Oklahoma's Shariah Law Ban -- Sightings

I have opined before about the recent passage of an Oklahoma law banning the use of international law and sharia law in court procedures in that state, and I published a guest posting by a member of my congregation who happens to be a lawyer.  We return to that issue again this morning.

The question that this action, which was passed by 70% of the voters, raises -- concerns why voters made this decision, and why Oklahomans aren't alone in their desire to do so.  Make no mistake, there are terrorists who take inspiration from their interpretation of the Qur'an and from other Islamic teachings, and women are mistreated in a number of Muslim countries -- but one could ask whether this is because of Islam or other cultural dynamics present in those countries.  But that's for another day.  The question is why Oklahoma's voters acted as they did?   Is it fear?  Hatred?  Ignorance?  Insanity?  That is, are Americans losing their minds?   And a further question -- do acts like this not play into the hands of extremists?    Well, Martin Marty has chosen to address some of these questions in today's Sightings column.  As usual, this is worth considering.


Sightings 12/6/2010

Oklahoma’s Shariah Law Ban
- Martin E. Marty

In late November Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange issued a permanent injunction on the “Oklahoma shariah law ban” leaving Oklahoma at least temporarily unsaved by the “Save our State” Question 755. The constitutional amendment had been approved by 70% of the state’s voters on November 2. Sightings blinked when debates over the proposition began. It seemed too outlandish to dignify. Next Sightings squinted and filtered out headlines about the post-election debates. To avoid losing Oklahoma subscribers from Oklahoma by insulting them? Hardly: voters like the Oklahoma majority presumably live in all states.

The debate does not die down simply because of the permanent injunction. Readers who will scan the hundreds or thousands of retrievable documents discussing the issue in print or on the web will find that the early framework for discussion revolved around two questions: was this measure inspired simply by hate or simply by fear? The measure would “forbid courts from considering” international law or, the point at issue, using Islamic religious law, known as shariah, which the Oklahoma amendment defined as being based on the Qur’an and the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed.

The first explanation for the vote is fear. Fear of “the other” is so natural, so cultivated, and so exploited in recent years that, in the eyes of many, it can account for much of the support for the measure. Next, hatred of “the other,” in this case of Muslims and Islam is so patent, so palpable and contradictory to the norms about truth-telling and love held by the Christian (and other) religious majorities of the state that it can also account for the support.

More recently, however, two other factors have been at play in diagnoses. One is simply ignorance, not about terribly terrible actions against women in many shariah-based polities, for example. Innumerable stories of inhumane actions are reported domestically even though the shariah laws on which these actions are based are enforced in far-away Islamic-ruled countries. Instead, what drove Oklahomans to vote for the ban is ignorance of the nature of religious law as it is or can be effected in the United States. Thus Catholic canon law has numerous strictures against many kinds of actions by Catholics. Halakha, the Jewish code, starts with 613 laws, which are supposed to be binding on Orthodox Jews, but it holds no base or potential for civil legal action.

Some religious leaders, of course, grounded in their canon law and halakha may work to influence the mentality of voters, hoping they will vote in ways congruent with those of the religious body. But they have to persuade voters to render such preferences in civil law, something that the 30,000 Muslims of Oklahoma, whose population is 3.7 million, are not likely to achieve, even if any of them wanted to do so. (Those Muslims often include “your” Oklahoma doctor, nurse, engineer, accountant, and good neighbor.)

The other supposition by analysts of this ban is insanity. That is an uncharitable judgment, but as columnist Leonard Pitts put it, “we are gathered here today to mourn the loss of America’s mind,” a loss exemplified in the Oklahoma argument and vote. “Thoughtful people ought to be alarmed,” for these actions based on fear, hate, ignorance, or insanity give victories to terrorists, Jihadists, and others, who want us to fear. Pitts writes that they can say “America is scared stupid. Mission accomplished.” Shariah won’t do us in, and canon law won’t save us. Civil law and civil citizens, also in Oklahoma, can help do so.


Bill Mears, “Judge issues permanent injunction on Oklahoma Sharia law ban,” CNN, November 29, 2010.

Leonard Pitts, “Oklahoma paranoia strikes deep,” Miami Herald, December 3, 2010.

Omar Sacirbey, “Oklahoma Muslims Wary after Shari’a referendum,” The Christian Century, November 4, 2010.

Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, publications, and contact information can be found at www.illuminos.com.


Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.


joe six-pack said…
I support a ban on Islamic law because I saw what happened in New Jersey last summer. A court overturned a ruling that allowed a Muslim man to take his wife against her wishes.

Islamic law has a number of issues like this one that are being debated to this day. Such as the ability to beat your wife. I have to agree that I do not want ANY of these debates to be held here. I believe that our own legal system handles these issues well.

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