How The Legislature's Sharia Law Debate Impacts Idaho's Muslim Community

Apr 30, 2015

Said Ahmed-Zaid is an engineering professor at Boise State University. He's lived in Boise for 18 years, and is also a spokesperson for the city's Islamic Center. He's held that position since 9/11, representing his minority religion's members in a majority Christian state.

When a group of nine Idaho state legislators brought up Sharia law while debating child support legislation – ultimately leading to the bill being killed – Ahmed-Zaid says he was confused.

"I just plain do not understand why Sharia law was injected into the discussion and made some legislators vote against this bill," he says.

The professor says the debate has made it clear that some people at the state Capitol don’t understand what Sharia law is.

"Sharia law is religious law for a practicing Muslim," says Ahmed-Zaid. "It's not something to force on someone else; especially non-Muslims. So Sharia law to me means doing my daily prayers, fasting in the month of Ramadan, doing a pilgrimage to Mecca. So basically obeying the commandments in my religion."

Ahmed-Zaid says anti-Muslim rhetoric from some national media outlets makes his work more difficult.

"Every time there's an upheaval somewhere, the impact is felt here by the Muslim community in Idaho. So it has been very stressful."

He points to a lunch hosted at the Statehouse during the 2015 session in which conservative Christian pastor Sharam Hadian – who travels the country condemning Islam – was asked to speak. He says this kind of influence makes him worry about where lawmakers are getting their information.

But, Ahmed-Zaid says there's an interfaith coalition that have come to defend Idaho's Muslim community. You can read their response to Hadian's visit at the statehouse here.

Find reporter Frankie Barnhill on Twitter @FABarnhill

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