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Did Shariah Law Just Work Its Way Into a Florida Court?

"...Sharia law is being imposed on an unwilling participant."

A judge in Tampa, Florida is creating a buzz with a ruling some say shows that shariah law is creeping into the U.S. One look at the alleged ruling shows it is suspicious. But is it really an example of shariah "comin' to America?"

According to a document on the website Jihad Watch, Circuit Court Judge Richard A. Nielsen ordered earlier this month that a civil  dispute between current and former leaders of a local mosque over who controls funds awarded during a 2008 eminent domain proceeding be decided under "Ecclesiastical Islamic Law." Below is a copy of the relevant section:

Tom Tillison over at Red State explains the case via a post from Brigitte Gabriel:

The current mosque leaders want the case decided according to secular, Florida civil law, and their attorney has been vigorously arguing the case accordingly.

The former trustees of the mosque want the case decided according to sharia law.

Here’s the kicker.

The judge recently ruled “This case will proceed under Ecclesiastical Islamic law,” (sharia law), “pursuant to the Qur’an.” [Emphasis hers]

You can read the judge’s ruling here.

Now it’s not unusual for a dispute to arise within a religious institution and for a court to order a mediation or arbitration, in order to resolve this without the court having to render its own judgment.

But what makes this case unusual, and highly troubling, is that a group of Muslim leaders—the CURRENT mosque leaders—who do NOT want to be subject to sharia law, are being compelled to do so by an American judge!

"In effect, due process in an American court is being denied and Sharia law is being imposed on an unwilling participant," Tillison writes. "Right here in Florida."

But some commenters over at Jihad Watch don't think this is a blatant example of creeping shariah. For example, commenter TheSSBlock explains that those involved in the case are simply asking the judge to be an arbitrator (something Tillison's post recognizes), and that isn't cause for alarm:

This isn't the imposition of Islamic Law per se. Arbitration agreements (contracts) between parties are regularly taken to Civil Courts for enforcement in cases of dispute. Parties who agree to arbitrate have willingly chosen a method of dispute resolution outside of the court system. Arbitrators do not have to follow state or federal laws in making their decisions - or any recognized law at all.

Although not truly unlimited, if two parties agree to arbitrate their disputes, for all intents and purposes, they can bind themselves to an outcome under almost any system of law, of any religion, or any procedure. Unless a party can show fraud, duress, or coercion, an arbitration agreement functions like any contract which a court must uphold so long as it is clear, unambiguous, and freely negotiated. Consequently, a party may also have a cause of action in questioning the neutrality of the arbitrator or if no meaningful procedure was followed to guarantee a just result.

Upholding Islamic law agreed upon through arbitration is not really a problem. A problem would arise however, if, absent any agreement, the court attempted to invoke Islamic law on its own initiative, which of course it is not permitted to do.

TheSSBlock is correct to point out that the case is a civil, not a criminal, one. But there still seems to be a lot of questions. So we called the Circuit Court clerk in Hillsborough County, Florida. A representative there referred us to Judge Nielsen's judicial assistant, so we called her, too. We did talk to that assistant, but she refused to comment on the case. Instead, she took our name and number and said she would try and have someone get back to us.

We'll keep you updated.

One last thing…
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