Religious Laws & Freedom of Religion in the United States

Jewish Halacha, Muslim Sharia & Catholic Canon Law

By Abdul Malik Mujahid

Jewish Americans have been practicing their law called Halacha since their arrival in the United States. They also operate religious courts called Beth Din in which parties participate voluntarily.  These decisions are at times enforced by US courts.

Catholic Americans have a well-codified system of laws and courts called Canon Law.

The Mormons and the Amish often reject the American court system in favor of their own religious method of resolving many disputes.

Recently The Judicial Council which is the highest court in the United Methodist Church has been in the news. General synod serves as the highest court of Presbyterians in the USA.

Although most of these laws and courts deal with religious matters, some do act as arbitration for non-religious matters: For example, in the Diamond Dealers Club in New York, in a de facto diamond exchange “most disputes among diamond traders are settled by the Beth Din the Jewish court. Since the Beth Din has a reputation for fairness and is familiar with the diamond trade. This has not led to the imposition of Jewish law or the breakdown of the separation of church and state.”

All these religious laws and courts operate on the voluntary consensual basis and are subject to our constitution.

Although Muslim Americans do not operate any court system, they practice Sharia every day in their lives. This is freedom of religion. And Americans have always wanted to keep it that way.

What is common between Jewish Halacha, Christian Laws, and Islamic Sharia?

The Ten Commandments!

Based on Divine revelations Muslims believe that God sent prophets and guidance to all people and that is the source of a lot of shared ground between religions especially the Abrahamic faiths.

All the ten Commandments are found in Quran starting from worshiping only God to do not murder, do not steal, do not commit adultery and the respect for parents and the neighbors. The only difference is the Sabbath which is an exclusively biblical concept. Muslims are asked by God to close their business for Friday prayers but nothing beyond.

Observant Muslims live by these ideals. And just like many Christians in the US, many in the Muslim world show enthusiasm for the Ten Commandments as a code to live by.

Comparing Sharia with Halacha

Interestingly Sharia and Halacha both can be translated as the path or the way.

Just like Halacha, Sharia deals with both religious practice aspects such as daily prayers, fasting, charity as well as aspects of daily life such as personal hygiene, guidelines for financial transactions, and dietary regulations.

Both are not one book of codified law but have evolved over years in a body of religious literature named Sharia for Muslims and Halacha for Jews.

Observant Muslims and conservative and Orthodox Jews mostly follow their respective guides. Rabbis for Jews and Imams for Muslims mostly act as interpreter for their teachings.

Banning Sharia is like banning freedom of religion

Currently there is a strong movement involved in demonizing Islam and targeting Sharia. 49 bills have been introduced in 26 states proposing banning or severely restricting the practice of Sharia. Five states have already banned Sharia.

Banning of Sharia would mean banning practice of Islam. And that will be against the freedom of religion and contrary to the separation of church and state.

Observant Muslims live Sharia on a daily basis as we pray, fast and do charity. Muslims also practice Sharia routinely for marriage, birth, funeral rites, dietary specifications, and all other aspects of religious life. Banning Sharia would have far reaching consequences in regards to freedom of religion.

That is why Jewish groups have started showing concerns. They are worried that if Sharia is banned, the Jewish Halacha may be next.  Many Jewish organizations are opposing the anti-Sharia bills. They acknowledge that such laws threaten religious freedom and would threaten Jewish practices of religion and more broadly Jewish law.

The anti Sharia laws are an attack on the culture of religious tolerance and harmony that American society has nurtured since the birth of this nation.

Religious law, and specifically Sharia law is what governs the lives of Muslims, it is what exhorts us to live justly, to help the needy, to be good to our neighbors, to take care of our families, and to be productive members of society. Banning Sharia would ban a Muslim’s way of life. Is giving into irrational fear worth this cost?

Corporal Punishments in Halacha and Sharia

Halacha and Sharia both contain corporal punishments as does Bible but neither Jews nor Muslims practice that in the US nor has any one demanded that the US Criminal law be replaced with Halacha or Sharia. The Prophet of Mercy, Muhammad, would look the other way instead of using corporal punishments when someone came to confess. Sharia’s purpose and the Prophetic implementation of the corporal punishment were diametrically opposite to what the Taliban have come to symbolize.

No Muslim organization or the Jewish organizations have called for the implementation of corporal punishments of Halacha or Sharia laws in the United States.

Sharia is not all Law: Only 200 verses of Quran deal with legal matters out of 6236 total verses

There is a serious effort by hate groups to define Sharia as only laws instead of the practice of a faith as Muslims understand it.

Unfortunately those trying to ban Sharia or burn the Quran like to think of Islamic life as “law” and declared it against the US law.

The fact of the matter is that only 200 verses of Quran deal with legal maters out of total 6236 total verses of Quran. The rest of the Quran is about the knowledge of God, a person’s role as an individual, in the society, vis-à-vis nature, the Prophetic messages, guide for a successful human behavior, images of eternal life, people of the book, and everlasting life.

Sharia, Jewish Halacha and Catholic Canon Law, are not replacing 'the law of the land.” However for observant Catholics, Muslims and Jews their institutions and traditions are an important part of religious practice and must be respected provided that state and federal laws are observed, and participation is voluntary.

Do Muslims Wants to Impose Sharia

Some well-financed Islamophobes like Daniel Pipes and David Yerushalmi argue that the Jewish Halacha should not be banned but Muslim Sharia be banned since it imposes upon others unlike Jewish Halacha. This argument is exactly the reason founding fathers of our nation kept the state out of the business of deciding which religion is right.

One of the basic principles of Sharia is non-interference. This principle of Sharia–noninterference in the affairs of other religious groups–is derived directly from the Quran, which declares: “Unto you your religion and unto me my religion,” (Quran 109:6) as well as “Let there be no compulsion in religion,” (Quran 2:256). Sharia cannot be imposed.

Some Muslims ignore this principle of Sharia, like Christian fundamentalists and Ultra Orthodox Jews they like to impose things on others, but most Muslims like most Christians and most Jews do not support that.

No Muslim American organization has ever passed a resolution calling for replacing our laws with Sharia laws. However, they do not eat pork, eat halal, as some Jews keep kosher. And America has always considered these to be reasonable religious accommodation. They actually line up daily on Broadway and Times  Square in New York to buy some halal hotdogs or Sharia compliant falafel sandwiches. 

Defend Freedom of Religion for All People

Our myths of the Thanksgiving holiday reflect on the pilgrims who came to the United States to avoid religious persecution of one Christian sect over the other. It became the cornerstone of our democracy to keep state and religion independent of each other. It has been by and large a successful venture in keeping the state and the church flourishing independently.

Banning Sharia is going to be a historic departure from the historic consensus which has served our nation as the founding basis.

We must not discriminate against any religion. All religions should be treated equally in the USA.

We cannot pass laws based on hate.


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