Islamic Law in Florida Court

The Islamic Education Center of Tampa forced out several of its trustees back in 2002.  The trustees contested their eviction, and claim they sat down with an Islamic scholar to arbitrate their complaints.  The arbitrator ruled in their favor, but the mosque denied this arbitration was properly conducted, and did not accept the decision.  The trustees took their case to the Florida courts, which suited the mosque just fine.  Control of a substantial amount of funding is at stake.

On March 3, Hillsborough Circuit Judge Richard Nielsen announced that he would decide the case by consulting shari’a law to determine whether the arbitration was conducted properly, and should therefore be binding.  Only if his adventure in Islamic scholarship determines the arbitration was invalid will he revert to using Florida civil law to determine the ultimate outcome of the case.

As reported by the St. Petersburg Times, the mosque contested this decision, stating through their attorney that they “believe wholeheartedly in the Koran and its teachings” and “follow Islamic law in connection with their spiritual endeavors,” but they also “believe Florida law should apply in Florida courts.”

It would be fair to note that the mosque evidently feels it has a better chance of winning its case under state law than shari’a, but that doesn’t make their assessment of the situation any less valid. 

The Times quotes Neelofer Syed, a Tampa lawyer who gives lectures on Islamic law, who notes that the mosque is a corporation under Florida law, and makes the common-sense observation that “if you live in a country, you are subject to that country’s laws.”

Florida is already considering legislation to ban the use of foreign legal codes in state courts.  There’s no question such legislation is urgently needed.  This is not just about Islamic law.  Judges who fancy themselves enlightened citizens of the world have often cited foreign laws to justify their decisions, all the way up to the Supreme Court.  They should all be forbidden from doing so. 

Americans don’t get to vote on shaping foreign laws.  Their legal and cultural history had no role in defining shari’a.  It has absolutely no place in a state or federal court.  If two parties wish to voluntarily follow its prescriptions, through mutual consent, that is their business.  As soon as it becomes a legal affair under a U.S. judge, Islamic law becomes irrelevant. 

There is obviously no mutual consent here, as the mosque has requested judgment in a civil court.  They should be obliged, as should any American citizen who makes such a request.  There are other Muslim Americans who will seek relief from shari’a through federal and state jurisprudence.  The stakes will not always be expressed in dollars.

American judges have no business imposing shari’a on anyone… not even a mosque.