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Anti-Sharia Laws Stir Concerns that Jewish Halachah Could Be Next

5 May 2011 General 20 Comments Email This Post Email This Post

By Ron Kampeas at the Jewish Week

WASHINGTON (JTA) — With conservative lawmakers across the United States trying to outlaw sharia, or Islamic religious law, Jewish organizations are concerned that halachah could be next.

If the state legislative initiatives targeting sharia are successful, they would gut a central tenet of American Jewish religious communal life: The ability under U.S. law to resolve differences according to halachah, or Jewish religious law.

“The laws are not identical, but as a general rule they could be interpreted broadly to prevent two Jewish litigants from going to a beit din,” a Jewish religious court, said Abba Cohen, the Washington director of Agudath Israel of America, an Orthodox umbrella group. “That would be a terrible infringement on our religious freedom.”

A number of recent beit din arbitrations that were taken by litigants to civil courts — on whether a batch of etrogim met kosher standards; on whether a teacher at a yeshiva was rightfully dismissed; and on the ownership of Torah scrolls — would have no standing under the proposed laws.

Cohen added that a New York State law requiring parties in a divorce to cut all ties immediately would be affected by the passage of anti-sharia legislation; the law protects divorced Jewish women from becoming “agunot,” chained to a recalcitrant husband through his refusal to grant a religious divorce. Federal laws protecting religious expression in the workplace — for instance, wearing head coverings or asking for certain holidays off — also could be affected, he said.

The threats posed by the anti-sharia laws — passed by referendum in Oklahoma and under consideration in 13 other states, according to a study by the liberal Center for American Progress — led Agudah and the Orthodox Union to join in an American Jewish Committee-spearheaded letter to state legislatures urging them to reject such laws.

“The impact of this legislation goes well beyond prohibiting religious tribunal resolution of monetary or ministerial disputes,” says one of the letters, to the Arizona state Senate. “It would apparently prohibit the courts from looking to key documents of church, synagogue or mosque governance — religious law — to resolve disputes about the ownership of a house of worship, selection and discipline of ministers, and church governance.”

The unlikely combination of signatories, which also include the American Civil Liberties Union, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty and Americans United for Separation of Church and State, signal the breadth of opposition to the legislation targeting Islamic law.

But there are also Jews supportive of the anti-sharia laws, such as David Yerushalmi, an Orthodox lawyer who has written extensively on the topic and testified on the matter as some legislatures consider the proposed laws.

Yerushalmi argues that sharia differs from halachah or Christian canon law because it sanctions jihad, which he says amounts to sedition through seeking the overthrow of governments through nonviolent and violent means.

“Because Jihad necessarily advocates violence and the destruction of our representative, constitution-based government, the advocacy of jihad by a sharia authority presents a real and present danger,” he wrote recently on a conservative website. “This is sedition when advocated from within our borders; an act of war when directed at us from foreign soil.”

Scholars of Islam say such characterizations of sharia are distorted.

And those opposing the legislation say many of the laws as proposed are unconstitutional and likely would not survive their first judicial test.

“It’s violation of the right to free exercise,” said Rabbi David Saperstein, who directs the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center and teaches church-state law at Georgetown University. “It’s a violation of the establishment clause, giving pre-eminence of one religion over another.”

A federal judge cited the establishment clause in her decision to indefinitely hold the Oklahoma law in abeyance while she considers a lawsuit.

Still, the tide of proposed laws has stoked enough concern that the groups are taking action. Cohen, Saperstein and the Orthodox Union’s Nathan Diament all said their organizations are urging constituent synagogues to take up the matter in states where laws are under consideration.

Jewish officials in Nashville, Tenn., have spoken out against a proposed sharia ban that has evolved into a bill that would grant the state attorney general broad powers to name any group a terrorist group.

“I have been on a local morning TV show about the issue,” said Judy Saks, the community relations director for the local federation. “I said, as Jews, we’ve been persecuted throughout the ages, and to stand by and watch this broad brush being used against another community — we really can’t.”

Diament expressed concerns about proposed laws in places like Nebraska and South Dakota that might circumvent constitutional bans by targeting “foreign law” and “religious code” and not naming sharia or Islam.

Such laws “are problematic particularly from the perspective of the Orthodox community — we have a beit din system, Jews have disputes resolved according to halachah,” Diament said. “We don’t have our own police force, and the mechanism for having those decisions enforced if they need to be enforced is the way any private arbitration is enforced” — through contract law in the secular court system.

Marc Stern, the AJC’s associate general counsel who drafted the letter to the state legislatures, said the greatest threat presented by the proposed laws is to America’s delicate relations with Muslims across the world.

“The key point here for us is that it makes all Muslims who take their religion seriously a threat,” he said, adding that the laws could alienate Muslim moderates who otherwise seek accommodation with the West.

“It’s a strategic error of gigantic proportions,” Stern said.

Saks recalled that when she heard that vandals had defaced a mosque in Nashville in February 2010 with crosses and “Muslims go home” graffiti, she joined a clean-up effort — and forged new alliances.

“When they found out I was Jewish, there was a kind of astonishment, and then they were grateful,” she said of the mostly Somali congregation.

Abed Awad, a New Jersey-based lawyer who is an expert on Islamic law, said the application of the proposed laws would have an impact not only on domestic family court agreements and contracts between members of the same religious community, but on contracts made overseas.

Awad noted that a number of Muslim states and Israel use religious law in divorce cases, for example. An American judge addressing the divorce of a couple now must take into account the sums agreed upon in those contracts; the proposed laws would ban such considerations.

Additionally, Awad said, the legislation would affect agreements signed between American companies and counterparts in countries such as Saudi Arabia, where sharia governs business law. How would one side pursue a grievance in an American court should the laws governing the contract be considered null?

In no instance does sharia law prevail over U.S. law, said Awad, who has testified in about 100 cases as a sharia expert. Instead, judges use sharia to understand the underpinnings of a contract.

“The judge will elicit testimony from me, what is the document, what were the expectations of the party when they came into this, what is the culture,” he said. “Then he applies New York contract law — was there an offer, was there acceptance, was there fraud. Sharia law comes into play to explain what this is all about.”

Such a case in a Florida court, where a judge is considering a dispute between the officers of a mosque, already has led to accusations that sharia has infiltrated the U.S. court system. Leading the charge is Adam Hasner, a Jewish Republican and veteran state politician who is mounting a bid for the state’s U.S. Senate seat in 2012.

“We need to speak out,” Hasner said at a recent rally. “We need to make sure that these threats do not continue to grow, do not continue to infiltrate our state and our country.”

Abraham Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League’s national director, said he often encounters Jews concerned about sharia.

“I’ve had questions from Jewish audiences: What is the ADL doing from stopping sharia from taking over the country?” he said.

Foxman said he politely counters that there is no such threat, except perhaps to the American tradition of accommodating religious observance.

“People don’t know what sharia means, it’s a foreign word,” Foxman told JTA. The proposed anti-sharia laws, he said, are “camouflaged bigotry.”


  1. Camouflaged bigotry, indeed…anyone ever heard of the seperation of Church & State? Government has no business ruling ANYTHING towards ANY religion

  2. michael lawless,

    so you think the government should’t outlaw human sacrifice as a religous rite?

    funny you say seperation of church and state yet you seem to argue that “church” law should be implemented?

    so could someone please explain to me what should happen if muslim parents die, without a will, and there is a minor female and a male heir. so if the male heir says that according to islamic law he should inherit twice as much as his sister. should koranic law be implemented?

  3. What I heard that was interesting was during the flag burning aspect of the video you posted. The Islamic men stomping the flag and ripping it said that people could join in due to a loophole in the constitution that allowed freedom of expression. The term loophole seemed to me key in attempting to understand their position now and what their postion would be in the future if they ever gained any measure of control.

  4. The argument that we need to ban Sharia because it advocates sedition is self-defeating. Since sedition is already a Federal crime, and may even be a capital offense, there’s no need to pass another law that does the same thing while restricting other religious freedoms.

  5. yeah, they had a permit. funny the lack of consistant logic on these websites. when freedom of religion/speech suits them they are all for it, but if someone wants to say something disparaging about islam they should be “subdued”, denied their permit to peacefully assemble. there’s 1.5 billion muslims sometimes and then its, well there are only 10 million american muslims (nothing to fear). if you mention what muslims do throughout world its, well american muslims are well educated and not like the pakistanis or the afghans or the saudis, don’t group us with them? is it not reasonable to look at the muslim world’s behavior to try and see what america will look like in the future as our muslim population grows? should be an interesting next 30 years. have you noticed the demographics of the “arab spring”? the median age in those countries is below 30. i didn’t realize the majority of the muslim world took the ayatollah’s “we’ll out breed the infidels” to heart. i knew the iranians had doubled their population since the “islamic reveloution”. if the marketplace of ideas is limited surely the caliphate will return in the next couple of hundred years. well maybe not, the muslims seem to fight amongst themselevs quite a bit.

    do you also notice they say that muslims are supposed to be good citizens and follow the law when they are in non-muslim countries. if the population trends of the past few decade continue all land will be muslim eventually. they don’t say they agree with american law, just they will tolerate it for now. what did the national spokesman for cair, ibriham hooper say, they want to bring sharia to america through education? funny again, when it suits them there is no definition of sharia.

  6. Mike has written:”is it not reasonable to look at the muslim world’s behavior to try and see what america will look like in the future as our muslim population grows?” and “do you also notice they say that muslims are supposed to be good citizens and follow the law when they are in non-muslim countries. if the population trends of the past few decade continue all land will be muslim eventually.” Well written, Mike.

    The would-be Ground Zero mosque Imam Rauf has said,”Islamic jurists have said from the earliest of times, wherever Muslims are minority, they are required to obey the laws of the land.” The part of the quote “wherever Muslims are minority” apparently was not taken seriously when this was spoken.

  7. richard,

    i agree with you that we don’t need a law banning sharia. nor am i worried about sedition. what concerns me with sharia and all religious laws are (some of) the laws themselves. so do you think the opening of the 24th surah is good law? do you think the inheritance laws in the koran are good laws?

  8. “Instead, judges use sharia to understand the underpinnings of a contract.” like what? what kind of lawyers write contracts with unstated “underpinnings”?

    ““People don’t know what sharia means, it’s a foreign word,” Foxman told JTA. The proposed anti-sharia laws, he said, are “camouflaged bigotry.””

    so why not define sharia? is there not agreement on some things amoungst the four schools of jurisprudence in islam. why not start there as to what sharia is? isn’t what is in the koran, unchallengable, or unchangable?

  9. Muslims in the developing world, like most populations in developing countires, like Latin-American Catholics, among others, have more children than those in developed countries because of the liklihood that not all will survive to adulthood and because of the need for many workers to support one family.

    In developed countries, where the general populace tends to be more educated and the “safety nets” are in place, people have fewer children, expect to support them longer, and assume that they will survive.

    As immigrants become more acclimated and more prosperous, family size in general declines. As women have more access to education, careers, and birth control, family size also declines.

    This has happened with previous immigrant groups, and will happen with Muslims if the US doesn’t deteriorate into a “3rd world” country thanks to multinational corporations and their attempts to eradicate the middle class, to which immigrants generally aspire.

  10. Its sheer ignorance to ban Shariah law. Shariah law is justice system to Muslims and only to Muslims who want it to be applied to them. People who are not Muslims or Muslims who do not want it to applied to them can go the law system they would like to go to. Shariah law has nothing to do with them then in those cases. Common people should not just take isolated cases and assume its the general case – its totally stupid!. It take years to learn law and understand it application and the context and implication of it whether its American law, U.K. law or Jewish law or christian law or any law. They exist because people want them. Shariah law is very just when applied correctly by honest and correct people just like any other law. If the law is not applied correctly even if it is American law or Jewish law injustice can happen and no doubt has been happening – history books are full of them.

    I would like to know which country is 100% injustice free and how many people are unhappy with sentence or decision given to them by their countries court system (religious or non-religious)- just go and research you will find numerous people just around your block. How many people’s lives are ruined when a court gave wrong decision due to hidden corruption in the law systems and would not change its decision. And I would also like to know how many of American problems like rapes, murder, burglaries, domestic violence(mostly done by non-Muslim- check statistics), elderly abuse, increase in poverty due to wars and child abuse would disappear? because these problems have nothing to do with Shariah law applied only to Muslims who want it. Muslims have right to want it and and its utterly irresponsible and barbaric of people who are ignorant about it to make decision about banning it. Tell me how many people out their have actually studied it and understood it to be in position to condemn it. Have any official research been done about its so called bad effect and compared to other justice systems If so where is it? It sound like another witch hunt tradition repeating it-self.

  11. max30

    so you think it’s good law to have a female inherit half as much as a male? so if a 9 year old female’s parnets die without a will. and she has a 20 year old brother. and the brother argues in probate that the estate should be settled under islamic law because he and his sister are muslim. than the judge askes the girl if she is muslim and agrees to the estate to be settled according to sharia. so a 9 year old should be allowed to consent to such arbitration?

  12. hmmm…. well before I answer this question I would gain at the very least some knowledge why daughters are allowed half as much as boys before jumping to wild conclusions. At the moment I only have little knowledge like you. A Muslim friend of mine cleared it saying that In Islamic Society girls get half as a brother if their is a brother because she will be getting rest of her share of wealth from her Husband since Husband is responsible completely for taking care of every need of his wife. In your scenario if brother gets half his share he can use it to open up business to support his 9 year old sister who at the moment is unable to support herself. Also,if it were just daughters they will be given equal share from the wealth.

    In relation to should the girl be allowed to such an arbitration, tell me first, would the American or christian courts allow a child be making decision about inheritance business, if she is christian will she be given the option to choose Islamic law before anything else is settled?

    If you need official and professional answer to this case then I would suggest that you consult Islamic lawyers or Mufties. It would be wise to gain knowledge from knowledgeable sources instead of common people who don’t have a clue what laws are all about? its pretty careless to go around asking common people questions about Amercan laws when a person is fighting a case about a inheritance, he would surely consult professional in that field.

  13. max30,

    thanks for your response. yes i’ve been told by several muslims that men are the “maintainers” of women. that before muhammad reveled the koran, women in arabia (and europe) had no rights of inheritance. so this was an improvement. i just think that it didn’t go far enough and is not congruent with american values. i hope and think that we (america) as a society are moving towards equallity between the sexes, not just “equity” towards women. i don’t think it’s a wild conclusion to say that giving someone half as much as someone else based on their sex, is sexist, i think that is the very definition of the word. my point is that there are several problems with applying ancient laws to modern society.

    i personal don’t know of any “christian courts” in america and i hope there aren’t any. this was just a scenario, i don’t need a lawyer or mufti. but if i where the man i would fly in my favorite grand mufti. what do you think of this guys opinion on 10 year olds marrying?

  14. I am sorry but your argument doesn’t make any sense to me. You are saying we are moving towards ‘equity’. Then how come national football teams contains players who are all men, why aren’t women and men together in worlds top teams. In Olympics or any other competitions why women compete women and men compete men?

    Also, don’t women get maternity leaves in most Europeans countries and men don’t that’s not ‘equity’ is it? Why are most American or European presidents are men not women? history show most world wide inventions are made by men, even now this is the case why?

    Well, simple answer is women and men are different sexes not same, they have their big differences and sound human mind can’t reject these differences. So, your claim that we are moving towards ‘equity’, is far from the truth. Should we try to achieve ‘equity’ first before pointing fingers at others that they don’t seem to have it?

    About mufti or people having a debate about marrying young girls, in my opinion girls should be old and mature enough to make decisions. My Muslim friend told me In Shariah law a marriage is not consummated until there is a clear consent from a girl, there is no place for forced marriages in this law, forced marriage cases happen due to traditional ignorant practices. Child sex trade is unfortunately very big problem worldwide while most countries condemn it including America, there are numerous cases of underage girls going willingly or forced into prostitution illegally. Also, America has big problem of teenage pregnancies and abortions. While this mufti might be debating over it that men marry these girls and treat them as their wives and assume all responsibility for taking care of them, America is turning a blind eye to young girls being groomed into having sex by boyfriends and then just leaving them to their doom – no responsibility claimed by anyone whatsoever for those girls who are left to make the decision to abort a child and try to carry on with their lives with distorted hearts. You know in U.K. young girls have become the heaviest drinker of Alcohol, research shows most of them not happy and are in depression. Why? When we are giving women every thing they need? May be we should be trying to help these poor souls first…before jumping into other’s problems trying to be wonderful knight in shining Armour.

  15. Sorry for the confusion last comment is from me.

  16. max30,

    i said i hope we are moving towards equality and not just equity because it is difficult to define equitable treatment. the taliban may believe they are treating their wives equitably by feeding, houseing, and clothing (maintaining) them. why send a female to school if she will be maintained by her father, husband, brother, uncle, etc. maybe it’s just me but i would hope for more out of life than just being maintained. yes there are obvious difference between the sexes. equality doesn’t mean equality of outcome, but equility of opportunity. yes there have been no female presidents of the united states, but that’s not because they are not allowed to run. well maybe they weren’t allowed in the past, not sure but they couldn’t vote, so i would assume they couldn’t hold office? but our constitution allows for change/growth.

    but i still don’t think a 10 year has the mental capacity to be allowed to enter into any contract, but especially not marriage, even if her parents concent. you mention differences between men and women. so do you not see the obvious difference between adult and child. unobvious difference exist as well. men have 6 times the gray matter in their brains than women, and women have 10 times the white matter as men. the frontal lobe is not fully developed even in post pubescent teenagers. and that is where the brain reasons consequence of actions. haven’t you ever seen a 10 year old go something stupid and you ask, why did you do that, and they reply, i don’t know?

    your right, we (america) have a big problem with the collapse of the nuclear family. not just teen pregnancy but illegitimacy rates amoung adult females is worrisome in my book. but i don’t think we are turning a blind eye to it. we have think tanks that release studies, books written on the subject. every election “family values” are brought up. in fact with 24 cable news we are now in a perpetual election cycle, so it’s talked about constantly. we have inacted laws that now inprison “deadbeat dads”, take their driver’s liscence if they fall behind on child support. of course some say, how can he make good on his obligations if he can’t drive to work or worst is in prision. so these stategies are still open to debate.

  17. max30

    have you ever taken the left brain vs right brain test. it’s interesting that two people can look at something turning and see it turn in opposite directions.

    WARNING TO ANY EASILY OFFENDED MUSLIMS; this test is a silhouette of a female dancer.

  18. I understand that our constitution is open to change and growth which in my opinion is a good and a bad thing at the same time. It shows that our constitution was not perfect from THE beginning we have been making laws and changing laws on trial and error bases and who these laws have been and are being practiced on – the people of America. A change can happen for the better or the worse, we can only hope with all these changes and growth or reduction going on recently we are heading for our betterment – we don’t want to end up like the Roman Empire.

    Yeah I have seen a 10 year old go something stupid and you ask, why did you do that, and they reply, I don’t know? your right but then again I have seen even young adults i.e. age 20 – 27 do the same i.e. drug abuse, teenage poignancy, accident happening when drunk. however, I do agree that its too young age for a girl to get married but lets keep the debate open for 10 – 16 girls marriage for them to think it over with evidences and research rather just opinions which is like you said is our way too.

    About taliban or Afghan’s wives, I think they are not a good example to be chosen as Muslim women’s common everyday life. Because since their country is constantly engaged in war, I think they have bigger worries than just ‘maintenance’ i.e. NATO or tailban bombs landing in their mud huts or tents, bullets punching holes in their chilren bodies while in shools in crossfire between the fighting forces, food shortage due to war while opium crops are thriving well looked after by NATO soldiers so no harm comes to opium crops doesn’t matter whether there any food crops or not, or their children are becoming drug addicts or drug dealer etc

    Anyway, there is more to life than ‘maintenance’ is very new phrase to me, I and my friends who work full time are familiar with the phrase there is more to life than work! but doing our jobs as best we can as we know we have our roles to play. You know my well-known colleague’s daughter has converted from Christian religion to Muslim religion few years back. She gave me some insight into how is Muslim woman’s life well for a starter the person she married are very happy with each other, husband and wife both have some responsibilities for each other according to their religion Islam which makes them work as a team working towards happy life, Husband works full time, while her children were young she studied the subject that interests her now her children are going to school full time therefore she had time on her hand so she decided to work and she is enjoying her work with her husband sporting her fully. Do you know that what Muslim women earns or owns is totally hers no one- not even her husband has any right over it what so ever this right was given to Muslim Women 1400 years ago. This is just to help you have some understanding that Muslim women is not equal to damsel in distress. You might think that husband caring for or in your term ‘maintaining’ their wives could be a bad thing but those but women might have different point of view. Its narrow-minded to think that what my view is also other people’s view or more importantly should be their view. They might see things from different perspective than yours and things you think might cause you unhappiness might cause someone else to be happy.

    We have moved from Banning Shariah law to minding What Muslims does or do not do. Islam is way of life to them which they have chosen just as we have chosen to live as I live or how you live or the way each and every American lives, don’t we all have that freedom? I wonder if few years later we will be talking about Banning Islam and then holding guns at their heads ordering them to live the way we want them to live or have specific life-style we want them to have or be shot! Is this we want to head for? Will we be able to call ourselves civilized ever again then?

  19. max30,

    you make many excellent points. yes life is a dichotomy, change can be good and bad at the same time. of course the constitution was not perfect from THE begining. we allowed slavery despite saying “all men are created equal”. women were held down, not allowed to vote.

    not sure i follow what you are saying “I do agree that its too young age for a girl to get married but lets keep the debate open for 10 – 16 girls marriage”? are you saying that a 5 year old is too young but a 10 year old might not be? sorry but i disagree whole heartedly that a 10 year old or a 15 year old should be allowed to be married off. i personally would like to see no one married until age 26, because mri s are showing that the human brain is not fully developed until age 25, but i’m a radical.

    as for the taliban, you’re right that is an extreme example. i was in morocco in 92 for two days and never saw a woman in public. the saudis (who haven’t been at war since the country was formed) don’t allow women to drive.

    as for there is more to maintenace of life, that saddens me that you have to work so hard. but perhaps you are young. even worse that you say “we know we have our roles to play”. in america we strive to be “upwardly” mobile. don’t ever believe you have a “station” in life. strive to be what you want to be. don’t ever let anyone hold you back. (although that poor maldives girl who wants to be an oceanographer maybe held back by her father wanting her to be a housewife) well i’m given unsolicited advise, there is good money in real estate right now if you have some cash. actually a bought a house in PA the other day for a dollar. it cost me $925 with closing cost and buyers premium, haven’t seen it yet but…sorry i’m drunk and starting to ramble.

    i’m sure there are many muslim and non-muslim women happy with being maintained, even some men. yes i understand that before muhammad women had no property and inheritance rights, and that they can keep all they earn according to sharia. that in and of itself is unfair in my book. so i’m not trying to rescue any “damsel in distress”. i just think we as a society need to agree on some ground rules, one of which is all men and women are equal (not physically or even mentally) in the eyes of the law. that’s why lady justice has a blindfold on as she holds the scales of justice. i guess that is my prejudice, maybe it is a western concept that justice is blind as to who comes before the judge. that we shouldn’t have different laws based on race, religion, creed, sex, sexual orientation, social status.

    “chosen to live as I live or how you live or the way each and every American lives, don’t we all have that freedom?” yes to some degree. but those freedoms ebb and flow with law. that’s what law is, it governs how we live. so the debate as to what should be law is extremely important. i hope no law calling for the proabition of aclohol is ever inacted again. not sure where the guns to the head came from, are not all these proposals being carried out in the courts and the legislature?

    hope to hear from you soon, maybe you should reply in a more recent article, i think this one is about to cycle off the site?

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