Is Sharia law now enforceable in the United States?

by Kurt Schulzke on September 15, 2008

Say what?  The TimesOnline reports today that through the mechanism of private arbitration the government of the United Kingdom now enforces Sharia law in civil and family law cases where the parties have previously agreed to be bound by Sharia court rulings.

At this point, readers may be wondering why the headline of this post asks if Sharia is enforceable in the United States.  Answer: U.S. law confers even greater power on arbitral panels than does U.K. law.  If it’s happening there, it either is already here or will be very soon.

Under the U.S. Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), in force since 1925, and similar state-level arbitration codes, private persons (natural as well as legal) can legally agree that disputes between them arising from or relating to their private contractual relationships will be decided exclusively (and largely without appeal rights) by a private arbitrator or arbitral panel.

To my knowledge, nothing in the FAA or any state arbitration code, other than infrequently applied public-policy exceptions, would preclude Islamic or non-Islamic parties in the United States from agreeing to settle their private, civil disputes through arbitration by a Sharia court under Sharia procedural law.  Some elements of Sharia substantive law — plural marriage, for example — would seem to conflict with state or federal law.

Excerpts from Time article appear below:

ISLAMIC law has been officially adopted in Britain, with sharia courts given powers to rule on Muslim civil cases.

The government has quietly sanctioned the powers for sharia judges to rule on cases ranging from divorce and financial disputes to those involving domestic violence.

Rulings issued by a network of five sharia courts are enforceable with the full power of the judicial system, through the county courts or High Court.

Previously, the rulings of sharia courts in Britain could not be enforced, and depended on voluntary compliance among Muslims.

It has now emerged that sharia courts with these powers have been set up in London, Birmingham, Bradford and Manchester with the network’s headquarters in Nuneaton, Warwickshire. Two more courts are being planned for Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Sheikh Faiz-ul-Aqtab Siddiqi, whose Muslim Arbitration Tribunal runs the courts, said he had taken advantage of a clause in the Arbitration Act 1996. . .

The disclosure that Muslim courts have legal powers in Britain comes seven months after Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was pilloried for suggesting that the establishment of sharia in the future “seems unavoidable” in Britain.

Full text at TimesOnline.