The Republican governor was asked after a speech to a Nashville Republican group whether he was incorporating elements of Islamic law into state government. Such criticism emerged after the Haslam administration earlier this year hired Samar Ali to work in the Department of Economic and Community Development.
Haslam said Ali, an attorney who grew up in Waverly and was student body president at Vanderbilt, has done nothing to deserve criticism.
“Samar is someone quite frankly — and I know some people in this room disagree with me — who I think has been incredibly unfairly maligned,” Haslam said.
“She is somebody who was making a whole lot more money somewhere else, loved Tennessee, wanted to come back here and be a part of it,” he said.
Before her White House fellowship, Ali worked for Hogan Lovells US LLP, where she was a founding member of the firm’s Abu Dhabi office and specialized in international business issues and Shariah compliant transactions. Shariah law forbids the giving or receiving of interest and requires deals to be based on tangible assets. Earning money from companies involved with alcohol, tobacco, gambling and pornography is also off limits.
Tennessee has also been the scene of a two-year battle over a proposed mosque in Murfreesboro.
A group of neighbors sued to try to stop construction, claiming, among other things, that local Muslims were compelled by their religion to try to overthrow the U.S. Constitution and replace it with Islamic law.
It’s not the first time the Haslam administration has sought to dispel allegations that it was furthering Islamic interests, a claim posted on a billboard near the state Capitol.
Haslam deputy Claude Ramsey in August wrote a letter to GOP leaders denying that the state was involved in the promotion of any religion.
“There is no effort by the Haslam administration, the State of Tennessee, or any agency or department of the State to promote or advance Shariah law or Shariah compliant finance,” Ramsey wrote in the letter.
Ali, an international lawyer and former White House fellow, last month called the attacks on her “hurtful.”
“I joined this administration because I really love Tennessee and believe in Gov. Haslam’s vision and leadership,” Ali, 30, said in an interview with the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
Ali said the uproar hasn’t soured her decision to come home.
“My family, which is very important to me, is here, and I want to be a part of something that I believe in,” she said. “I had three months of some people who were upset with my background. But I decided that that wasn’t going to erase my good memories and why I came back and why I was here.”