GREENSBORO — All Syidah Mateen wanted was to give Muslim witnesses the chance to be sworn in on the Quran before testifying in Guilford County courtrooms.
But an attempt by the Greensboro Islamic center to donate copies of the Muslim holy text last week sparked a legal debate that has left state court officials scrambling to decide whether to allow the practice.
Officials with the Administrative Office of the Courts in Raleigh are trying to come up with a statewide policy on the issue before news of the controversy sparks a large outcry, spokesman Dick Ellis said….
An AOC lawyer’s preliminary opinion last week said that state law allows people to be sworn in using a Quran rather than a Bible, Ellis said. But that conflicts with the view of top Guilford County judges, who told officials with the Islamic center Friday that they won’t allow the practice in their courtrooms.
“An oath on the Quran is not a lawful oath under our law,” Guilford Senior Resident Superior Court Judge W. Douglas Albright said earlier in the week. He sets policy for the county’s nine Superior Court courtrooms.
Friday’s news disappointed Mateen, who said she planned to pursue the issue further.
“This is a diverse world, and everybody does not worship or believe the same,” she said. “We’ll just have to get in touch with the right people and determine our next move.”…
The issue surfaced for Mateen two years ago, when she came in front of Guilford District Judge Tom Jarrell. When she was asked to swear on the Bible before testifying in a domestic violence protective order hearing, the 40-year-old Greensboro woman asked Jarrell if there was a Quran.
“I was actually shocked that they didn’t have any,” she said.
She was allowed to testify after giving an affirmation to tell the truth, but the issue never left her mind.
Mateen recalls Jarrell telling her that day that all the courtrooms needed copies of the Quran.
Jarrell disagrees. He said he only told her he would look into the legality of such oaths if she wanted to bring a Quran in the future.
Mateen eventually went forward with her idea — believing Jarrell approved. She got the backing of the Al-Ummil Ummat Islamic Center, which her late father established, to donate about 10 copies of the Quran to the county’s courthouses.
The center’s imam, Charles Abdullah, working through a judicial assistant, was prepared to hand over the Qurans last week.
“We do feel like it has some historical significance,” Abdullah said. “We didn’t want to make a big fanfare out of it.”
But Jarrell said he was unaware of the donation until a reporter contacted him last week. He deferred any decision to the judges that set courtroom policy, and a meeting was postponed.
On Friday, Guilford Chief District Judge Joseph E. Turner said he told Abdullah that he could not accept the Qurans for the courtrooms.
But Turner asked whether Abdullah would donate a copy of the Quran to the law libraries in the county’s two courthouses, and Abdullah agreed, he said.
Turner oversees policy for the county’s 12 District Court courtrooms.
Both Turner and Albright said the language in the law — which refers at one point to laying one’s hand on the “Holy Scriptures” — precludes someone from being sworn using the Quran.
Albright said he has nothing against other holy books, but he believes the statute is clear.
“Everybody understands what the holy Scriptures are,” he said. “If they don’t, we’re in a mess.”
AOC officials disagreed with that interpretation last week.
The law requires a person to fear both spiritual and temporal punishment if his testimony is false, and swearing on the Quran would satisfy that, Ellis said.
But AOC officials would rather Muslims give an affirmation instead of bringing another holy text into the mix, Ellis said.
State officials worry that would open the door to more problems. For example, Ellis asked, what if a person says they worship brick walls and should be allowed to swear on a brick?
“We don’t want to complicate this simple procedure here,” Ellis said.
Jarrell, the judge in Mateen’s original case, said he’s always been concerned about the utility of having atheists or non-Christians swearing an oath on the Bible.
“They might as well be swearing on a Sears catalog,” he said.
If allowing people to swear on the Quran helps him get to the truth, Jarrell said, he has no problem with it. But he said he’ll follow courthouse policy….
“Any one who, after accepting faith in Allah, utters Unbelief – except under compulsion, his heart remaining firm in Faith – but such as open their breast to Unbelief, on them is Wrath from Allah, and theirs will be a dreadful Penalty.” (16:106)
“If allowing people to swear on the Quran helps him get to the truth,” Jarrell said. But what if they are uttering unbelief under what they consider to be compulsion, in line with the verse above? This is just one element of a much larger problem: in relations with unbelievers, the Qur’an simply doesn’t teach the values of the Judeo-Christian tradition. It is, as we see from the above verse, permissible to lie to unbelievers. Other values come in for a similar treatment: for believers, they are upheld, but for believers alone.
It is considered impolite to point this out these days. This kind of politeness could be our undoing. Once again I ask anyone reading: please prove me wrong. Please show me where the Qur’an commands Muslims to be honest specifically to unbelievers, or even states the command not to lie in terms that unequivocally apply universally. I am familiar with the verses generally used to do this, and I warn you: I am also familiar with what the mainstream Muslim commentators on the Qur’an say about them. So fire away.