This is a topic for discussion that can both enlighten interested parties or vilify a certain group of people if handled insensitively. I state from the outset that the intention of the article is not to alienate any person of any religious faith and in particular practitioners of Islam. I will look at the application of Sharia law, rather than attempt to look at the entirety of Islam, and whether it is compatible with the U.S. Constitution. An investigation into certain rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution will be measured against Sharia law. For the purposes of the article Sharia law shall be defined as:
“Sharia represents how practicing Muslims can best lead their daily lives in accordance with God’s divine guidance. It may be generally defined as the Islamic law revealed by God to the Prophet Muhammad. That divine law was then interpreted by Muslim scholars over the centuries. Among the primary aims of the Sharia is the achievement of justice, fairness and mercy.” (Teaching Tolerance 2017)
I will argue that strict application of Sharia would not be compatible with U.S. Constitution, from here on referred to as the Constitution, as I will argue that any religion applied in a way considered fundamental could be contrary to the spirit and human rights encapsulated in the Constitution. Although I argue that certain aspects of Sharia may be incompatible with the Constitution, I in no way make the claim that Islam should be regarded as illegal or immoral as some right wing media houses have attempted to argue. Rather it would be my intention to promote discourse and respect for people practicing other faiths.
As to the contents of the article a brief analysis of the First Amendment of the Constitution, which guarantees the freedom of religion will be covered first. Followed by areas where Sharia and the Constitution are incompatible, then finally shared values of the Constitution and Sharia, and a reasoning behind why other religions would also be incompatible with the secular nature of the Constitution.
The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution Guaranteeing Religious Freedom
The First Amendment states:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” (U.S. Const. amend. I)
This clause guarantees religious liberty and prevents the government from either advancing or inhibiting any religion. It ensures that the government remains neutral. This clause also assists in protecting minorities from religious persecution as it is all religions that are protected not merely the religion of the majority (Teaching Tolerance 2017). In the Constitution, it is also prudent to remember that religious law can never be seen as more important than the Constitution. This is due to the fact that the Constitution is the supreme law of the land as stated in Article VI in the Constitution. Thus religious law can never substitute civil law nor can the courts enforce a religious law (Teaching Tolerance 2017).
The First Amendment, interpreted with Article VI, then guarantees people the right to practice their religion freely, however they nor the government can compel adherence to a particular faith. Only if a religious practice undermines societal interests or causes harm can the government interfere with the religious practice (Teaching Tolerance 2017). From the above brief discussion on the First Amendment, I contend that the Constitution is robust enough to not only guarantee religious freedom and open up a dialogue between other faiths but also protect the human rights and freedoms encapsulated within. Thus, the fear that Sharia law becoming or superseding the U.S Constitution or at the very least undermining the Constitution is misguided as some on the Christian far right have alluded to (Federer 2016).
Examples of where Sharia Law and the U.S. Constitution Incompatible
Unfortunately, when researching for this article one is bombarded with articles, journals, and blogs stating the evils of Islam, how it is a threat to a perceived American way of life and how due to practicing Muslims immigrating to the U.S. their own religions are at threat. Thus, it was a challenge to find more moderate and tolerant opinions.
That being said, I am of a firm belief that aspects of Sharia law, not necessarily Islam, is incompatible with the Constitution when applied in a fundamentalist way. It is also important to note that not all countries apply well publicized extreme penalties for infringements of Sharia Law. Countries that do are Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Somalia (Teaching Tolerance 2017)
The following is a list of articles and amendments to the Constitution as well as how interpretations of Sharia law be seen as conflicting:
- Article VI:
“This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby” (U.S. Const. article VI)
Sharia interpretation: “The source of legal rulings for all acts of those who are morally responsible is Allah.” (a1.1, Umdat al-salik); “There is only one law which ought to be followed, and that is the Sharia.” (Seyed Qutb)
- First Amendment:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof… ” (U.S. Const. amend. 1)
Sharia interpretation: “Those who reject Islam must be killed. If they turn back (from Islam), take hold of them and kill them wherever you find them.” (Quran 4:89) ; “Whoever changed his [Islamic] religion, then kill him” (Sahih al-Bukhari, 9:84:57).
- Eighth Amendment:
“Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” (U.S. Const. amend. 8)
Sharia interpretation: “Cut off the hands of thieves, whether they are male or female, as punishment for what they have done – a deterrent from Allah.” (Quran 5:38); “The woman and the man guilty of adultery or fornication – flog each of them with a hundred stripes” (Sura 24:2). This is not a punishment found in all Muslim nations, rather strict adherents to Sharia. For example, Turkey is a secular nation, as per Article 24 of the Constitution of Turkey, in which Muslims make up the vast majority, 90% of the population according to the Turkish government.
The above examples do show elements of Sharia law if applied to the letter, either by reference to the Quran or by influential clerics, can be contrary not only to the U.S. Constitution but to other codifications of human rights including the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As will be seen in the concluding section I will provide examples of how Christianity is not fully compatible with the U.S. Constitution.
Concluding Remarks on the Nature of “Divine Law”
Christianity in the U.S. has enjoyed a position of privilege in the states recent past, often influencing what was to be seen as the moral law of the nation (Vincent 2017). This moral law can be seen as the overriding Christian ethical system that underpinned the formation of the Constitution and other laws of the United States. This often meant that Christian principles guided legal decisions (Vincent 2017). However, many followers of any faith believe that their holy scriptures are either divinely written or divinely inspired. Thus, this makes them, at least viewed by their believers as been superior to man-made laws such as constitutions. The following quote from the Christian Bible emphasizes this point, “But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.” (James 1:25). Remember perfect law can only be provided by God in this sense, not man. This contradiction between divine law and man-made law results in a dichotomy as which law is applicable. It is obvious to most that in order to maintain any sort of peace in a culturally diverse nation, like the U.S., the Constitution would have to take precedence. This will cause disputes that will have to be resolved by the Supreme Court.