According to a recent study, North American Muslims do not wish to use the government court system to impose Shariah law – a finding that contradicts many pre-conceived notions about the modern Muslim's interpretation of Islam's religious law.
The study was conducted by Dr. Judy Macfarlane, law professor at the University of Windsor and fellow for nonpartisan think tank, the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, based in Washington, D.C.
Macfarlane interviewed a total of 212 North American Muslims, 41 of which were imams, or Islamic worship leaders. Another 70 were community leaders, and the remaining 101 were divorced Muslim men and women. Seventy-five percent of the data was collected from American Muslims, while the remaining 25 percent came from Canadian Muslims.
"The study shows clearly that other than religious observance, the practice of Shariah for the vast majority of American Muslims is focused on family matters, primarily marriage and divorce," Macfarlane wrote in her report.
As the report contends, the Shariah law interpretation of marriage is very important to modern Muslims. Of the respondents interviewed, 95 percent signed a nikah, or Islamic religious contract, along with obtaining a civil contract. The same went with divorce – many wished to obtain both religious permission and an official civil decree for divorce.
According to Macfarlane's report, none of the 212 Muslims she interviewed wished to impose Shariah law in the U.S. court system.
"Respondents consistently distinguished between God's law (a matter of personal conscience rather than public adjudication) and the law of the land or "human law,"" MacFarlane wrote, indicating that Muslims enjoyed their Islamic traditions within an informal family setting.
"The community appears content with a private informal system that offers spiritual, emotional, and social comfort for some of its members," Macfarlane added.
The debate of Shariah law in America has been a long one. For example, in November 2010, 70 percent of Oklahoma voters approved an amendment that banned the court's consideration of international or Shariah law.
This initiative was opposed by both the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the American Civil Liberties Union for being a violation of the U.S. Constitution's Establishment Clause.
In January 2012, a federal appeals court said the amendment's constitutionality could be challenged by Muneer Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, after he sued to block the law from taking effect.
Still, many remain critical of the strict confines of Shariah law. GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has called for a U.S. federal law that would prohibit the consideration of Shariah law in replacement of U.S. law.
In a speech made at the American Enterprise Institute in June 2010, Gingrich said: "I believe Shariah is a mortal threat to the survival of freedom in the United States and in the world as we know it."
Macfarlane argues that the stereotype of the violent Muslim has become a part of American pop culture.
"Central to this public fear is the term 'Shariah,' (literally 'the way,' or guidelines for appropriate Muslim conduct) which raises deep fears among non-Muslims in the west due to its association with the violent extremist movement that has 'stolen' the public understanding of Islam," Macfarlane wrote.