IRVING — The intense national spotlight on Islam has shifted to Irving, where Mayor Beth Van Duyne has accused mosque leaders of creating separate laws for Muslims and the City Council voted Thursday to endorse a state bill that Muslims say targets their faith.
The dispute has made Van Duyne a hero among a fringe movement that believes Muslims — a tiny fraction of the U.S. population — are plotting to take over American culture and courts.
“It fuels anti-Islamic hysteria,” said Zia Sheikh, imam at the Islamic Center of Irving. “Her whole point was to rile up her supporters. … The problem is we become the whipping boys.”
The mayor stands by her statements, including an interview with former Fox News host Glenn Beck last month, when she said Sheikh and other imams were “bypassing American courts” by offering to mediate disputes among their worshippers according to an Islamic code called Shariah.
The mediation is advertised as voluntary, nonbinding and in harmony with the law.
But it has led Van Duyne to back a bill by state Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, that would forbid judges from using foreign law in their rulings.
While the bill does not mention religion, Leach has singled out the Islamic mediation panel as a “problem” it will solve. The wording is largely identical to that in a previous bill pitched by another lawmaker as a way to stop the influence of “large populations of Middle Easterners.”
Muslims in hijabs, burqas and business suits packed City Hall on Thursday, voicing protests before the council endorsed the bill in a 5-4 vote.
“This bill does not reference Shariah, Islam or even religion. It has nothing to do with preventing any tribunal,” Van Duyne told the crowd. “Why anyone would feel this is hatred or bigotry is absolutely beyond me.”
The Islamic Tribunal, a panel of Dallas-area imams, offers to mediate disputes between Muslims for a fee.
Catholic dioceses and Jewish synagogues have run similar tribunals for centuries. But the Muslim version is portrayed on websites as the country’s first “Shariah court.”
“This is how it starts,” a Breitbart.com writer warned, conflating the service with “vicious, misogynistic, and brutal” systems in other countries.
While the tribunal is headquartered in Dallas, blog posts around the country pegged its home as Irving: the purported ground zero in a Muslim takeover of the U.S. legal system.
Irving’s perceived link went viral with a February Facebook post in which Van Duyne vowed to contact state legislators and “fight with every fiber of my being” if the group was violating basic rights.
She had not spoken to any of the tribunal’s organizers at the time, nor before her half-hour interview on Beck’s Internet show.
“Equal treatment under the law doesn’t seem to exist,” Van Duyne told Beck. “I think you need to put your foot down and say this is America, we have laws here already. If you want to consult, if you want to arbitrate, that is well within our law. … I’ve got no problem with it. But setting up a separate court, setting up separate law is not anything — .”
Beck cut her off at that point: “This is an actual court?”
“Correct,” Van Duyne said.
Van Duyne later told The Dallas Morning News she based her comments on the Islamic Tribunal’s website, which referenced religious courts in Islamic history and called the imams “judges,” but clearly advertised itself as “a mediation and nonbinding arbitration firm.”
The mayor’s stand against the tribunal made her a celebrity in online circles. Her Facebook page filled with praise and links to headlines like “Texas Mayor Shuts Down ‘Shariah Court’ in Heroic Way.”
Worried residents flooded City Hall with calls.
“I was responding to rumors about a Shariah court in Irving,” Van Duyne said. “My response was to answer questions brought up by a number of my constituents.”
The mayor finally met Muslim leaders late last month. Van Duyne brought Texas House members Rodney Anderson, R-Grand Prairie, and Matt Rinaldi, R-Irving, with her.
The mayor said Sheikh asked for an apology and retraction of her Facebook post. Sheikh said he simply “asked her to clarify a statement … which seemed very Islamophobic.”
“She flat-out refused,” he said. “She said, ‘My statement wasn’t inflammatory in any way, shape or form.’”
Rinaldi then asked the imam to support American Laws for American Courts.
“He said, ‘If you support this bill, it will ease a lot of tensions [and assure people] you are not here to change the system. You’re not here to change the constitution,’” Sheikh said.
But it was the imam’s turn to refuse. “We don’t care about the bill,” Sheikh said. “It’s not going to affect us in any way, shape or form. The bottom line is the foundation of this bill is anti-Islamic.”
Previous posts on one of the sharia courts in Texas here, and below watch two of the sharia court judges discuss their desire to apply sharia amputations in America:
Go here for a Call to Action for those living in Texas