GOPer can't define, but wants to ban, sharia law

The bill proposed by Alabama state Sen. Gerald Allen also plagiarizes Wikipedia's article on Islamic law

Published March 7, 2011 5:40PM (EST)

Gerald Allen
Gerald Allen

In the past several months, roughly 15 states have either approved or introduced measures to ban sharia (Islamic law). But a new anti-sharia push in Alabama easily qualifies as the most comically ignorant effort to date.

A Republican state senator named Gerald Allen, who represents Cottondale and once tried to ban books by gay authors, last week introduced a standard anti-sharia measure that would bar Alabama courts from considering Islamic law. It was at that point that Anniston Star reporter Tim Lockette put a simple but inspired question to Allen: What is sharia?

Here is how Allen responded:

Allen could not readily define Shariah in an interview Thursday. "I don’t have my file in front of me," he said. "I wish I could answer you better."

The Anniston Star's question reminds me of a brilliant journalistic experiment conducted by reporter Jeff Stein a few years back: asking counterterrorism officials to explain the basic differences between Sunni and Shia. (Most, including Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, couldn't do it.)

Making the Alabama story even richer, the Anniston Star also discovered that the text of Allen's anti-sharia bill is lifted directly from Wikipedia. The bill (and Wikipedia) defines sharia as "a form of religious law derived from two primary sources of Islamic law: The divine revelations set forth in the Qur’an and the example set by the Islamic Prophet Muhammad."

What Allen is missing is that sharia is not a single set of written laws like the U.S. code; there are myriad interpretations of sharia -- a fact that, ironically, the full Wikipedia article discusses at length. (For example: "There is tremendous variety in the interpretation and implementation of Islamic Law in Muslim societies today.")

Some recommended reading for Allen: My piece on the largely mundane ways in which sharia actually comes up in American courts (think marriage contracts), and another good sharia explainer from The Awl.

By Justin Elliott

Justin Elliott is a reporter for ProPublica. You can follow him on Twitter @ElliottJustin

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