Building upon KARAMAH’s civil rights campaign in response to a growing trend of state legislation aimed at limiting the religious rights of Muslims in the United States, KARAMAH, along with Shoulder to Shoulder, co-hosted a civil rights town hall on the evening of July 16. The event, titled “The Role of Religious Law in America: Interfaith Perspectives on Islam, Shari’ah and the U.S.” addressed issues of civil liberties for religious groups in America and the constitutionality of anti-Shari’ah legislation from the vantage point of various American faith groups.
The event included a panel of three experts representing three religious traditions; Dean Robert Destro, professor of law and founder and director of Interdisciplinary Program in Law and Religion; Dr. Azizah al-Hibri, founder and Chair of KARAMAH; and Rabbi David Sapperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center for Reformed Judaism. This event was moderated by Jean Duff, co-founder of the Center for Interfaith Action on Global Poverty.
After a brief introduction outlining the purpose and ground rules for the town hall, Ms. Duff provided the audience with brief background on the issue of “Islamophobia” in U.S., and the subsequent anti-Shari’ah legislative measures taken by certain states in the post-9/11 atmosphere.
Dean Destro began the panel’s opening remarks by providing the audience with some insights into historical issues of religious prejudice in the U.S. against various faith groups, making clear that the U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of religious practice for everyone so long as those freedoms do not infringe on the civil rights of others. Rabbi Sapperstein proceeded to shed light on the legal implications of presenting anti-Shari’ah legislative measures which limit the religious liberties of Muslims, while not addressing other forms of religious jurisprudence exercised within American faith communities. Dr. Al-Hibri concluded the panel’s opening remarks by outlining basic Islamic principles of justice, humanity and mercy, while acknowledging the problematic manifestations of the misinterpretation of Islam elsewhere in the world which concerns many Americans.
Following opening remarks, the panel opened to a town hall questions from members of the audience. Topics ranged from issues of legality to remarks over perceptions of Shari’ah and what the term meant for civil liberties of individuals, specifically women. While the panel received and answered what were often difficult questions, this town hall format allowed for lively discussion, debate and interfaith dialogue necessary for the promotion of understanding between faith groups and collective awareness regarding the importance of constitutional protections.
The issue of religious freedom in the United States is not one limited to the challenges facing the Muslim community today. Instead, it is an issue to be discussed amongst members of all faith groups so as to ensure the rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution are upheld regardless of race, religion, creed, etc.
In collaboration with interfaith, religious and other groups, KARAMAH hopes to continue dialogue regarding Islamic jurisprudence and its relationship to religious liberty in the U.S. by providing published scholarship on our website, as well as hosting town hall events of this nature in the future.
For more information about Islam, religious freedoms in the U.S. and other topics, please visit our website at http://www.karamah.org/resources/articles.