Islam (Flickr: FirasMT)

Banning 'Sharia law,' Banning Women's Rights?

Last week we looked briefly at recent cases of state legislation banning ‘foreign law’. Despite the use of the broad term 'foreign' the bills were, as a highlighted article from last week notes, based on legislation by a group of activists who claimed that shari’a “discriminates against women and non-Muslims” and is “stealthily encroaching” upon American law.

On February 16th, Al Jazeera English published an article by American lawyer and Amnesty International director Rafia Zakaria, Sharia law ban and Muslim wives, looking at what sort of effects the ban is already having in the state of Kansas on the rights of Muslim women. The piece is a refreshing departure from the usual and cyclical discussions on the 'Sharia law' ban, focusing on the tangible and negative effects of these bans on the rights and lives of Muslim women as opposed to just offering a dry re-hashing of the same background and sound-bytes. Zakaria focuses on the specific case of Elham Soleimani, refused her right to mahr (dowry) granted in her marriage contract. Had the court decided to uphold the terms of the divorcing Soleimani's marriage contract, based on Islamic principles and legal requirements, it would have violated the Kansas ban on 'Sharia law.'

While the First Amendment guarantees a separation of church and state, Zakaria notes, “the court in Kansas disregarded longstanding precedent that insists that when the stipulations of a contract are clear, its religious origins do not preclude enforcement by a US Court.”

This case is then compared with that of a Muslim American woman's divorce from her Egyptian immigrant husband which resulted in the court ruling that the woman was entitled to her mahr of $250,000.

Zakaria continues [emphasis ours]:

The issue at hand in both cases, fresh after the onslaught of Sharia ban that roared through the US, is not the issue of separation of Church and State – which has a long history of American jurisprudence attached to it – but rather the issue of the status of women, specifically Muslim women under Sharia law and the role of American courts in relation to it.

The case in Kansas reveals that imposing a blanket ban that refuses to allow for the consideration of the specifics of a case or the particularities of the position of an individual Muslim female litigant like Elham Soleimani, does more harm than good.

Where no ban would have resulted in an immigrant woman being able to avail of the resources that would allow her to begin a new life in the US and rehabilitate herself from an abusive relationship, a Sharia ban enabled the opposite, leaving her with nothing and allowing her more established husband to discard her with few consequences.

While all of these facts were argued in the feverish seasons in which the Kansas Legislature along with those in Oklahoma, Tennessee, Louisiana and others debated Sharia bans, the case of the Soleimanis lays in actual terms and actual lives the reduction of their effect and the dubiousness of their purpose.

Rafia Zakaria writes an incisive and foreshadowing discussion on what socio-economic disadvantages await Muslim women with the implementation of 'Sharia law' bans across states. This particular article will hopefully set the stage for a greater discussion on these bans which focus on the tangible human effects as opposed to just pinning these bans aside as fringe legal moves of little to no consequence.

Zakaria poignantly concludes, “…in Kansas, with its Sharia ban in effect, Elham Soleimani lost out, not because she was a woman, but because the basis on which she argued her case for a future and for empowerment was Islamic.”

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