A Florida appeals court has rejected a request to block a Hillsborough judge from upholding Islamic law in a case involving the former trustees of a local Tampa mosque that has garnered the national spotlight.
The state's 2nd District Court of Appeal on Friday denied without comment a petition filed by the mosque, known as the Islamic Education Center of Tampa, which is challenging Hillsborough Circuit Judge Richard Nielsen’s ruling in March that he intended to cite “ecclesiastical Islamic law” in the case, the St. Petersburg Times reported.
The former trustees have been suing the mosque because they claim they were unfairly removed as trustees. Nielsen said in March that based on testimony, “under ecclesiastical law” and pursuant to the Koran, “Islamic brothers should attempt to resolve a dispute among themselves.”
The two parties reportedly agreed ahead of time to use an imam and Islamic Law to resolve any potential differences through arbitration. So Nielsen only referenced Islamic law in deciding whether the two parties could resolve their differences through arbitration. He ruled they could.
The arbitrator ruled in favor of the former trustees, an outcome that would give them control of $2.2 million in mosque funds if the decision is upheld, the newspaper reported.
But mosque officials say the arbitration never happened, and they dispute the meaning of the appeals court ruling. Mosque attorney Paul Thanasides told the newspaper that an appeals court decision without a written opinion means the court wasn’t addressing the merits of the case.
But Lee Segal, a lawyer representing the trustees, told the newspaper that the ruling was a “big time” win for his clients and vindication for Nielsen.