NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Gov. Bill Haslam on Tuesday issued his strongest defense yet of a Muslim aide who has been criticized for once working in the field of Shariah compliant finance.
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.
"I want to start by clearly expressing 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 complaint finance," Ramsey wrote in the letter.