By Nihad Awad
Today, no constitution of any state places special burdens on a specific religious tradition. That will change on November 9 if Oklahoma amends its constitution in accordance with State Question 755.
State Question 755, which was approved by state voters on Tuesday, will amend Oklahoma’s constitution to forbid state courts from considering “Shariah Law.” According to the amendment, “Shariah Law” is anything “based on the Koran” or the “teaching of Mohammed:”
This measure amends the State Constitution. It changes a section that deals with the courts of this state. It would amend Article 7, Section 1. It makes courts rely on federal and state law when deciding cases. It forbids courts from considering or using international law. It forbids courts from considering or using Sharia Law.
International law is also known as the law of nations. It deals with the conduct of international organizations and independent nations, such as countries, states and tribes. It deals with their relationship with each other. It also deals with some of their relationships with persons.
The law of nations is formed by the general assent of civilized nations. Sources of international law also include international agreements, as well as treaties.
Sharia Law is Islamic law. It is based on two principal sources, the Koran and the teaching of Mohammed.
Shall the proposal be approved?
For Muslims, the Quran and the traditions (hadith) of the Prophet Muhammad are the basis of our faith. Shariah is a dynamic legal framework derived from the Quran, hadith, the ongoing consensus of Muslim scholars, and analytical reasoning.
To be clear, State Question 755 does not target Shariah, but instead targets Islam and the religious principles Muslims use to guide their spiritual lives.
For generations, American Muslims have had the same civil liberties as all other Americans, and have lived and practiced their faith with the protection of the Constitution. The act of erasing Islam from the cognizance of Oklahoma’s courts has real consequences for Muslims. If it becomes part of the state constitution, State Question 755 would contradict the U.S. Constitution, jeopardizing the personal freedoms of Oklahoma Muslims by affecting their ability to seek reasonable religious accommodations from employers, schools, and other institutions, or to choose to wear a headscarf in a driver’s license photo. It could invalidate the burial instructions a Muslim leaves in his or her will, or prevent couples from choosing an Islamic marriage contract.
Perhaps the worst of impact of State Question 755 is that it will place Oklahoma’s courts in the position of defining the parameters and contents of Islam.
In order for judges to exclude Islam from judicial proceedings, they will have to develop judiciable standards defining “Shariah Law.” It is not the place of Oklahoma’s courts to decide the elements of my faith. That is for me to decide.
Thankfully, the U.S. Constitution is clear on this issue. There is perhaps nothing more unbending in the First Amendment than the absolute prohibition against courts taking positions on matters pertaining to religious doctrine. The Oklahoma amendment violates that basic principle of American law and governance by specifically targeting one faith, Islam, and one religious community, Oklahoma Muslims.
If there is any good to come out of State Question 755, it is to remind us all that the U.S. Constitution exists to protect the interests of all Americans, whether or not their faith happens to be unpopular at a particular time in our nation’s history.
Nihad Awad is national executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation’s largest Muslim civil liberties organization.