Republicans Claim Shari’ah Law Threatens Constitution

As the Republicans prepare to take control of the House of Representatives today, much attention has been paid to Rep. Darrell Issa’s plans to pursue scurrilous and wasteful “oversight” of the “most corrupt” Obama administration. But Republicans, like Rep. Peter King, the new chair of the Homeland Security Committee have another issue in their crosshairs: the supposed anti-American threat of “radical Islam” and shari’ah law.

King lashed out against the New York Times this week over the paper’s recent editorial, which called King’s “sweeping slur on Muslim citizens” “unacceptable.” 

“I have more contempt for The New York Times than anything or anyone I can think of,” King said this week. (Remember, the Republicans love the Constitution! Especially the First Amendment!)

But while King’s planned hearings on the “radicalization” of American Muslims made headlines before the holidays, there’s a subplot in that narrative that will no doubt find its way into Republican “oversight” and “protection” of (selective) Constitutional principles: the supposed threat of shari’ah law to the Constitution.

At an event held at the Capitol Visitors Center shortly before Thanksgiving last year, Islamophobic agitator Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy put on a panel of speakers, including Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO), who urged Congress to investigate how shari’ah law poses a dire threat to the Constitution.

Gaffney’s “Team B” report on shari’ah law, released earlier last fall, found favor with Republicans like Rep. Trent Franks (AZ), Rep. Pete Hoekstra (MI), and Rep. Michelle Bachmann (MN). As Matt Duss reported at the time, the report’s chief “expert,” David Yerushalmi, who serves as General Counsel for the Center for Security Policy, maintains that Islam is a violent religion, that the Muslim Brotherhood has penetrated every facet of American life, “virtually paralyzing our ability to respond effectively,” and, through his organization Society of Americans for National Existence, once proposed outlawing “adherence to shari’a,” deporting “shari’a adherents,” and denying them entry to the United States.

In responding to a question about whether a Muslim who doesn’t follow shari’ah law is considered a “good” Muslim by the Muslims he claims are strict adherents to his imagined shari’ah law, Yerushalmi said, “Let me give you an example. Could a good Jew walk around with a clean shaven face and no little beanie on his head and eat pork every other Tuesday? Well, if you ask me, I would tell you, no.” Which of course suggests that Yerushalmi is the legalistic purist, but, uh… oh, never mind.

While he claims that strict adherence to Jewish law is required to be a “good” Jew, Yerushalmi misapprehends shari’ah as a set of requirements and, more ominously, punishments. As Haroon Moghul wrote here just after Oklahoma voters passed a shari’ah ban last year:

Shari’ah is, for Muslims, the “path to the water,” the texts that normatively define a moral life and the means to God and heaven in the life to come. But Shari’ah is an ideal. Muslims, across countries and centuries, have only ever been able to interpret revelation, producing readings of Shari’ah which are never fully conclusive, because Islam recognizes no central authority to define those readings once and for all. Thus Islam’s decentralization, its many competing discourses, all pushing and pulling around a body of texts that are nearly universally agreed upon—but over whose interpretations most debates never end.

What most Americans don’t realize is that we already have interpretations of Shari’ah law in our country; or, at least, interpretations of the personal, moral, and ethical components of the law, operating off of individual choice and will. When Muslims pray, they are following interpretations of Shari’ah. Fasting in Ramadan. Giving in charity. Even a smile, the Prophet Muhammad said, is charity.

But Gaffney et al. portray shari’ah as a fixed legal code that a fifth column of “adherents” seek to implement in place of the Constitution (somehow, they don’t explain how one Muslim in Congress or the less than one percent of the U.S. adult population that is Muslim would accomplish this). Gaffney told the audience for his talk, which was directed at Congressional staffers:

[I]n fact we are looking at a mortal threat to the supreme law of the land, the Constitution of the United States by its own terms, and the freedoms that we hold dear that are guaranteed by it, if we accept the insinuation and ultimately the adoption of shari’ah in the United States.

So this panel is, we hope, part of a debate that will become much more vigorous in this country in the days ahead. We hope that in particular the kinds of efforts to insinuate shari’ah that have been touched on here and we can develop at greater length with you if you’d like, are the subject for congressional scrutiny and investigation and hearings in the days ahead because one thing is pretty clear.

. . . . it’s, I think, a matter of time before you find mutations of freedom of speech taking place here. I don’t know if it takes the full form of hate speech legislation in accordance with which, as he said, people are being tried in Europe and elsewhere, or whether it takes another form.

But the point is it won’t be America if shari’ah is part of our legal code, if it’s allowed as a political reality to take hold in this country. In short, speaking for myself and I think for my colleagues, we’re about trying to keep America shari’ah free.

Lamborn, who said he was pleased to co-host the event, called Oklahoma’s passage of a shari’ah ban last year “just the opening round in the growing struggle between shari’ah law and the American political, legal, cultural and religious environment.” 

Lamborn called shari’ah’s impact “very sweeping, affecting our legal system, financial institutions, business decisions, schools, marriage and family relations, law and order, and our neighborhoods,” adding “the U.S. Constitution is the law of the land, and the challenges that strict adherence to shari’ah law pose to our laws cannot be ignored. . . .  This is one of the many reasons why members of Congress should start digging deeper into understanding shari’ah law.”

Sarah Posner, author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, covers politics and religion. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The American ProspectThe NationSalon, and other publications. Follow her on TwitterRSS feed Email