Anti-Sharia bill is attack on religion, Muslims assert
By Joel Davis (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Even as Bill French brought his warning about the Islamic law to Blount County Tea Partiers, a First Amendment struggle involving Sharia is playing out in the Tennessee General Assembly.
Increasing media attention is focusing on Republican state lawmakers who have proposed a bill that would make following Sharia a felony punishable by 15 years in jail.
The bill, by state Rep. Judd Matheny of Tullahoma and state Sen. Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro, states that it exempts the peaceful practice of Islam, but it also labels any adherence to Sharia ÔŅ1/21/2" which includes peaceful religious practices ÔŅ1/21/2" as treasonous.
Amir Arain, spokesman for the Islamic Center of Nashville, said the bill is an attack on his ability to practice his religion: ‚ÄúSharia basically means the principles by which we live our lives. Sharia means ‚Äėthe way to the waters‚Äô by literal meaning. It is similar to what the Jewish law is or the canon law by which the Jews and Christians live their lives. It‚Äôs nothing more than that.
‚ÄúThis anti-Sharia bill that is being promoted is going to curtail our civil liberties, and we have concerns about it. They are going to demonize all our faith.‚ÄĚ
Charles Haynes, a senior scholar at the First Amendment Center in Washington, D.C., said that Sharia is a complex body of religious dictates and advice with myriad interpretations. ‚ÄúShariah is a term that covers all Islamic law. It‚Äôs first and foremost a set of general principles. Those principles have been interpreted through the centuries in various ways by different schools of thought within Islam and applied in different ways in different countries.‚ÄĚ
Sharia, like any religious system, can be abused if taken to extremes, Haynes said. It has been used to justify harsh and barbaric behavior in some parts of the world.
‚ÄúIt is very true in some parts of the world Islamic law is interpreted by extremist or radicals in ways that are violent,‚ÄĚ Haynes said. ‚ÄúThere are many of these radical groups around the world. That‚Äôs why it is easy to frighten people. Most Muslims in the United States and around the world condemn these applications of Sharia law. Many Muslims believe Islam is compatible with democracy and freedom.‚ÄĚ
Arain said that allegations that Islam as a whole promotes terrorism are untrue. ‚ÄúThat‚Äôs completely out of the question. They‚Äôre just trying to demonize the faith. We have fundamentalists and terrorists in every faith. It doesn‚Äôt mean that the terrorists define the faith.‚ÄĚ
The Associated Press contributed to this report.