Shariah and Citizenship—How Islamophobia Is Creating a Second-Class Citizenry in America

01 Aug 2012 08:23pm Yaser Ali 

In 2010, Oklahoma passed the "Save Our State Amendment," becoming the first state to officially ban "Sharia law." Despite the fact that a federal court issued an injunction blocking the measure- holding that the ban violated the Establishment Clause-nearly two dozen state legislatures have since proposed similar measures. In this Comment, I propose that the Oklahoma law exhibits an increased hysteria towards Islam and Muslims-one that creates a distinct second-class citizenry that is not entitled to the privileges associated with, and considered a necessary condition of, citizenship in a nation-state. This problematic trend represents a continuation of a longer history in which law reinforces racism toward Arabs and Muslims and threatens to isolate and alienate one of the fastest growing segments of the American population.

Unfortunately, our present understanding of law and society in the context of anti-Muslim and anti-Shariah rhetoric is severely limited. While the literature on post-9/11 backlash has focused primarily on encroachments upon civil liberties, the deeper, subversive relationship between Islamophobia and the erosion of the substantive citizenship rights of American Muslims has remained largely unexplored within the legal academy.

After providing a brief history of Islamophobia in America, I propose a tripartite temporal framework for understanding Islamophobia in its contemporary context-the pre-9/11 period, the period immediately following the 9/11 attacks, and the period that began during the 2008 presidential campaign. I use Oklahoma's Save Our State Amendment as an operative example of how, in the third phase, an institutionalized version of Islamophobia is depriving American Muslims of citizenship, not only as a term of identity, but also as a vehicle for practical rights and political activity.

I then provide an overview of what Shariah law actually dictates and describe how the anti-Shariah movement in Oklahoma and around the country is not based on a credible threat to American society, but rather is part of a well-orchestrated campaign of fear mongering aimed at vilifying American Muslims. Finally, I provide policy recommendations for pushing back against this discrimination in order to ameliorate its impacts and empower American Muslims to vindicate their rights and enjoy the full and equal citizenship guaranteed to them in the U.S. Constitution.

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