The Advocate: Sharia Ban A 'Solution In Search of a Problem'

A new anti-Islam movement was planting roots in the heart of the Great Plains.

It began with an Oklahoma ballot initiative in 2010. A resounding 70 percent of voters called to amend the state’s constitution to allow for a ban on the Islamic code of principles, known as Sharia law.

Muslims had lived in the region since the 1960s. But nearly a decade after the 9/11 terror attacks, fears crept up for Oklahoma voters that the Muslim culture posed an imminent threat to their way of life.

“It was a solution in search of a problem,” said Adam Soltani, executive director of the Council On American-Islamic Relations in Oklahoma.  

It became the first in a wave of more than a dozen states to enact similar bans. Prominent political leaders within the tea party championed the issue from state to state, warning that Sharia threatened to undermine the rule of law and U.S. Constitution.

“They had already been so influenced by the emotion of fear,” Soltani said. “It reached to all corners of our state.”

Soltani’s group took the issue to court, arguing that the constitutional amendment was a dressed up version of religious discrimination. A federal judge ultimately agreed, and the language was changed to no longer target Islam.

But Soltani contends that the heart of the issue was based on a fundamental misunderstanding of what Sharia stands for, and what it means to have religious principles governing both private and public life.

“Sharia is not a common term we use. It’s not a term that we even talk about, it’s just ingrained within us and how we live, our relationship with God and our relationship with other people,” Soltani said. “It is based upon mercy and compassion.”