Posted by Guest on June 21, 2017 in Blog

By Haley Arata

Anti-Muslim hate has spread rapidly through the U.S. over the years. While some politicians are stepping up to promote anti-discriminatory efforts, others are pushing more xenophobic legislation like Michigan’s anti-Sharia bill, HB 4499, proposed in April. This bill joins the ranks of proposed anti-Sharia bills across the country. Since 2010, 35 states have either attempted to outlaw, are in the process of outlawing, or have successfully outlawed the legal application of foreign law in their states’ judicial system. These bills emerge from the desire to limit the freedom of religion for certain groups, a direct contradiction to the First Amendment, in order to paint them as somehow ‘foreign’ or the ‘other.’

State Rep. Michele Hoitenga (R) sponsored HB 4499, which would prohibit residents from using foreign laws in state courts. Hoitenga says she was motivated by cases of female genital mutilation (FGM) in Detroit. Hoitenga accused a local doctor of “essentially practicing a fundamentalist version of Sharia Law.” The federal criminal complaint against the doctor does not mention Sharia.

Rep. Abdullah Hammoud (D) urged legislators not to support the bill. He wrote in an email, “There is no Sharia law, ‘fundamentalist version’ or other, which encourages or permits female genital mutilation. The doctor that was charged engaged in a cultural practice, NOT a religious practice; again, she engaged in a practice that is illegal, and was therefore charged with committing a crime.” Hammoud continued, writing that it was “offensive” of Hoitenga to “use a real issue [FGM] that is affecting girls to push an anti-Muslim non-issue.” Hammoud has been advocating against this anti-Sharia bill, while simultaneously promoting a package of civil rights bills

Disdain for the bill crosses religious lines in the legislature. Rep. Abdullah Hammoud, who is Muslim, and Rep. Jeremy Moss, who is Jewish, both refuted Hoitenga’s claim and denounced the bill. Hammoud and Moss argue that, if passed into law, the bill would prohibit much more than Sharia law; it would affect Catholic canon law and Jewish halachic law, thereby outlawing practices such as Catholic annulment and Jewish brises. Moss said, “…beyond the intent of the bill, this proposal could end kosher slaughter of animals for Jews who observe dietary restrictions or criminalize 13-year-olds who say the blessing to drink the cup of wine during their bar mitzvah ceremony. Such a law is ludicrous, impossible to enforce, and worst of all, unconstitutional.”

Hammoud and Moss are urging legislators not to support the bill. Hammoud invited Rep. Hoitenga and co-sponsors of the bill to meet with the Dearborn Area Interfaith Network (DAIN)to discuss potentially dangerous religious misconceptions and stereotypes. Hammoud stated that this bill would violate the Eighth Amendment, which dictates secularism and religious freedom. He said, “…this bill perpetuates inaccurate and unjust Islamophobic stereotypes. I wanted to take this opportunity to invite a few of my legislative colleagues to my district to speak directly to the religious community.”

HB 4499 has been referred to the Committee on Law and Justice. The Committee has adjourned for the summer and will meet again in September. The bill is on the docket for the 2017-2018 session, but dates have not yet been set for the Committee’s weekly meetings in September and onward.

Haley Arata is a 2017 summer intern at tbe Arab American Institute.