Muneer Awad is the plaintiff who filed the lawsuit against the State of Oklahoma in Awad v. Ziriax to challenge S.Q. 755. He currently serves as the Executive Director of the Oklahoma Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Late Monday, the ACLU and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) filed a brief in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals seeking a decision to affirm a lower court ruling declaring Oklahoma’s anti-Sharia law unconstitutional.
The case stems from the 2010 elections, in which Oklahoma voters were asked to consider State Question 755 (S.Q. 755) – the “Save Our State Amendment.” The proposed amendment received unprecedented attention. Its author, District Attorney Rex Duncan, was featured in the national media warning Americans of the spreading “cancer” of Islam and “creeping Sharia.”
The election season hype inflamed the debate, and we witnessed an incumbent who voted against S.Q. 755 attacked as a terrorist sympathizer by opposing candidates.
Emboldened by the climate of fear and bigotry created by these politicians, anti-Muslim groups from near and far began to pump their own agendas. A Florida-based anti-Muslim group poured $50,000 into a robo-call campaign warning Oklahomans that S.Q. 755 was necessary to prevent Muslim men from raping their wives. Certain church groups welcomed anti-Muslim speakers and posted multi-thousand dollar newspaper ads alleging that Islam invented slavery and promoted child cruelty.
This anti-Muslim campaign included public officials and private groups that reinforced the bigotry and fear-mongering. For instance, Rep. Lewis Moore and Rep. Sally Kern (who would later attempt to introduce her own anti-foreign law bill) are both part of an anti-Muslim group that meets weekly at a shooting range to discuss politics. One of these meetings included a guest speaker who alleged that President Obama is a secret Muslim connected to the Saudi royal family.
These public smear campaigns were obviously misguided, deceiving, and offensive. Sharia does not stand for beheadings, stoning, amputations, or rape, as has been suggested. Sharia is not the source of gender inequality or domestic abuse, as was alleged. And ultimately, Sharia does not contradict the U.S. Constitution, as politicians continue to allege today.
In reality Sharia serves as a guide for Muslims. It can offer guidance in contracts, charity, diet, and much more. For American Muslims, Sharia has no military, political, or totalitarian element seeking to overthrow our government- as the worst of our political fear-mongers suggest. Sharia also mandates that Muslims respect the law of the land (for American Muslims, that would be the U.S. Constitution). Potentially the most damning blow to the chorus of anti-Sharia pundits is that the U.S. Constitution will never allow a foreign law to conflict with and replace the laws of our land- it is constitutionally impossible. So if these anti-Sharia bills are unconstitutional, unnecessary, and damaging to religious negotiations and business contracts, why are some politicians promoting them? I believe these politicians know that anti-Sharia and anti-foreign law amendments are unconstitutional, and that they will ultimately fail.
However, passing this legislation is not the intent of the politicians. Instead they have proven that their only purpose is to ride the current wave of Islamophobia.
Despite the legal fallacies behind these amendments, the public debate surrounding anti-Sharia bills has marginalized and demonized the Muslim community in America. A shadow of suspicion and fear has been cast over Muslims as a result of the deliberate misinformation used to scare people into voting for these laws and their authors. By injecting these amendments into public discourse, these politicians have also endorsed the blatant Islamophobia that accompanies them.
CAIR and the ACLU’s efforts to combat this legislation in the court of law will not erase the results it has in the court of public opinion. A persistent effort must be made to combat these hate groups, and the politicians that pander to them.
In Oklahoma, the Muslim community found partners in the interfaith community, which understood Sharia to be like the Christian code of ethics, and Islamic arbitration to be like Jewish religious courts. Oklahoma Muslims were also fortunate to find partners in the business community who regarded bans on foreign law as a threat to international business contracts. Various chambers of commerce are also mindful of the black eye Arizona’s intolerant immigration law had on that state’s economy.
However I do not wish to ignore the power of the court’s decision in this case. A ruling in favor of CAIR and the ACLU can very well stop legislators in their tracks, before promoting an anti-Sharia or foreign law bill in the future. If that happens, we can begin to push bigotry and Islamophobia out of mainstream discourse.