The United States and Islamic Law

The Department of Government Law and International Affairs at Murray State University hosted Mr. Abed Awad on Thursday night, March 24th, 2011.

Mr. Awad is an internationally recognized American lawyer specializing in Islamic law, with degrees from Rutgers and Pace International School of Law, among others.

The invitation to Mr. Awad was extended in order to educate faculty, staff, students, and the community, in general, about Islamic law, and to address the attention of U.S. media has directed towards Sharia law.

Honestly, my own thoughts paralleled some of those I have both heard and read – that U.S. law should prevail in the United States. Not that I am against Sharia law, or any other law for that matter, but from strictly a reductionist viewpoint, my opinion was that too many legal systems make the application of law difficult, if not unfair. In other words, the simpler, the better.

These thoughts, though, were essentially ignorant of the U.S. legal system, and global legal systems, in general, and if I had bothered to challenge my own views I would have understood their ignorance. Yes, like the Grinch, I think I had a few brain cells grow three sizes tonight.

The United States legal system allows for agreements and contracts to be written and entered into based on a wide variety of legal and religious precedents. For example, not everyone in the United States marries according to Christian doctrine. Jews do not, and Jews have what is called “Rabbinical Law,” which governs many secular and religious practices. Not all Christians abide by the same Christian laws, either. Quakers, Amish, Mennonites, Russian Orthodox, and Greek Orthodox all have different rules regarding marriage, death, and charity.

People write contracts and engage in business and other activities not necessarily according to civil laws but by religious laws. We might not be exposed to dealings such as these, living in rural Kentucky, or rural America, but those living in Chicago, New York, Atlanta, or other urban areas might run across business contracts that cut across cultural and religious lines.

Businesses may engage in contracts around the world, and those contracts may stipulate compensations, penalties, or interest. In some areas of the world, Israel, Jordan, Malaysia, how those financial instruments are calculated may be governed by religious law rather than civil law.

As individuals, we may never run across personal or business dealings that engage us in contracts or agreements that require us to be knowledgeable about religious laws. Individual events, marriage, death, tithing and charity, divorce, adoption are areas in which religious laws may prevail over civil law because of the contract in place to bind the parties together.

Oklahoma passed a law that makes the practice of Sharia law illegal and voids any contract that involves international law. Tennessee has a bill pending that would make the practice of Sharia law a felony. Both of those legal proceedings are fraught with problems. First, Sharia law is religion-based. The U.S. constitution forbids the making of any laws that forbid or restrict the practice of any religion. Second, legal precedent already allows for other religious laws to be considered in legal proceedings, from Greek Orthodox to Rabbinical laws to Mormon law. Third, people and businesses may already have contracts in place containing elements that address the religious laws in place elsewhere. Legal experts must be in place to address potential breaches in contract stipulations. By making any religious law illegal the courts then have no ability to consider a contract breach and therefore no legal remedy is available. Fourth, states have no power to control the treaties engaged in by the Federal Government. International treaties have the power of domestic law. International treaties that incorporate religious laws then need to have lawyers skilled in international law.

In conclusion, my knowledge of our United States legal system was greatly expanded tonight. The inclusion of Sharia law in our legal system is not unique nor should be deemed as catering to a special interest, as Rabbinical (Jewish) laws, and laws from other Christian sects are commonly found within our legal system. Judges, jurors, and lawyers often use expert testimony, expert witnesses, rabbis, priests, and clergy for interpreting contracts and agreements. Focusing on a single religion and treating that religion’s doctrine differently than others is unconstitutional. By making the process of considering any religious law or doctrine illegal, the legal system itself will be unable to bring about any legal resolution.

To learn more about Abed Awad:

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