The man behind a lawsuit seeking to overturn a ballot measure has a passion for the law and his Islamic faith.

Muneer Awad, executive director of the Oklahoma Chapter of the Council for American-Islamic Relations, filed suit in federal court last week to overturn State Question 755. The measure bans the use of Shariah and international law in deciding cases in state courts. It passed Nov. 2 with slightly more than 70 percent of the vote.

Shariah law is not used in state courts, but supporters said SQ 755 was needed as a preventive measure.

U.S. District Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange granted a temporary restraining order putting its implementation on hold. A hearing for an injunction is set for Nov. 22.

Awad, who has been on the job with CAIR’s Oklahoma chapter since Oct. 14, said Shariah law could never replace federal or state laws.

But adoption of a constitutional amendment referencing Shariah law voices the state’s official disapproval and condemnation of Islam, he said.

“And that raises constitutional issues on its own with respect to the government being able to approve or disapprove of religion,” Awad said. “It involves my standing as a Muslim in the political community.”

When news of the lawsuit spread, his organization got a lot of hate mail, but it has also received encouragement, Awad said.

“Our organization has gotten more donations from non-Muslims in the past week than we have from Muslims,” he said. “This has really been a sign of Oklahomans, I think, realizing that no matter what disagreement we have here, there is still a need to remain rational and let the courts consider what is being presented.”

Shariah law is guidance for Muslims on how to practice and interpret their faith in daily interactions and in society, Awad said.

“It touches on things that are even beyond law,” he said. “Simply me refraining from eating pork is part of following Shariah. Me not drinking alcohol is part of following Shariah. Me marrying is part of Shariah. So Shariah encompasses so many things beyond the law.”

He said Shariah changes and is not applied the same in all countries.

“One of the main aspects of Shariah is abiding by the law of the land,” Awad said. “As a Muslim, I am mandated to abide by the law of the land I live in.”

He said it is disingenuous for critics to point to how Shariah is followed in other countries. While polygamy is permissible in his faith, it is not legal in the Untied States, he said.

Awad said politicians are profiting from the fear of Islam.

“I know this element of hate is definitely a fringe element,” he said. “So I don’t actually live my life in fear of someone attacking me or misunderstanding me.”

Following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, Muslims were faced with physical violence, which many Americans found appalling, he said.

“Now, I think we are seeing the attack of Muslims as a political tool,” Awad said. “Unfortunately, politically now Islamaphobia is very popular. If you attack Muslims or anything related to Islam, you have a good chance of rallying up a lot of support.”

He said he needs to reach out to those who fear and misunderstand Islam.

Voters’ overwhelming approval of SQ 755 is not as troubling as some might think, Awad said.

Muslims represent less than 1 percent of the state’s population, and fewer than that are registered to vote, he said.

“We can look at it and say those 30 percent were informed and understood this was unconstitutional and unjust and look at the 70 percent and say that is where our work needs to be,” Awad said. “We just have to help those people realize there is nothing to fear about Islam.”

He said critics have charged him with trying to overturn the will of the voters.

“This is about constitutional rights,” Awad said. “In America, the last time I checked, you can have 99 percent of the vote but you cannot vote to deprive someone of their constitutional rights. This is the Bill of Rights. No majority should be able to take away the Bill of Rights from a minority community.

“This isn’t about bringing Shariah here. This is about defending the Constitution. This is about maintaining the law we already have.”

Muneer O. Awad

Executive director of the Oklahoma Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations

Age: 27

Born: Ann Arbor, Mich.

Family: Married with a newborn.

Education: Marietta (Ga.) High School; bachelor’s degree in geography and law degree from the University of Georgia; plans to take the Oklahoma bar exam.

Hobbies: Working out and sports; watching the Oklahoma City Thunder; and keeping up with the University of Georgia Bulldogs football team.

Barbara Hoberock (405) 528-2465 SUBHEAD: The Muslim suing the state explains his motivation.

Original Print Headline: Shariah lawsuit about ‘constitutional rights’