ISPU conducts objective, solution-seeking research that empowers American Muslims to develop their community and fully contribute to democracy and pluralism in the United States. Learn more about ISPU here.
Ten years after September 11, 2001, the American Muslim community continues to be surrounded by a fear created and promoted mostly by a small group of anti-Muslim organizations and individuals. Collectively, these groups have spread their message in twenty-three states through books, reports, websites, and blogs. Other anti-Islam grassroots organizations have utilized this propaganda to “educate” their constituency. The Center for American Progress defines Islamophobia as an “exaggerated fear, hatred, and hostility toward Islam and Muslims that is perpetuated by negative stereotypes resulting in bias, discrimination, and the marginalization and exclusion of Muslims from America’s social, political, and civic life.” This Islamophobia movement’s ability to influence politicians’ talking has made mainstream that which was once considered marginal, extremist rhetoric.
The impact of the Islamophobia campaign upon the American public’s perception of Islam and Muslims has been very negative. Approximately half of all Americans hold an unfavorable view of Islam. To date, dozens of bills have been introduced in more than half of the states to ban Sharia and/or international law. Some of these bills are overly broad, and some in essence would outlaw any organization that adhered to any Islamic jurisprudential school. The Muslim community pushed back, specifically because the regulations on common activities such as how to wash before prayer or how much money to give to the poor emanate from these same schools of thought and would cause great restrictions on their ability to practice their faith.
This report describes the broader climate of anti-Muslim sentiment, as promoted by anti-Islam grassroots organizations, and examines the various manifestations of this hate in light of the First Amendment. More specifically, this report analyzes the anti-Sharia bills and ballot measures proposed by numerous states and determines the extent to which they comply with free exercise and establishment principles and jurisprudence.
The crucial feature of any kind of arbitration is that an arbitrator, whether religious or not, has no ability to enforce the arbitral decision; only state or federal courts have that power. Moreover, there is an array of carefully crafted safeguards in place to protect individuals. For example, arbitral decisions are annulled when there is evidence that the arbitrator completely disregarded the law or when the arbitrator refused to consider material evidence. Courts also review the arbitral decision to ensure that arbitrators are neutral, that the resulting arbitral decisions are neither grossly unfair nor undermine public policy, and that the parties agreed to take part in the arbitration of their own free will.
The First Amendment to the American Constitution includes two Religion Clauses, the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause. Together, these Clauses provide guidelines for the relationship between the government and religion.
For one, the government may not officially choose among religions, or between religion and non-religion, in creating law. A significant purpose of the Religion Clauses is to protect religious groups from the overreaching of the state. They protect minority religions from state interference, which could arise where a religious (or secular) majority uses the democratic process to punish a minority, and they protect all religions, popular or unpopular, from state encroachment into purely religious matters. Moreover, the government may not generally prevent a person from believing and advocating a religious message; nor may the government prevent behavior simply because it is religious in nature.
Oklahoma’s “Save Our State Amendment,” the only anti-Sharia initiative to be challenged in court thus far, is a good example of how these laws violate the above-mentioned constitutional principles. The legislative history and the actual text of the Amendment make clear that its purpose is to treat Muslims differently than members of other faiths—it seeks to outlaw use of Sharia principles but does not mention principles of any other faith. It also places numerous burdens on Muslims’ religious exercise. For example, if the Amendment were to become law, it would be impossible to enforce a will that is based on Sharia principles or to engage in Sharia-based arbitration. This unequal treatment of Muslims and burdens on their free exercise contradict core Religion Clause principles.
When religious freedom is limited for one group, it necessarily affects religious freedom for all groups. Although anti-Sharia measures name Sharia specifically, if allowed to stand, they can limit the freedoms of Christians, Jews, and other faith groups in the United States who turn to religious arbitration as the preferred method of dispute resolution.
1. Clarify the meaning of Sharia: The American Muslim community should engage the broader public on Sharia’s meaning and role. It should articulate what this word means generally and what it means to them specifically—that is, the articulation of the concept should not be merely theoretical but explained in concrete terms.
2. Differentiate Sharia from laws in Muslim-majority countries: Even more to the point, the American Muslim community should differentiate the ways Sharia is applied in differing cultural contexts. It is important to emphasize that the way it is applied in some Muslim-majority countries is very different than what is possible, or even preferable, in the American context. How does the American legal and social framework shape the application of Sharia law?
3. Disseminate information on religious arbitration and the First Amendment: Legal think tanks should organize lay-accessible information sessions on the First Amendment and religious arbitration. Many Americans are unaware that religious law is incorporated into the American legal system. How does this work in the case of Sharia? In the case of other religious laws? Americans need answers to these questions.
Jacob L. Vigdor, Adjunct Fellow, Manhattan Institute for Policy Research
This is the third in a series of Center for State and Local Leadership reports on the state of immigrant assimilation—the degree of similarity between the native- and foreign-born populations—in the United States. This report provides new information on the characteristics of newly arrived immigrants and the pace of their integration into society, as measured by a series of summary indices through 2009. It also introduces a series of comparisons among countries, using data from the United States and ten other countries drawn from the period 1999-2001. Although these international data are slightly dated, they are the most recent comparative data available, and few major changes are likely to have taken place since. The study’s focus is the comparative progress individual ethnic groups, particularly immigrants from nations with predominantly Muslim populations, have made in the destination countries where they have chosen to reside.
The study of assimilation in recent years has led to a number of key findings, particularly regarding the impact of the recession of December 2007-June 2009.
Patterns unrelated to the economic cycle appear in the analysis of assimilation trajectories over the past decade.
Tracking the progress of immigrant cohorts over periods of up to three decades reveals other important trends:
International comparisons make use of data on rates of assimilation of immigrants to the following countries: Austria, Canada, France, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Comparison of nine of these countries (excluding the Netherlands and the U.K., which lack critical data elements) in an international version of the assimilation index reveals a number of important findings:
Breaking assimilation down still further, by both origin and destination, shows the United States to be ahead of most of Europe but behind Canada in a wide variety of categories.
Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons are among the highest-scoring groups on a new survey of religious knowledge, outperforming evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants and Catholics on questions about the core teachings, history and leading figures of major world religions.
On average, Americans correctly answer 16 of the 32 religious knowledge questions on the survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life. Atheists and agnostics average 20.9 correct answers. Jews and Mormons do about as well, averaging 20.5 and 20.3 correct answers, respectively. Protestants as a whole average 16 correct answers; Catholics as a whole, 14.7. Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons perform better than other groups on the survey even after controlling for differing levels of education.
Gallup’s recent surveys of Muslims in London, Paris, and Berlin point to the need for greater understanding between Europe’s Muslim residents and the broader societies in which they live. But these surveys also offer plenty of evidence that the foundation for that understanding is already in place.