Shariah Law and American State Courts: An Assessment of State Appellate Court Cases

The Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America

The Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America (AMJA) is a U.S.-based organization committed to the establishment of Shariah law, especially for personal status and family law.  Their extensive boards (123 members combined) include local Imams and Shariah authorities across America, as well as Shariah authorities from other countries.  The entire AMJA membership, as listed at their website, is provided with titles when given as Appendix C.

AMJA is highly rooted in local American communities, and associated with international and U.S. Shariah authorities and Shariah institutions, as well as a prolific center at the website for fatwas on many topics.  AMJA also holds conferences and publishes proceedings.   They appear to be an active organization with significant reach and influence.

If such an organization promotes Shariah law in the United States, and they have representatives in influential positions across the country, their statements of intent are important in understanding the possible threat of Shariah law intruding into the U.S. legal system.  For example, the Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America posted at their website an October 2010 article by M. Ali Sadiqi, “Islamic Dispute Resolution in the Shade of the American Court House.” 20 This article’s conclusions on the conflict between public policy and Shariah suggest that a law such as the American Laws for American Courts Act (ALAC) is needed to preserve the intent of stated public policy in enforcement decisions.  Sadiqi addresses the Constitutional barrier that Shariah-adherent Muslims must hurdle, in obtaining enforcement of at least some Islamic arbitration decisions in America:

Private citizens, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, can enforce agreements they have made between and amongst each other by filing a case in the appropriate court seeking various remedies. The challenge for Muslims seeking resolution under binding Islamic Arbitration is to demonstrate to the court that it has the legal authority to enforce the Arbitration Award, given the fact that it is based on another system of law outside the U.S. Constitutional  framework.  [emphasis added]

Sadiqi states that one of the purposes of his article is to “look at some concrete methods for ensuring enforceability of Islamic Arbitration Awards in American courts….What this means is that the state, including any court, has the duty to enforce any contract made between consenting parties, unless there is some compelling state interest in not doing so.”  He goes on to give an example of when an Islamic arbitration could not be enforced by the state courts:

However, there is at least one roadblock facing Islamic Arbitration – determinations of inarbitrability based on public policy. For example, under Islamic inheritance law, the Fara’id, a wife is entitle to a specified share of one quarter of the tarik or estate if there are no children; if there are children, then she is entitled to one eighth. Under American law, most states protect the rights of a spouse to a portion of his or her spouse’s estate through “elective share” laws.  Such laws allow a spouse to elect whether to take the share given them in a will or to take the statutorial share, usually 1/3 of the estate. Thus, it is quite possible that an arbitral award of 1/8 of the tarik could be overturned if the wife does not specifically agree to this amount and waive her statutory elective share.

Issues of child custody  and visitation also invoke the public policy scrutiny of the courts.  American courts use a “best interest of the child” standard” in custody and visitation determinations.” They will be unlikely to allow agreements to stand without some form of judicial review.21

AMJA supports compliance with existing laws of the host country only when Muslims have no choice, a doctrinal Shariah position.  However, in Muslim-majority countries  – or where Shariah adherents can dominate secular legal systems – they advocate the supremacy of Shariah law over secular law.  A number of statements below make clear these distinctions, drawn by AMJA authorities, between Shariah doctrine and secular, democratic principles.

Emphasis has been added to the original articles:

21Sadiqi, p. 37