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.
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.
Allen could not readily define Shariah in an interview Thursday. “I don’t have my file in front of me,” he said. “I wish I could answer you better.”
For Ashfaq Taufique, president of the Birmingham Islamic Society, Shariah is a system of religious rules that is mostly a personal code.
“Ninety to 100 percent of Shariah is how we live our own lives,” he said. Taufique said that as a practicing Muslim, Shariah guides his decisions on how to pray, what to eat and many other details of a life of faith.
Shariah is the basis of law in many predominantly Muslim countries, such as Saudi Arabia. Despite that, Taufique said that in many predominantly Muslim countries, the strictest rules of Shariah are not considered law or are not enforced.
“I won’t deny that some of the penal code under Shariah is very, very strict,” he said. “But even in most Muslim countries, those rules are not enforced.”
Allen said his bill was based on a state constitutional amendment that was recently passed in Oklahoma. In Oklahoma, too, supporters of the measure were unable to cite a single in-state example of Shariah law being used in court, according to an account by the Los Angeles Times.
Allen said his bill, which also bans the use of international law in Alabama courts, is designed to “protect the Constitution for the future generations that come after us.”
“Our Founding Fathers were pretty smart,” he said. “They gave us three branches of government, a separation of powers. I want to preserve that system.”
Taufique said he saw the bill as just another phase in a wave of anti-Muslim hysteria in America.
“This bill is a PR effort to demonize Islam and Muslims,” he said. “It is clear there is an effort from some of the pundits in this country to create an attitude of Islamophobia, and I think this is a part of it.”
In recent months, radio talk shows and other news outlets have popularized the notion that Shariah law has already been adopted in Britain. The fervor seems to stem from the use of Muslim courts to settle disputes under the U.K.’s Arbitration Act of 1996, which allows parties in a legal dispute to settle matters in a non-judicial arbitration hearings if both parties agree to the arbitration.
Taufique said Islamic law is used in resolving disputes within Muslim communities and doesn’t have to conflict with U.S. law. He cited the example of a husband and wife who want a divorce and settle the matter between them according to the rules of their religious community, then go to the court system to make it legal.
“There is no-contest divorce in this country, so it’s not difficult for parties to reach an agreement among themselves and then go to court,” he said. He noted that followers of other faiths balance the law and religious rules in similar ways.
Allen said there was no anti-Muslim sentiment behind the law.
“I’m just trying to say that our system is the best thing going,” he said. “We have a good system and we should keep it.”
He said he’d heard concerns about Shariah from a number of people on the campaign trail. He said no political or religious group asked him to propose the bill — though he did say he drafted the bill in response to a specific request by a single person.
Allen wouldn’t name that person.
“There are some things that I just can’t tell you,” he said.
(Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the Oklahoma amendment had been struck down by the court. In fact, the amendment was blocked by the court pending further review.) Star assistant metro editor Tim Lockette: 256-236-3560.