A Florida appeals court has ruled that Islamic law can be used to decide a civil case between a mosque and its former trustees, leading one legal advocacy group to call it an “extremely dangerous” decision.
The state’s 2nd District Court of Appeal on Friday denied without comment a petition filed by the mosque, known as the Islamic Education Center of Tampa, which is challenging Hillsborough Circuit Judge Richard Nielsen’s ruling in March that he intended to cite “ecclesiastical Islamic law” in the case, the St. Petersburg Times reported.
The former trustees have been suing the mosque because they claim they were unfairly removed as trustees. Nielsen said in March that based on testimony, “under ecclesiastical law” and pursuant to the Koran, “Islamic brothers should attempt to resolve a dispute among themselves.”
The two parties reportedly agreed ahead of time to use an imam and Islamic Law to resolve any potential differences through arbitration. So Nielsen only referenced Islamic law in deciding whether the two parties could resolve their differences through arbitration. He ruled they could.
The arbitrator ruled in favor of the former trustees, an outcome that would give them control of $2.2 million in mosque funds if the decision is upheld, the newspaper reported.
David French, an attorney for the American Center for Law and Justice, told Fox News the appellate court’s decision is “an extremely dangerous development.”
“American courts should not be in the business of interpreting Islamic law – period,” French said. “We don’t want American courts applying foreign law.”
But an attorney with the Council on American Islamic Relations disputed that assertion.
“This is not Sharia law,” said Gadeir Abbas, a staff attorney with CAIR. “The judge can refer to religious doctrine – like Islamic law or Jewish law, but the judge cannot take positions on religious doctrine.”
Abbas told Fox News that the case involving the Islamic education center was about a contract agreement.
“This is freedom of contract – which is a conservative value,” he said. “The notion that this is some gross deviation from constitutional standards is fear-mongering.”
But French said it’s a case of “creeping Sharia.”
“This is exactly how these things happen,” French said. “An innocuous dispute between two parties seeking to apply religious principles and laws outside the American tradition – that’s when you begin to see these things creep into the system.”
French argued that the case could have a far-reaching impact on the legal system.
“The concern here is simple – even small cases can lead to the development of precedent,” French told Fox News. “While this dispute may be relatively obscure, the legal principles that come from the dispute could matter a great deal.”