The Islamic Center of America mosque in Dearborn, Michigan (file photo)

Lawmakers in more than a dozen U.S. states have been trying to ban the Islamic religious and civil code known as Sharia, arguing that it inspires home-grown terrorism. Analysts say those efforts reflect continued anxiety and misunderstanding about Muslims in America.

Last year, 70 percent of voters in Oklahoma approved a referendum to prevent Sharia from being used in state courts.

When a judge blocked certification of the result because of constitutional concerns, Oklahoma State Representative Sally Kern says many people were upset.

"Not only I, but the vast majority of Oklahomans, there's been a huge outcry here," said Kern.

With the referendum - known as State Question 755 - now on hold, Kern has put forward a bill in her state legislature that would ban "any law, rule, legal code or system" that does not offer the same protections as the U.S. constitution.

She says the target is still Sharia.

"What my bill does is it reinforces and puts in statute the intent of State Question 755," she said.

Several weeks ago, a lawmaker in Tennessee removed specific references to Sharia in a similar bill there.

Sharia governs every aspect of a devout Muslim's life. And some U.S. courts have allowed Muslims to resolve divorces and other disputes in Sharia tribunals established by their local mosques. This is also done for other faiths as well, and legal experts say the secular court’s job is to ensure that all state laws are observed.

Still, proponents of the anti-Sharia bills insist U.S. laws are under threat. Many point to a recent case in New Jersey. There, a judge ruled that a Muslim man who forced his wife to have sex with him could not be accused of rape because the man believed it was permitted under Islam. An appellate court later overturned the ruling.

David Yerushalmi, a Washington-based lawyer who helped craft the anti-Sharia bills, says Sharia is a threat to America because it includes the notion of jihad as a holy war in the name of Islam.

"We know that all of the jihadists, every single one of them, base their doctrine of jihad on Sharia law," said Yerushalmi.

While a key aim of Islamist groups - especially in majority Muslim countries - is to impose Sharia as the law of the land,  many Muslims disagree with that aim.

Yerushalmi says he just wants to help law enforcement authorities fight terrorism, not prohibit the peaceful observance of Islam.

But Ibrahim Hooper of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, says the real aim of those sponsoring the bills is to win votes in the 2012 elections by demonizing Islam.

"The sponsors of these bills are relying on fear mongering to try and score some cheap political points and to attack a religious minority that is already under siege by a cottage industry of Muslim-bashers," said Hooper.

CAIR says a congressional hearing held in March on "Radicalization in the American Muslim Community" was also part of that effort.

Hooper says Muslims in America just want to live their lives in peace.

Peter Skerry, a political science professor at Boston College, says anxiety over their intentions is often rooted in a misunderstanding of the way Muslims practice their faith.

"But I also think there's a lot of anxiety, because there are a lot of unanswered or unacknowledged questions about Muslims, and especially their leadership in their leading organizations," said Skerry.

Skerry, who is researching the integration of Muslims and Arabs in the United States, says major Muslim organizations in America - including CAIR - have not been forthcoming enough about alleged ties to radical groups abroad.

CAIR says such allegations are part of a smear campaign.

Skerry says he does not mean that leaders of these groups are extremists.

"But I would argue that that state of affairs is a problem because, the more this gets ignored, the more this fuels the kinds of activity like you see in these states across the U.S. where there's efforts to ban Sharia law, as if this were imminent," he said.

He says those who believe Sharia can be imposed in America underestimate the strength of this country’s democracy.

Jerome Socolovsky

Jerome Socolovsky is the award-winning religion correspondent for the Voice of America, based in Washington. He reports on the rapidly changing faith landscape of the United States, including interfaith issues, secularization and non-affiliation trends and the growth of immigrant congregations.

You May Like

Video In US, Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy

Holiday marks date Columbus discovered Americas, but some are offended by legacy because he enslaved many natives he encountered More

Video Through Sports, Austria Tries to Give Migrants Traction

With 85,000 people expected to claim asylum in Austria this year, its government has made integration through joint physical activities a key objective More

Video Kickboxing Champion Shares Sport With Young Migrants

Pouring into Europe by hundreds of thousands, some migrants, especially youngsters, are finding sports a way to integrate into new host countries More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemeni
Henry Ridgwell
October 12, 2015 4:03 PM
The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemen

The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video No Resolution in Sight to US House Speaker Drama

Uncertainty grips the U.S. Congress, where no consensus replacement has emerged to succeed Republican House Speaker John Boehner after his surprise resignation announcement. Half of Congress is effectively leaderless weeks before America risks defaulting on its national debt and enduring another partial government shutdown.

Video New Art Exhibit Focuses on Hope

Out of struggle and despair often comes hope. That idea is behind a new art exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. "The Big Hope Show" features 25 artists, some of whom overcame trauma and loss. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy as US Holiday

The second Monday of October is Columbus Day in the United States, honoring explorer Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the Americas. The achievement is a source of pride for many, but for some the holiday is marked by controversy. Adrianna Zhang has more.

Video Anger Simmers as Turks Begin to Bury Blast Victims

The Turkish army carried out new air strikes on Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets on Sunday, a day after the banned group announced a unilateral cease fire. The air raids apparently are in retaliation for the Saturday bombing in Turkey's capital Ankara that killed at least 95 people and wounded more than 200 others. But as Zlatica Hoke reports, there are suspicions that Islamic State is involved.

Video Bombings a Sign of Turkey’s Deep Troubles

Turkey has begun a three-day period of mourning following Saturday’s bomb attacks in the capital, Ankara, that killed nearly 100 people. With contentious parliamentary elections three weeks away, the attacks highlight the challenges Turkey is facing as it struggles with ethnic friction, an ongoing migrant crisis, and growing tensions with Russia. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Afghanistan’s Progress Aided by US Academic Center

Recent combat in Afghanistan has shifted world attention back to the central Asian nation’s continuing civil war and economic challenges. But, while there are many vexing problems facing Afghanistan’s government and people, a group of academics in Omaha, Nebraska has kept a strong faith in the nation’s future through programs to improve education. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Omaha, Nebraska.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video In 'He Named Me Malala,' Guggenheim Finds Normal in Extraordinary

Davis Guggenheim’s documentary "He Named Me Malala" offers a probing look into the life of 18-year-old Malala Yousafsai, the Pakistani teenager who, in 2012, was shot in the head by the Taliban for standing up for her right to education in her hometown in Pakistan's Swat Valley. Guggenheim shows how, since then, Malala has become a symbol not as a victim of brutal violence, but as an advocate for girls’ education throughout the world. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.

Video Paintable Solar Cells May Someday Replace Silicon-Based Panels

Solar panels today are still factory-manufactured, with the use of some highly toxic substances such as cadmium chloride. But a researcher at St. Mary’s College, Maryland, says we are close to being able to create solar panels by painting them on a suitable surface, using nontoxic solutions. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs