The panel of three Imams is designed to arbitrate disputes according to Sharia or traditional Islamic law.
“The Islamic Tribunal is a unique institution of its kind in the United States of America,” a post on the Tribunal’s website states. “It is the intention of erecting this institution in order to set a precedence that will be emulated and duplicated throughout the country.”
“This tribunal is not there to circumvent legal laws, federal laws, state laws — it is simply an arbitration,” Imam Zia ul Haque Sheikh, one of the judges that make up the Tribunal, told TV station KEYE. “A tribunal where two parties that are disputing get together, they come to an agreement and then they present that agreement to a judge.”
The tribunal’s members call themselves “judges” even though they have none of the authority of a judge in the US court system. They meet in a room with a Koran on the table alongside Texas and US flags.
What Is Its Legal Authority?
The major purpose of the panel seems to be to settle disputes within the Muslim community and keep them from going to the civil courts. That would make the tribunal a type of arbitration panel.
“The general rule is if you decide to use something other than a government-sanctioned court to resolve your dispute, then generally that will be respected and enforced,” Austin-based attorney Pete Kennedy told KEYE.
Said Judge Taher El-badawi, “Our work, we just fix the religious part and we file another suit as a regular case to the civil courts.”
Arbitration panels have legal standing in the United States as long as they do not conflict with US law.
The Tribunal’s website looks more like a law firm’s website than a religious organization’s. It mentions practice areas and cases it handles and shows pictures of US law books. The “practice areas” include family law, divorce cases, product liability and business and real estate litigation.
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What Is Sharia Law?
The term “Sharia law” refers to a legal and ethical framework that governs the lives of Muslims in many countries. In some countries such as Saudi Arabia, Sharia is the official law of the land. In other nations it is simply a set of rules by which a faithful Muslim is to live.
It is controversial because traditional Sharia law prescribes some barbaric punishments, including cutting off of hands or feet as a punishment for theft, and 100 lashes for premarital sex. The major schools of Sharia law also mandate execution as the punishment for a Muslim who converts to another faith such as Christianity or becomes an atheist.
Sharia courts that rule on religious questions and attempt to resolve disputes have sprung up in other Western countries, like the United Kingdom, Channel 4 reported. Some of their rulings conflict with British law.
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