One way to get people all bent up, out of shape and worried about terrorists is to mention Sharia, the Islamic code that prescribes rules for everything from dress to diet to punishment for crimes.
And when people use the word Sharia as a cudgel to strike fear among Christians and Jews, "It breaks my heart," said Muhammad Babar, a geriatric physician in Louisville and a Muslim.
In the last decade, at least eight states have enacted laws prohibiting cities from adopting Sharia law and judges from considering it when they make decisions on the bench. Heck, anti-Sharia bills have been filed in the Kentucky House of Representative each year since 2012, and there's one pending now.
There have even been numerous made-up news stories about Dearborn, Mich., which has a heavy Islamic population, that say people there are being forced to live under Sharia – a notion that Mayor John B. O'Reilly Jr., an Irish Catholic, debunked in an open letter to a pastor who was planning to protest there.
For some, the word "Sharia" conjures up images of black-clad, scimitar-wielding culture warriors swatting at the heads of Christian missionaries. There's reason for that. These are uncertain times and the violence inflicted by the Islamic State and other extremist Islamic groups is difficult for us in the west to understand.
So it really shouldn't have come as much of a surprise when parents objected last week after seventh-grade students at Highland Hills Middle School in Floyd County, Ind., were sent home with a worksheet in which Sharia is mentioned.
The worksheet is a first-person account of what living in Saudi Arabia is like from a fictional woman named Ahlima. In it, Ahlima talks about what she sees as the good points of living in an Islamic society, including the requirement that she wear a burka and the fact that her parents have chosen a husband for her and that she will be his second wife in a polygamous house.
It mentions Sharia about midway through the two-page testimony.
The parents who complained said they weren't opposed to their children learning about Islam, but they were concerned that the description of Sharia in the words of this fictional Muslim woman made readers think that "everything's wonderful in that world."
They just wanted it to be taught in a dimmer light.
I'm not certain how many middle school-aged American girls would think everything would be wonderful in the world if they thought their parents would pick their husbands and that they would have to wear long, flowing gowns that even covered their faces, or that they might be one of a man's several wives.
My 12-year-old chafes when she has to wear a private school uniform. I can't even pick out what she's having for lunch without getting grief.
Truth be told, no one is trying to impose Sharia law on Christians in the United States.
Ihsan Bagby, an associate professor of Islamic studies at the University of Kentucky, said Sharia is very similar to Judaic law outlined in the Old Testament or like the Catholic church's canon law. It includes dietary restrictions, rules regarding dowries and other things that relate to family life.
A small part of Sharia deals with criminal law and includes some very harsh penalties. Same with Judaic law.
Know anyone who claims to be clairvoyant? According to the Old Testament, you need to go stone her. Now. Leviticus 20:27.
Boss calls you into work on the Sabbath? I'll regret having to inform your widow. Exodus 31:15.
And if you're worried about that part in the Quran that has been interpreted by some to mean "death to infidels," may I direct your attention to Deuteronomy 17:2-5.
Fact is, said Bagby, Sharia law is interpreted different ways and few follow the criminal laws and punishments — much like how Jews, Catholics, Baptists and others find the penalties in their ancient texts to be, as Babar says, "medieval."
Babar also rejects the "hard-line mullahs" who interpret Sharia in such a way that women are treated as second class. His wife wears western clothes and drives a car, he noted.
Bagby said it's important that schools teach about Islam, not to indoctrinate students, but to help them understand.
"Islam and Muslims are in the news," he said. "(Students) should have background so they can understand current events and what they mean. We need to live in the world today and we need to be aware."
But the first step is not overreacting when we see the word "Sharia."