In 2017 there were 23 new bills introduced in 18 states attempting to prohibit the practice of Islamic religious law, or sharia, in US courts.
The rash of new bills brings the total number of such legislative efforts since 2010 to 217 in 43 states, according to the Haas Institute at UC Berkeley which monitors the anti-sharia movement.
Legal experts point out that the bills are superfluous, as the US constitution is the supreme law of the land and any foreign laws are subservient to it. Sharia itself is less a set of laws than religious guidelines, one of which requires Muslims to be law-abiding according to the rules of whichever country they find themselves.
But Elsadig Elsheikh, director of the global justice program at the Haas Institute that carried out the research, said the purpose of the bills was to spread fear about Muslims living in America and to portray them as untrustworthy and out of step with American values. “Even if these bills do not become law they help to subject Muslims to surveillance and other forms of exclusion and discrimination,” he said.
Of the 23 bills introduced to state legislatures this year, only two became law – in Arkansas and Texas. Four new states joined the growing list of legislatures where anti-sharia legislation has been attempted: Colorado, Connecticut, North Dakota and Wisconsin.
All but one of the bills were introduced by Republicans. The exception was in Idaho where a committee with an unknown party affiliation was behind the move.
Heidi Beirich, an expert on anti-Muslim hate groups at the Southern Poverty Law Center, sees the rash of state bills as signs that the provocative language coming out of Trump’s circle is having an impact. “At the state level, the number one push for anti-Muslim activists is anti-sharia bills. It’s a recurrent effort.”
Trump himself called for all Muslims to be barred from entering the US when he was a presidential candidate, a sentiment that he has only barely tempered in his drive for a travel ban on several majority-Muslim countries. Several of the individuals he chose as key advisers also have a controversial track record.
Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist in the White House, once wrote a film script that warned of the country turning into the “Islamic States of America”. The short-lived national security adviser Michael Flynn called Islamism a “vicious cancer” inside all Muslims that has to be “excised”, while former White House aide Sebastian Gorka was once fired by the FBI as a counter-terrorism lecturer for his Islamophobic views.