(NASHVILLE, Tenn.) -- An uproar has erupted in Tennessee over the most far-reaching proposal in the nation against the Islamic religious law known as Shariah.
The legislation would make practicing some versions of Shariah a felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison. The bill declares that Shariah is a threat to homeland security because it embraces jihad and "requires" followers to overthrow the U.S. government.
Shariah -- which means "path" in Arabic -- governs many aspects of Muslim life and influences the legal code in a majority of Muslim countries. But there are many interpretations of Shariah.
In some countries, strict interpretations "are used to justify cruel punishments such as amputation and stoning as well as unequal treatment of women in inheritance, dress and independence," according to the Council on Foreign Relations. Radical Islamist groups, such as al Qaeda, go further, claiming that Shariah justifies jihad, or holy war.
In Europe and even in the U.S., Shariah is being blamed for cases of spousal abuse and so-called "honor killings" of females at the hands of their spouses or male relatives, sometimes stemming from the victims seeking divorce, or dating outside of their religion.
But Christian, Jewish, and Muslim leaders in Tennessee said the bill is so broadly written that it would make it illegal to be a Muslim. They held a news conference in Nashville Tuesday to denounce the proposed state measure as an attack on religious freedom.
Conservative groups, such as the Tennessee Eagle Forum, back the bill, which has a high-profile sponsor in Rep. Judd Matheny, the state's Republican House speaker pro tempore. They said Muslims who peacefully practice their religion have nothing to fear.
Lawmakers in at least 13 states have introduced proposals forbidding local judges from considering Shariah when rendering decisions in such matters as child-custody disputes and divorces. Voters in Oklahoma approved such a law last fall, but a federal judge has temporarily blocked it from taking effect.
The Tennessee legislation goes much further, critics say, potentially making the practice of Sharia -- and Islam itself -- illegal.
Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio