"Well I think this whole notion that somehow we need to say no more Muslims and just ban a whole religion goes against everything we stand for and believe in. I mean religious freedom’s been a very important part of our, our history." former Vice President Dick Cheney
As could only be expected following the (likely) terrorist attack in California last week, the debate over Muslims in American culture has been reignited with predictable veracity. Some presidential candidates have even gone so far as to suggest that all Muslims be monitored and banned from entering the country. This is, of course, completely ridiculous and in direct violation of America's founding principles (even Dick Cheney agrees!). However, others have taken issue with a perceived threat from Islamic law (known collectively as Sharia), believing that America's Muslim population is attempting to make Washington look more like Riyadh. This week, let's take a look at the reality of Sharia law in America.
First, it should be strongly noted that Sharia law is not a single, codified set of laws which can be easily and authoritatively referenced for every situation. Like many other legal systems, it draws from a central set of general precedents, but leaves significant room for interpretation. Generally speaking, Sharia law draws heavily from the Sunna (reported sayings and examples of the prophet Muhammad), but also contains elements of other ancient legal systems and practices. There are four main schools of Sunni Islamic thought (Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi'i, and Hanbali) and one main school of Shia Islamic thought (Ja'fari). All of these place a different emphasis on the Hadith (sayings of Muhammad), the Qur'an, and previous rulings by early Islamic scholars.
But Sharia is more than just communal legal decisions. A large number of decisions found in the various interpretations of Sharia deal with family and personal life. The word Sharia is derived from the Arabic word for "way" or "path," and is typically used as a guideline for living a virtuous life. Instructions on personal relationships, prayer habits, and dietary restrictions are the primary emphasis of Sharia practices among most Muslims. This would include behaviors that are generally considered obligatory (giving of charity), encouraged, discouraged, and forbidden (consumption of pork or alcohol).
So why is everyone so afraid of Sharia? Aside from the general trend of Islamophobia, most people (incorrectly) equate the above mentioned examples with the rigid Wahhabi interpretation of Sharia found in Saudi Arabia (and to an even greater extent in ISIS controlled territory). Though certainly among the most strict forms of legal jurisprudence in the world, even this has been somewhat mis-characterized. For instance, though the strictest interpretation for the crime of theft (in the Wahhabi tradition) is the removal of a hand, it is often forgotten that this punishment is almost never carried out in Saudi Arabia. And to prove adultery, for instance, requires at least four witnesses to the act itself. This is an intentionally difficult burden of proof, which is often the point of the more strict interpretations.
Still, such punishments are certainly considered cruel and unusual. Thus, they are almost all completely incompatible with America's case law system. Any judge with even a basic understanding of American jurisprudence knows that most interpretations of Sharia law (in addition to other less-common forms of legal precedent) would be subordinate to proven and established legal methods of American jurisprudence. Furthermore, the Free Exercise Clause of the United States Constitution prohibits the use of religiously based legal interpretations when they directly contradict American laws and legal precedent.
What does "Sharia" actually look like in America? Typically it takes the form of local councils or private courts which can use some interpretations of Sharia precedent (obviously not the extreme stuff) in family and personal court cases. In this way, there seem to be a couple limited areas in which some interpretations of Sharia could (theoretically) apply. For the most part, this would take the form of private civil disputes involving Muslim family members or two Muslim parties. In these cases, councils would be convened to use established precedents of inheritance, divorce, or other personal matters to resolve disputes (but only if both parties consent to this process). This is, by and large, the only real possibility of Sharia law being enacted in the United States. Finally, it should also be noted that Christian and Jewish courts have also operated within the bounds of the American legal system for decades. They have already established how religiously based legal systems can work within the American system (and have mostly defined the limits of such inclusion).
In all, the "battle" over Sharia law in America is predominantly meant to fan the flames of Islamophobia and fear of a perceived loss of "Christian" values in this country. Almost nobody is seriously considering a Wahhabi-style legal system where apostates are stoned in the street. However, there may be some room for religiously based precedents to influence private matters between consenting parties in a case (where many would argue the government has no place anyway). Most importantly, let's remember that the people living in or migrating to the United States from Muslim countries are usually trying to escape the more oppressive forms of Sharia in their homeland, not trying to bring it with them.
TL;DR: Sharia encompasses a very wide variety of laws and rules and cannot be reduced into one coherent system. There is absolutely no chance of it taking over the American legal system.