Mason County News
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Islamic Law
Letter to the Editor
Wednesday, August 10, 2011 • Posted August 10, 2011

An article in last week’s News renewed my concern that there is a great deal of misunderstanding over the recently controversial issue of applying Islamic (sharia) law in American courts. I’d appreciate a chance to share some thoughts on that.Under American law, parties to a private contract have a fair amount of freedom to choose which law will govern their agreement. For instance, if two residents of Mason incorporate a business in Delaware that they plan to operate in Roswell, they are free to choose whether their shareholders’ agreement will be governed by the law of Texas, Delaware or New Mexico.Occasionally, contracting parties choose to be governed by certain aspects of the law of their religion (most often Judaism, Catholicism or Islam), especially in determining how a dispute will be arbitrated. Judges usually respect that choice, as long as the particular religious law does not conflict with the constitution or public policy or entangle secular courts in matters of religious doctrine.As examples, two Muslims might specify that the Koran’s prohibition on charging interest applies to their credit agreement, just as a Jewish restaurateur and his Jewish landlord might agree in their lease that the restaurant’s kitchen must keep kosher. That is normally permissible in our legal system, which cherishes individuals’ freedom to follow their religious convictions.However, our judges are not permitted to enforce a religious rule that runs afoul of American law or policy, even if both contracting parties agreed to adhere to it. More importantly, Americans are constitutionally protected from being forced to follow the dictates of sharia or any other religious law, although they are generally free to do so if they choose.Last fall, more than 70 percent of Oklahoma’s voters approved a constitutional amendment prohibiting the state’s judges from considering Islamic law in deciding cases. Its main author, Rep. Rex Duncan, warned that Muslims were coming to the United States to take away “liberties and freedom from our children,” necessitating a “preemptive strike” in “a war for the survival of America.” (Never mind that Rep. Duncan was trying to take away some Oklahomans’ longstanding freedom to choose which law governed their contracts.) Meanwhile, pity the Muslim businessman in Tulsa who simply wanted a local court to uphold his valid private agreement forbidding interest.What a distance we’ve traveled in ten years. In an address to Congress on September 20, 2001, President George W. Bush said, “I also want to speak tonight directly to Muslims throughout the world. We respect your faith. It’s practiced freely by many millions of Americans and by millions more in countries that America counts as friends. … The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends.”A decade later, some Americans seem to be making mock of the former president’s plea for tolerance. Thank God that Texans, unlike our neighbors in Oklahoma, have not yet surrendered to this wave of irrational anti-Muslim hysteria.

Scott Zesch

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