Islamic gathering in Hartford looks at anti-Shariah movement in U.S.

Hartford (AP) - Some 15,000 Muslims are expected to attend a weekend convention in Hartford dedicated to religious freedom, part of a nationwide campaign against what organizers describe as overwhelming bigotry and hatred.

The theme for the annual convention of the Islamic Circle of North America is "Defending Religious Freedom, Understanding Shariah."

It was chosen in response to bills introduced in more than 20 statehouses around the United States to ban the use of Shariah, the Islamic system of law, and other foreign legal codes.

Four states - Louisiana, Arizona, Tennessee and South Dakota - have approved legislation curtailing the use of foreign laws inside their courtrooms, and a similar measure cleared the Kansas legislature earlier this month. Supporters of such bills describe them as important to uphold American values and say they will ensure that legal decisions protect long-cherished liberties.

Opponents say such measures are unnecessary and designed to marginalize Muslim Americans.

"Anti-Shariah bills are just a cover-up for a deep down hatred," said Naeem Baig, ICNA's vice president of public affairs.

The convention, which takes place today through Monday, is being held in Connecticut's capital for the seventh consecutive year.

The location attracts Muslim Americans from areas including Boston, New York and New Jersey, Baig said.

The event is focused in part on educating Muslim Americans themselves about Shariah. Baig said that while it is often associated with harsh criminal punishments, little attention is given to the religion's teachings on other issues such as human rights and freedom of religion.

Islamic scholars and experts will also address other issues affecting Muslim Americans.

"Even among the Muslim community, there is a lot of misunderstanding about Shariah," Baig said.

The national campaign by the ICNA will include billboards in as many as 20 cities, a hot line dedicated to answering questions about Shariah and Islamic faith and town hall forums and activities in 30 cities.

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