With Islamophobia on the rise across the United States, numerous states across the country are now pushing anti-Shariah legislation — xenophobic attempts to target the perceived threat by Muslims. But the lawmakers who have introduced these bills have very little understanding of Shariah at all.
The Idaho House recently passed, and the state Senate will soon consider, a measure that would “prohibit the application of foreign laws in Idaho courts.” House Bill 419 marks the third attempt by State Rep. Eric Redman (R) to legislate Islamophobia and it is the furthest the bill has ever gone in Redman’s three years of pushing the measure.
While the legislation does not specifically mention Shariah, Redman — who corresponded with numerous anti-Muslim groups prior to the bill’s introduction — made his intentions clear in an interview with the Spokesman-Review in 2017.
“One of the overreaches is certainly the Sharia law,” he said. “We have freedom of religion here, but they don’t have the right to bring their Sharia law overreach on our constitutional laws.”
Redman singles out Shariah law as if it is a set of fixed and codified ideas that serve as the foundation for barbarism and terrorism. He couldn’t be more wrong.
Shariah is an Arabic term meaning “way” or “path” and refers to a broad, ever-changing, and intricate set of principles derived from the Quran and the Hadith (the examples set by the Prophet Muhammad) that are interpreted differently by Muslims all over the world. The heart of Shariah law is the personal relationship that a Muslim has with God. It encompasses a wide range of daily practices, from praying, to fasting, to giving to charity.
Judaism and Catholicism have similar religious guidelines and principles, a fact that makes Redman’s proposal seem all the more ludicrous. To ban Shariah law is to ban the practice of Islam itself — a policy that goes against the First Amendment’s protection of the free exercise of religion.
Prior to the Idaho House’s passage of HB 419 last week, Redman spoke of brutal acts that have occurred in other countries in an attempt to illustrate the horrors of Shariah law.
But countries that use Shariah law to justify such violent acts are as correct in their interpretation as “slave owners who claimed their right to slavery was based on the Bible,” Qasim Rashid, a visiting fellow at Harvard University’s Prince Alwaleed bin Talal School of Islamic Studies, wrote in a 2012 piece for The Huffington Post.
“To be sure,” Rashid wrote, “not a single example of a ‘Shariah compliant’ country exists. In fact, the most ‘Muslim country’ in the world is likely America, because America guarantees freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of expression and freedom of thought — all hallmarks of Shariah Law.”
Many Islamic scholars insist that Shariah law obliges Muslims to obey the laws of the countries in which they live, whether or not the government is an Islamic one. In that sense, Shariah law is already alive and well in the United States — and there’s not much lawmakers like Redman can do about it.
Despite such vast misunderstandings about Shariah, bills like HB 419 continue to flourish. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), an organization that monitors U.S. hate groups, reported that, since 2010, more than 200 anti-Shariah bills have been introduced in 43 states. Such bills serve to further otherize and demonize Muslims at a time when tensions against Islam are at an all-time high since the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks.