By Patrick Strickland
Oct 02, 2017
At least 13 states across the United States
have introduced bills that seek to ban Islamic law this year, with Texas and
Arkansas enacting "anti-Sharia" legislation, researchers have
Researchers and critics fear that
right-wing legislators are increasing anti-Muslim sentiment as Islamic law,
known as "Sharia", was targeted by some 194 bills between 2010 and
2016, according to a report by the University of California, Berkeley's Haas
Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society.
Of that total, 18 bills were signed into
law in 12 different states.
"The anti-Sharia law movement, by way
introducing and enacting anti-Sharia law bills across the United States, seeks
to legalise the othering of Muslims, as well as to perpetuate a fear of Sharia,
Islam and ultimately Muslims," said Basima Sisemore, a researcher and an
author of Legalising Othering: The United States of Islamophobia.
In June, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed
into law House Bill 45, which prevents the use of "foreign laws" in
state courts, specifically in cases that entail marriage or legal issues
regarding parents and their children.
Republican State Representative Jeff Leach
and Representative Dan Flynn authored the bill. Neither replied to Al Jazeera's
request for a comment by the time of publication.
The two legislators had introduced several
versions of the bill in the past, but House Bill 45 was the first to be
Both Flynn and Leach have told media
outlets that the law was not designed to single out Muslims.
Yet, in an April 2014 email (pdf) to his
constituents, an apparently paranoid Flynn claimed that the British government
had approved many "Muslim religious precepts" that institutionalise
"discrimination against women and children".
He said: "There is no question the
Judeo-Christian heritage we covet and aim to protect is under attack. We the
American people must wake up and recognise the spiritual warfare raging in
House Bill 45 was signed into law four
months after Arkansas enacted a similar bill, which also barred "foreign
laws" in state courts.
'Threatens American Democracy'
Sisemore argued that these bills have a
negative effect on Muslims by stoking fear and bigotry at a time when US
President Donald Trump is targeting the religious minority.
"The consequences of introducing or
enacting anti-Muslim laws extend beyond the conspicuous intent to subvert
Muslim Americans' citizenship and civil liberties, as has been demonstrated by
the rise of anti-Sharia rallies that swept across the US in June of this
year," she told Al Jazeera.
"The underlying reality is that
anti-Muslim legislation threatens American democracy and the civil and
constitutional rights of all Americans."
In June, fewer than six months into Trump's
presidency, rising Islamophic sentiment exploded and anti-Sharia rallies were
held in some 28 cities across the country.
The marches were called by ACT for America,
which the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) watchdog describes as the largest
grassroots anti-Muslim group in the US.
Claiming to have more than 500,000 members,
ACT for America supports Trump.
Its members have campaigned for strict
legislation that targets Muslims and refugees in recent years.
Those rallies drew the participation of
white supremacists, armed militia groups and neo-Nazis.
Yet, participants of the anti-Sharia
marches were massively outnumbered by counter-protesters, among them
anti-racists and anti-fascists who clashed with the anti-Muslim demonstrators.
'Unfairly Targeted and Vilified'
Critics accuse Trump of inciting
One of the president's first executive
orders barred travellers from seven Muslim-majority countries: Iraq, Syria,
Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Iran and Yemen.
The measure sparked large protests at
airports in several cities and was later struck down in court. Trump, who
denied accusations that the ban targeted Muslims, introduced an updated version
of the order that excluded Iraq.
Yet, as the US Supreme Court was preparing
to consider its legality this month, Trump signed a revised executive order
that dropped Sudan and added Venezuela, North Korea and Chad.
During Trump's presidential campaign, he
vowed to put a freeze on Muslims entering the country and refused to rule out
creating a database to track American Muslims.
Although the anti-Sharia movement was born
in the wake of the September 11 attacks in 2001, critics say Trump has
effectively energised it.
Nathan Lean, author of the Islamophobia
Industry, argued that Trump's rhetoric has "unfairly targeted and vilified
Islam's followers with half-truths, outright lies and blatant incitement".
Speaking to Al Jazeera by email, Lean said
that uptick in anti-Sharia laws is part of a concerted effort "to nurture
an atmosphere of extreme scorn in which Muslims are seen as the enemy".
He added: "Once [Muslims] are branded
as such, it becomes easier to persecute them, and violence towards them - which
we have seen - is a natural consequence of this."
Hate Crimes on the Rise
In the 10 days following Trump's election
alone, there was an average of 87 hate incidents a day, according to the SPLC.
Many of these incidents involved racist rhetoric or violence that targeted
Although the rate of such incidents has
since levelled off, hate crimes have not stopped.
In a report published in July, the Council
on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) found that the number of anti-Muslim hate
crimes increased by 94 percent during the first six months of 2017.
On September 16, a passenger attacked a
Muslim Lyft driver in Evergreen, Washington. As he hit and choked the driver,
the assailant yelled: "Where the f*** do you come from?"
The local CAIR chapter has called on police
to investigate the incident as a hate crime.
That same month, a Lyft driver of Middle
Eastern heritage in Houston, Texas, was physically and verbally assaulted by a
passenger. The assailant, 39-year-old Matthew Dunn, was subsequently charged
with a hate crime.
Corey Saylor, director of CAIR's Department
to Monitor and Combat Islamophobia, accused Trump of "whipping up
"Trump's deployment of anti-Muslim
sentiment during the election campaign had a significant contributing factor
[in the rise of hate crimes]," he told Al Jazeera by telephone, "and
I wouldn't say he has since let up on it."