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Upset Over Nothing: debunks latest Sharia scare

Anti-Sharia propaganda is a load of BS

Justin Elliot of has been on point in his reporting over the last few months of the hysterics of the Islamophobes. He deserves massive credit for going to experts (i.e. people with actual credentials to discuss a certain topic) on Islam and Islamic law to find out the truth of these matters. Here, Elliot discusses a recent case in Florida where Islamic law was used in the ruling of a civil dispute between two groups of Muslims with Cyra Choudhury of Florida International University College of Law. The verdict: these types of cases happen all the time in American courts.

In addition, Muslim Americans are not the only ones who use their religious law to draw up contracts between themselves. In fact, Americans Christians and Jews have done this throughout American legal history without so much as a peep that their religious law was going to overcome the U.S. Constitution.

For all of the jingoism and pretentious patriotism that these loons display, they do not know much about how their own legal system operates. The freedom of contract allows Americans to resolve their disputes through any law they want to contract upon. If two Americans want to make a contract based upon Sharia or French law, then they have the right to do it and courts will hold them to that contract based upon the law they freely contracted upon.

However, criminal law is already established by each state – so there will never be the stoning to death of an adulterer or the amputation of a theif’s hand for theft. Why? Because criminal penalties cannot be arbitrated between individuals – they are matters of the state.

But don’t expect the Islamophobes to know any of this. They’re too caught up in either being afraid of a threat that does not exist or are intentionally ignoring these facts for the sake of drumming up hostility against Muslims. – Debunking the latest Sharia scare by Justin Elliot

The movement to ban the use of sharia in the United States continues to grow, even as its proponents struggle to find examples of Islamic law posing a threat to the American way of life.

Anti-sharia activists have now resorted to focusing on an obscure Florida civil lawsuit called Mansour vs. Islamic Education Center of Tampa. The case, which has been elevated to cause celebre status in the right-wing blogosphere involves a mundane financial disagreement between two factions of the Islamic organization.

But in a ruling in the case last month, Hillsborough Circuit Judge Richard Nielsen wrote a sentence that has been seized on by anti-sharia activists: “This case will proceed under Ecclesiastical Islamic Law.”

On the surface that may sound odd. And, indeed, the typical right-wing reaction has gone something like this: “A Florida judge ruled that a Muslim v. Muslim case can proceed under sharia law. I’m being unbelievably serious here! This kind of crap is why I drink, which would get me beheaded under sharia law. ” Ironically, Nielsen is a registered Republican and Jeb Bushappointee.

And as it turns out, the case is entirely routine, according to Cyra Akila Choudhury, a professor at the College of Law at Florida International University who has been following the case closely. Nevertheless, the uproar over the case is “already bolstering the political prospects of an [anti-sharia] bill being considered by the Florida legislature,” Politico reported.

I spoke with Choudhury to find out more about the case and why it’s not at all cause for alarm. The following transcript of our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

What is the dispute that led to this ruling?

The dispute is between two factions of an Islamic organization, the Islamic Education Center of Tampa, and centers on control of money that was given to them by the government through an eminent domain taking. It was about $2.2 million in this taking, so the controversy arose over who was going to control the proceeds from the settlement. As the lawsuit was moving along, the parties agreed to arbitrate, and the arbitrator would be a Muslim law scholar, an a’lim. That is somebody who is well-versed in Islamic law and would settle the dispute in terms of Islamic law principles.

Who are the two parties?

They’re different factions of this organization. In January, the side that emerged victorious from the arbitration filed a motion asking the court to essentially enforce the decision of the arbitrator. Arbitration is an alternative dispute resolution mechanism, in which parties decide not to go into court and not litigate. The rules that apply are chosen by both parties in the agreement. We do lots of arbitration in this country. We apply all kinds of laws, we have many religious mechanisms; for instance, the Jewish community has the beth din. That is basically an alternative court that applies Jewish law and performs litigation with regards to all kinds of civil disputes. It’s very common, and it has existed for many years.

In this Florida case, the judge’s ruling is getting all the attention. When he uses the line “this case will proceed under ecclesiastical Islamic law,” what is that actually about?

What the ruling put very simply was, “You agreed to these rules, and the court is bound to apply them.” It isn’t about who wins. The arbitrator has already decided who wins. The judge’s role in the conflict is to enforce or to set aside the arbitration result. It is very difficult to set aside an arbitration result. You have to show that there was some sort of impropriety in the procedure.

Did the judge decide that the arbitrated agreement should or shouldn’t be enforced?

It’s still out. He still has to hear evidence about the process. The decision says “the court will require further testimony to determine whether the Islamic resolution procedures have been followed in this matter.” So it’s clear from this that one side is resisting enforcement based on some challenge of improper procedure. The judge has to hear evidence on that. This is very similar to many other arbitration scenarios. You can pick for your arbitration any set of laws that both parties agree to — within reason. It’s really a contractual matter. You’re entering into a contract with the other side to arbitrate your disagreement, and you agree upon the rules, and the arbitrator applies those rules. So for instance sharia law in this case simply applies the ecclesiastical religious law of the two parties. This is a conflict around a religious institution. It’s not a dispute between say, a Muslim property owner and his Christian or Jewish neighbor — but even there, if they agreed to use sharia law, that would be enforced.

What do you make of the intense reaction to this decision around the country?

It has been peculiar. What the judge did was extremely noncontroversial, particularly when it comes to religious organizations. It happens all the time. It happens with regards to the Jewish mediation and arbitration, it happens with arbitration that has used foreign law. What’s disheartening about this is the level of misinformation and the level of ignorance about our own legal system that has been propagated by people who either have an agenda or simply do not understand what we do in the civil system. This really is fundamentally about our right to contract. If we unsettle arbitration rules on the grounds that we don’t like a law that somebody is agreeing to arbitrate under, we’re going to have a lot of problems when it comes to all kinds of other contractual arbitration clauses that call for foreign law. In a place like Florida, for example, with Latin America on its doorstep, there’s so much business done with Latin American countries.

There’s currently an anti-sharia bill in the Florida legislature. If a law like that passed, how would it effect a situation like this?

The way that the Florida measure is written, it would only prevent the application of foreign law if that foreign law did not guarantee the constitutional rights of the litigators. So essentially it creates a floor. It creates our state constitutional rights as a floor and says you cannot apply foreign law in any arbitration proceeding if that foreign law will work to deny the rights provided by the constitution of the state. Which is an incredible waste of time. Our laws are already the laws of the land.

If you ask the lawmakers, “Has there ever been a situation in which sharia has been applied in a way that is antithetical to our public policy?” The answer is always no. It’s a fundamental misapprehension of our legal system to believe this can actually happen. People are writing on the blogosphere “Judge Nielsen is pro-sharia law, what’s next? Stoning of women?! Chopping off heads?!” We have a criminal system of law in the United States. The state prosecutes criminals under state criminal law. It’s never going to apply Jordanian law in the United States. That would never happen. You have to be completely ignorant to make these claims, unless you’re making them opportunistically in order to fan the flames of bigotry.

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  • Michael Akkawi

    The threat of Sharia law is not just an illusion, it’s intentional cheating and misleading. I’m no conspiracy buff, but I know for sure why some far-right writers insist on creating that illusion. It’s pure hate and campaigning for political gain that drives them. And to be more frank, the root of all of it, is to demonize the Arab world to present Israel as a victim state surrounded by blood thirsty Muslims. Why do we always put Israel in the middle? I’m sorry it’s always in the middle and it affects if not largely shapes the west’s perception of Muslims!

    Even in most Arab countries we are not “threatened” by Sharia law, let alone Sharia penal code.

    Sharia “morals” inspires the legal system in secular Arab countries. Mostly in favorable ways.

    The constitution of many Arab countries says: Islam is “one” of the sources of legislation. And in implementation, it’s just an aesthetic addition to the constitution to make it appear conformant with local values. The rest is secular, French or British law.

    You can see traces of Islamic law, I’d rather say values, present in civil status laws and economic laws, basically contracts that preserve rights of parties of marriage or trades. And a ruling granting men the right to polygamy and at the same time forcing men who do so to provide monthly income and separate equal houses (which no one is technically capable of) and women are given the right to divorce just like men (it is recent and Sharia-inspired). And these rules continue to be secularized day after day.

    If most of Arabs themselves are not “threatened” by Sharia law in their homeland, how come the USA is? Unbelievable!

    Let the loons be assured, no matter how they try to bash Islam, the only threat that Arabs will continue to see is the threat of a nuclear Israel and puppet dictators supported by the west. And this is as well the real source of threat the west should deal with because it “backfires”.

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  • Farberry

    Simply find it hillarious how the iphobes take every oppurtunity to misguide our own.I think either we live in a very comical time or a totally ignorant.

    I found this video on Facebook and on their Status it said Time to wake up. I mean come on now. Please watch the video.

  • Crow

    These people are like pavlovs dogs but instead of salivating when a bell rings, they start raving when they hear Sharia law. Also they like to out do each other in viciousnes when they say how life would be under Sharia law, but everyone knows theyre just projecting.

  • Isma’il Marshall

    I find it funny that the anti-Shari’ah rabble-rouser quoted, doesn’t even known that the Shari’ah punishment for drunkenness is whipping, not beheading.

  • Al

    All of the fear over Sharia is unfounded. the Democratic and Sharia systems of jurisprudence can coexist and are in fact compatible in most instances…

  • jacque

    Most likely they will call Salon an organization run by self-hating Jews or left-wing Jews. They will also call them anti-semites. When Norman Finkelstein wrote the Holocaust Industry and criticized Alan Dershowitz, he was called all those things. I see history repeating itself.

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  • corey

    I think a or b is a most likely scenario kushboo, but I will have to agree with snake and there reaction might be all of the above.

  • Dawood

    It’s a shame that she mentioned Jordanian law, for example, rather than anywhere else actually. :-/ But amazing article by the Salon guys!

  • Solid Snake

    I place my bet on all the choices they will claim that Salon is a group of taqiyyah spewing Muslims who are also secretly Jewish who hate themselves. I mean come on u kno they will. This way I can’t lose lol oh wait….I can’t bet. Oh well whip out the muslamic Ray Guns *pew* *pew* *pew*

  • Mosizzle

    Funny how the loons claimed that this incident was conclusive evidence that Sharia is here — not creeping Sharia but full-on in-your-face Sharia. And it was just a simple arbitration issue. Robert Spencer used this story as well and also declared that all forms of religious arbitration are not “morally equivalent”, by which he means that whatever agreement Muslims come to amongst themselves will always be inferior to any agreement reached under Catholic or Jewish law, even though there is very little difference when it comes to business issues such as these.

    “It’s never going to apply Jordanian law in the United States. That would never happen. You have to be completely ignorant to make these claims, unless you’re making them opportunistically in order to fan the flames of bigotry.”

    I wonder who she is talking about? 😀

  • Khushboo

    Islamophobes’ reaction: is practicing TAQIYYA or
    b.they’ve been taken over by Muslims or
    c.they’re Jews that must hate themselves

    Place your bets!

  • mindy1


  • moosern

    The author is wrong about religous law not being allowed in criminal cases. Roman Catholic (Canon)Law has been recognized in that priests are not required to report crimes nor testify about crimes that are confessed to them. Of course not that Roman Catholicism was ever branded as foreign and dangerous and subversive to the state in the past. Haters will always hate, they can’t be happy.

  • RDS

    Forget the professor, the whole will be said as part of the overarching stealth Dhimmitude quietly acqueiscing to [insert Loon argument here].


  • Zan

    Then the good (and I’m sure brilliant) professor will be branded as a dhimmi by these morons.

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