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1st Zulqada 1435 | Thursday, Aug 28, 2014
World

Push to ban Islamic law from Oklahoma court cases

Wednesday, 7 September 2011
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September 07:

Peter Cave, September 08: In the United States a controversial push to prohibit Oklahoma judges from considering Islamic law in deciding cases is going back to court the day after the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

One of the groups backing an amendment to the state constitution to ban sharia law plans to campaign on the same issue in Australia.

Muslim leaders in Oklahoma are fighting it, saying it violates their rights and stigmatises their faith.

As Craig McMurtrie reports the row is particularly confronting for one 9/11 Muslim widow.

CRAIG MCMURTRIE: September 11, 2001 turned Baraheen Ashrafi's life and her approach to her religion upside down.

BARAHEEN ASHRAFI: I don't consider them as a Muslim. In Islam it doesn't say to do anything, harm people.

CRAIG MCMURTRIE: After 9/11 she covered up, deciding to wear a hijab or headscarf all the time. She felt suffocated in New York and decided to move to Oklahoma.

BARAHEEN ASHRAFI: I don't see that many people in here wearing hijab.

CRAIG MCMURTRIE: She was a new mother and she was on her own.

Baraheen Ashrafi's husband who worked as a waiter at the top of the World Trade Centre's North Tower died in the terrorist attack. His remains have never been recovered.

BARAHEEN ASHRAFI: There's so many people, they don't know that Muslim was killed on that day.

CRAIG MCMURTRIE: In the years that followed reported hate crimes against members of the Muslim community were almost unheard of in Oklahoma.

But that changed last year. A public campaign was launched to amend the state constitution to prohibit judges from considering sharia law in their decisions.

IMAD ENCHASSI: The most hate crime and the most threats we got was after the sharia law was blocked.

CRAIG MCMURTRIE: Local Imam Imad Enchassi says it demonised Muslims and stigmatised his religion. He started to receive hate mail after a series of automated phone calls.

IMAD ENCHASSI: The phone calls would say if you don't vote yes for this law, as a woman in Oklahoma you will be stoned to death if you are caught committing adultery.

CRAIG MCMURTRIE: Muslims make up less than 1 per cent of the state population. The imam says no-one had been pushing for courts to follow Islamic law.

But proponents saw it as a pre-emptive strike. Brigitte Gabriel leads ACT! for America, a lobby group founded after the 9/11 attacks.

BRIGITTE GABRIEL: We want to make sure Muslims in America, especially Muslim women in America will be protected under the law.

CRAIG MCMURTRIE: She says her 175,000 members want to send a strong message to radicals and they're extending the battle beyond Oklahoma to other US states and overseas - including Australia.

BRIGITTE GABRIEL: Act for Australia is the latest. We are dealing with Australian individuals who are very interested in setting up a model that follows ACT! for America because obviously our model works, we have perfected how we do things. It's like the McDonald's franchise.

CRAIG MCMURTRIE: Oklahoma voters overwhelmingly supported the ban on sharia law but a federal judge blocked it on appeal.

The discrimination case is due back in court the day after September 11 which doesn't make this 10th anniversary any easier for Baraheen Ashrafi.

BARAHEEN ASHRAFI: I can't explain it in any words but I wish, I want to see his face.

CRAIG MCMURTRIE: In the midst of the row she's reluctantly back in the limelight, reminding people that there were Muslim victims on 9/11.

This is Craig McMurtrie for AM.

--Agencies--

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