Sharia law becomes 2012 caucus issue
|Matt La Luz/The Daily Iowan|
Though discussion about radical Islam and its connection to terrorism has played a central role in political debates and elections since 9/11, a new issue has surfaced both in domestic policy and in the run-up to the 2012 presidential elections: sharia.
While some Republicans warn that the code of law could infiltrate American culture, scholars and experts say there's little chance of the justice system being overtaken by Islamic rule.
The Family Leader — an Iowa-based Christian conservative group — has asked GOP presidential-nomination hopefuls in the last few weeks to sign a "Marriage Vow" that includes a pledge to reject "Sharia Islam and all other anti-woman, anti-human-rights forms of totalitarian control." And earlier this year, Republican hopeful Herman Cain said he would not be comfortable appointing a Muslim to his Cabinet or the federal bench.
"There is this attempt to gradually ease sharia law and the Muslim faith into our government," Cain told Think Progress, a liberal blog. "It does not belong in our government."
Cain later clarified his comment, saying he would hire a Muslim who swore allegiance to the Constitution.
Other caucus contenders, too, haven decried supposed Islamic threats. Republican candidate Michele Bachmann voiced her concerns several months ago during an interview on a Massachusetts radio station.
"We don't understand that there are sharia-compliant terrorists in our midst," Bachmann said. "If we … fail to understand our enemy, we will make ourselves more vulnerable."
And former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., said in a speech two years ago that Islam is incompatible with democracy.
"A democracy could not exist because Muhammad already made the perfect law," Santorum said, according to The Daily Nebraskan. "The Koran is perfect just the way it is, that's why it is only written in Islamic [sic]."
But Ousainou Keita, the president of the executive committee of the Iowa City Mosque, said sharia is simply "the laws that govern our lives as Muslims."
"Islam and sharia are not divisible," Keita said. "It's just like the United States and the Constitution."
University of Iowa law Professor Adrien Wing, who teaches classes on law in the Muslim world, said she doesn't see sharia as a threat to America's courts.
"Given that there's not that many Muslims in the whole United States generally and that divorce laws are done according to the laws of each particular state, it's hard to see that this can be such an issue that these things are overtaking the legal system," Wing said.
Keita said that there is no risk of sharia law replacing American law, calling such claim "nonsense."
"It's part of being a Muslim and Islam, you abide by the law of any land you decide to live in," Keita said. "If you think you cannot abide by the law, you know what to do — get out of there."
Karen Lugo, an attorney and founder of the Libertas-West project — which she said seeks to preserve "Western democratic culture" — said she believes Islam poses a special risk.
"This group, unlike others, has a stated purpose, when it comes to the radicals, of our destruction," she said.
"In America, in our community we can say that we are welcoming the moderate Muslims," she said. "We don't mind as long as they don't want to change the way we live."
But the law and the religion aren't the only things being questioned.
Mosques, which are at the heart of any Islamic community, have taken political center stage in the past few years — most notably when controversy erupted over proposed construction of a mosque blocks from the former World Trade Center in New York City.
During an interview with Fox News this month, Cain said he opposed the construction of a mosque in Tennessee.
"Our Constitution guarantees separation of church and state. Islam combines church and state," he said. "They're using the church part of our First Amendment to infuse their mosque in that community."
But UI Associate Professor of political science Tim Hagle said he thinks Cain's comments on Islam won't endear him many voters.
"Is this going to affect Cain? My guess is yes, because even to the extent that some people would understand why he said it, they'll still be concerned about how he expressed himself," Hagle said.
Keita said misunderstanding is a very real phenomenon, especially in the decade since the 9/11 attacks.
"There are 2 billion Muslims worldwide … why don't they just specify these [terrorists] and link it to the group instead of the whole religion," Keita said. "Accusing 2 billion people of a crime we have no clue why it was committed…it just doesn't make sense."
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