JEFFERSON CITY — Seven-year-old Yusuf Hacking from Webster Groves got an unofficial day off school Wednesday to visit the state Capitol. His mother, an Egyptian, brought him to Jefferson City to learn about the legislative process. They were two of the more than 100 people who attended the state capital's first Muslim Day.
The event was organized by the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri Muslim Rights Task Force in response to several bills that have been brought up in the Statehouse regarding foreign law.
Those bills include those sponsored by Reps. Don Wells, R-Cabool, and Paul Curtman, R-Pacific. While Curtman's bill bans the acceptance of foreign laws in Missouri courts, Wells' bill specifically targets Shariah, which is Islamic law based on the Quran.
"(My bill) just says in our courts, we're going to use American laws," Curtman said. "If it deprives somebody their fundamental liberty ... then the judge is going to side with protecting peoples' rights."
The resolution drafted by Wells calls for a ballot measure in the next election that would ban using Shariah in court. Wells said he was compelled by one of his constituents to draft the legislation. Wells called Shariah "very oppressive."
"I have been accused of being a bigot and doing it against a religion, which is entirely not true," Wells said. "I'm not doing anything against a religion; it does not mention religion, it mentions law."
Curtman said his bill is fundamentally different than Wells' resolution and said specifying Shariah was "not good policy."
Wells' bill echoes an Oklahoma law that made headlines last year for trying to ban the use of Shariah in court. Shariah sets guidelines for Muslims for major life events, such as marriage and death, and outlines conduct that is forbidden and required.
Ahmed Bedier, president of United Voices for America, traveled to the state Capitol from Florida to raise Muslim awareness. His organization helps Muslims become more engaged in civics, and he began leading these events four years ago.
"It's really about fear," Bedier said. "... it's an unnecessary bill that only puts Muslims as second class citizens."
Bedier explained Shariah as being a moral code similar to Christian values. He said that in the same way, it is up to each individual's interpretation. Bedier also said there's no need for a bill such as this because Muslims must abide by the laws of the state and country they reside in.
"When it comes to Shariah and Muslims living in this country, wherever there's a conflict between the laws of the land and our Islamic law... it's incumbent upon us to go with the laws of the land."
Rep. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis City, spoke at a press conference for Muslim Day. She greeted the crowd in Arabic and went on to encourage them all to be active as Muslims in state government.
"[Islam] is about peace and harmony," Nasheed said. "Exercise your right at the polling places in November of 2012 because we can no longer allow for individuals to attack Islam in the way Islam has been attacked at the state Capitol."
Jim Hacking, the chairman of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri Muslim Rights Task Force, helped organize the event to promote equality for Muslims and help Muslims understand state government.
"We view it as a win-win situation," Hacking said. "On the one hand, we are going to allow legislators the opportunity to meet Muslims and hear from Muslims in their district ... On the other side, we are going to allow the Muslims to see how the legislative process works."
Imam Muhammad Hasic from the Bosnian Islamic Center of St. Louis also spoke at the press conference and called on lawmakers to leave his religious freedom intact.
"Islam is teaching me to respect, help and love my neighbors," Hasic said. "Please do not forbid me to do that."