Updated: Tuesday, 05 Apr 2011, 5:39 PM EDT
Published : Tuesday, 22 Mar 2011, 10:33 PM EDT
TAMPA, Fla. (WOFL FOX 35) – Update and clarification on a case in a Florida courtroom involving Islamic Law:
In a recent opinion, Judge Richard Nielsen said whether the court may enforce an arbitration award in the dispute between the Islamic Education Center of Tampa and some of its former trustees would depend on, “ecclesiastical Islamic Law.”
That’s because, according to the opinion, the center’s constitution calls for disputes among members to be resolved using Islamic Law by the resident A’lim, a person specially educated and trained in Islam. The opinion also notes that trustees for the center claim that the individual plaintiffs involved in the dispute signed a document agreeing to have Sheikh Ghulam Shabbiri, an A’lim, arbitrate the dispute. (FOX 35 originally reported that Sheikh Shabbiri is an Imam, but the court identifies him as an A’lim.)
The attorney for the center however tells FOX 35 News that the center never agreed to have the dispute arbitrated under Islamic Law, and was not a party to the agreement to have the dispute arbitrated by Sheikh Ghulam Shabbiri.
Judge Richard Nielsen of the Hillsborough County Court will now hear further testimony to determine the Islamic dispute resolution procedures have been followed.
The original dispute in the case is over how the center’s finances were handled.
Original story published on March 22, 2011:
A Florida judge says, “I will follow Islamic Law,” in a controversial case.
That has some wondering where the Florida Constitution comes into play. Critics are offended that a judge would even consider Islamic Law in a Florida courtroom, but some analysts say this is not as strange as it sounds. The case in question is out of Tampa, where some former trustees of a mosque are suing the mosque. Judge Richard Nielsen ruled that the two parties can seek guidance from the Koran to resolve their dispute.
“What the judge has said is that he will apply the Islamic Law, because that is what the two parties agreed to in their arbitration clause,” said Shahzad Ahmed, with the NeJame Law Firm in Orlando.
Ahmed says the two parties agreed ahead of time to use an Imam and Islamic Law to resolve any potential differences through arbitration. Ahmed says there are several cases when agreements between two parties can super-cede general laws in Florida, like when a couple makes a prenuptial agreement.
“This concept of agreeing to a different set of rules outside of state law is not unusual.”
Specifically, Judge Nielson says that based on testimony, “under ecclesiastical law,” and pursuant to the Koran, “Islamic brothers should attempt to resolve a dispute among themselves. If Islamic brothers are unable to do so, they can agree to present the dispute to the greater community of Islamic brothers within the mosque or the Muslim community for resolution.”
Ahmed says the judge is really just following the law. “They agreed that if there is any dispute, then the issue will be resolved in a certain way.”
The judge even cites a U.S. Supreme Court decision where the high court found that the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution allow religious groups to establish their own rules and regulations to resolve internal differences. That High Court ruling says civil courts should accept the rulings of those tribunals as binding.
However, many are concerned that Sharia Law could be coming into our courts, and they point to cases like these. Ahmed says that Islamic Law and Sharia Law are not the same thing, adding that Sharia Law is a very conservative interpretation of the Koran and Islamic Law is more moderate.
Still, there are new legislative efforts in over a dozen states where Islamic law is under scrutiny and lawmakers have proposed legislation that would protect against what some call the infiltration and incursion of foreign laws and foreign legal doctrines into the American legal system. Similar legislation has been proposed in Florida to make sure laws from other nations do not supercede Florida or Federal law. The sponsors claim Sharia Law is neither the target, nor the motivating factor behind the measure.
Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, and Rep. Larry Metz, R-Yalaha, say they want to protect the rights of Floridians and ensure that judges don’t use foreign laws that disadvantage Florida citizens. Others have pointed out that language used in the proposed legislation is very similar to model legislation published by American Public Policy Alliance. That’s an organization which bills itself as a non-partisan advocacy group dedicated to “government transparency, government accountability and the constitutionality of U.S. and state laws and policies.”
On the American Public Policy Alliance website, it states that Sharia Law, “Mandates violent Jihad as a religious obligation,” and that, “Violent Jihad’s purpose against non-Muslims or former Muslims is to establish Islam’s rule worldwide.”