Voters in the American state of Oklahoma are being asked whether Islamic law can be used in state courts.
The ballot question – proposed by Republican Rex Duncan – recommends banning courts in Oklahoma from considering or using international law or Sharia law.
The move stems from a New Jersey ruling involving a Muslim woman who wanted a restraining order against her husband, accusing him of repeatedly raping her.
But the judge decided her husband was following his Islamic beliefs regarding spousal duties and ruled against the woman.
That ruling was overturned on appeal, but it raised alarm that state courts were allowing Islamic law to creep into decisions.
Former speaker of the US House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich, spoke about the issue of Sharia law in September.
Speaking at the annual Values Voter Summit he said the US “should have a federal law that says under no circumstance, in any jurisdiction in the United States, will Sharia be used in any court to apply to any judgment made about American law”.
In March a BBC investigation claimed that radical Muslim gangs in Britain’s prisons are forcing a form of Sharia law on non-Muslim inmates.
The same month, Britain’s Muslim Arbitration Tribunal (MAT) reported a 15% increase this year in the number of non-Muslims resorting to Islamic courts to settle commercial disputes.
In 2009 a report revealed that there may be more than 85 unofficial Sharia ‘courts’ operating in the UK, many times more than is commonly estimated.
In 2008 the UK Government gave its ‘approval’ for Islamic Sharia courts to deal with family disputes, but critics warned that Muslim women will be treated like second-class citizens.
Also in 2008, England’s most senior judge came under fire for suggesting that parts of Sharia law could have a role to play in the legal system.
And the Archbishop of Canterbury provoked a storm of controversy in 2008 for suggesting that adopting parts of Sharia law seems “unavoidable”.
In England and Wales Sharia ‘courts’ have been able to rule on civil disputes since the Arbitration Act 1996.
The courts, which usually apply Islamic law in family and financial disputes, can have their rulings upheld by civil courts.
Under the Arbitration Act they are permitted to rule on business, financial and family disputes.
Orthodox Jewish Beth Din courts also operate this way, but lawyers and civil rights campaigners have always been sceptical of the status of women in Sharia disputes.