Senator Bill Ketron has met with some of his Muslim constituents about a bill they say will make it a felony to practice their religion.
Ketron and the Muslims both come from Murfreesboro. But this was their first meeting since the senator introduced a bill to outlaw Sharia, which Muslims and religious authorities say is a guide to living – like Jewish Halaka, or the Christian emphasis on the Ten Commandments.
Remziya Suleyman, of the Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition, says the small group of Muslims from Murfreesboro was encouraged.
“We were told that there would be an amendment to the bill that would take away any conversation, or really, notation of, Sharia.”
Ketron had previously told reporters he would submit an amendment to simplify the controversial bill. But making the comment to the Muslims may have helped bridge a gap, says Suleyman.
“And, I think we did have a constructive conversation that we wanted, and we want to continue having this conversation, and one of our biggest requests was to have another meeting with Senator Ketron with a bigger group who has requested that.”
In mid-February Ketron introduced the bill, which characterizes Sharia as an underlying principle of jihad and terrorism. Representatives of several Tennessee religious communities have criticized the bill as a violation of the principle of Freedom of Religion.
Suleyman, a policy analyst for TIRRC, led a group including a Muslim pharmacist and two women dressed in Middle Tennessee Muslim Modest – headscarves and dresses down to the ankles – to meet the legislators.
She says the original bill misstates the nature of Sharia law, which Muslims and religious authorities say is a guide to living – like Jewish Halaka, or the Christian emphasis on the Ten Commandments.
“The bill itself is so broadly written that it encompasses every day-to-day thing that we do as Muslims. Simply praying five times a day, giving to the poor. Ironically, obeying the laws of the land could possibly be outlawed. It creates a felony for being a Muslim in the state of Tennessee.”
The bill created an outcry among Tennessee Muslims, she says.
“We have about 60,000 or 70,000 Muslims in the state of Tennessee. The exact number from Murfreesboro I’m not quite sure but I would assume a few thousand people. We have doctors, lawyers, medical experts, teachers, community members out in Murfreesboro who have been there for decades and decades and are part of the community.”
Suleyman says the group isn’t ready to endorse an amendment that they haven’t seen.
Murfreesboro has been the site of a court argument over whether Muslims can build a mosque.
In October the federal Department of Justice weighed in on the mosque controversy, with U.S. Attorney Jerry Martin pointing out that the Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized Islam as one of the world’s major religions.
Our previous story on the legislative controversy, Religious Groups Fight Together Against Anti-Sharia Bill, includes a link to the bill.
The legislative staff summary of the bill includes this line of explanation:
Under this bill, any rule, precept, instruction, or edict arising directly from the extant rulings of any of the authoritative schools of Islamic jurisprudence of Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i, Hanbali, Ja’afariya, or Salafi, as those terms are used by sharia adherents, is prima facie sharia without any further evidentiary showing.