By Elizabeth Waibel
Two Tennessee state lawmakers — a senator and a representative — recently introduced bills that would criminalize “the knowing provision of material support or resources … to designated Shariah organizations … or to known Shariah-jihad organizations with the intent of furthering their criminal behavior.”
The bill says it does not target the peaceful practice of any religion but criminalizes the knowing provision of support or resources to designated Shariah organizations. The bill gives the attorney general authority to designate an organization as a Shariah organization if he or she finds that the organization knowingly adheres to Shariah, “engages in, or retains the capability and intent to engage in, an act of terrorism” and “the act of terrorism of the organization threatens the security or public safety of this state’s residents.”
It also says that “Shariah requires the abrogation, destruction or violation of the United States and Tennessee Constitutions and the imposition of Shariah through violence and criminal activity.”
Abdou Kattih, a board member at the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, said the bill will criminalize Muslims and could cause them to be put in jail.
“It will criminalize every Muslim for practicing their faith,” he said.
Kattih has lived in Tennessee for about 13 years and is a constituent of Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, who introduced the bill in the state senate. Kattih called Shariah “the way.”
“It’s our religion itself,” he said. “It defines everything in our lives.”
The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro received national attention when its construction site was vandalized in 2010. Kattih said although the bill talks about protecting Tennessee from terrorism, almost every Islamic center in the state has been attacked by vandals or arsonists in the last 10 years.
Kattih said the opinion of several attorneys is that the bill encompasses more than just terrorist organizations and will affect all Muslims and any non-Muslims who associate with them.
“This bill, in practice, is an anti-Muslim bill,” he said.
Dr. Hunter Baker, associate dean of arts and sciences and associate professor of political science, said he understands people who say the bill is intolerant, but Shariah almost forces a response.
“Islam does not have a natural concept of something like the separation of church and state,” Baker said. “Normally, in an Islamic state, Shariah law would be very similar to the law of the state. So, where Muslims gather in significant numbers, they want to put this Shariah law into effect; it’s part of their faith.
“But the problem is that you end up with sort of a legal system with real penalties — like state, police-type law penalties — operating within another kind of government. It’s like a government within a government, and it presents serious challenges. … This is the sticky area of religious liberty.”
People have total freedom of religious belief, Baker said, but that is different from total freedom of religious action. People are not allowed to practice human sacrifice, for example, even if their religion requires it, but cases are not always that clear.
Baker pointed to a case in which some members of the Santeria religion in Florida practiced animal sacrifice. The town in which the church was located passed ordinances prohibiting animal sacrifice, but permitting the killing of animals for food, hunting, pest control and euthanasia. The church appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which found that the ordinances were infringing on the free exercise of religion.
“Specifically targeting Shariah is actually a good way to cause courts to protect it,” Baker said.
He said the question to consider is whether the actions that would be dictated by Shariah law are consistent with the political system in which Americans live. He added, however, that the bill probably will not pass, and it would be better to simply enforce laws already in existence. Honor killing, for example, is already covered by laws against murder.
“It’s flashy, it will get a lot of attention, but I would suspect most people who are probably serious lawmakers would see that you don’t need a specific anti-Shariah ordinance,” Baker said.