Protesters of the proposed Islamic center near Ground Zero waved signs there Sunday with a single word: sharia.
Their reference to Islam's guiding principles has become a rallying cry for those critical of Islam, who use the word to conjure images of public stonings and other extreme forms of punishment in countries such as Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan and argue that those tenets are somehow gaining a foothold in the United States.
Blogs with names such as Creeping Sharia and Stop Shariah Now are proliferating. A pamphlet for a "tea party" rally last weekend in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., asked: "Why do Muslims want to take over the world and place us under Shariah law?" Former GOP House speaker Newt Gingrich amplified that point in a much-publicized speech a few weeks ago, exploring what he calls "the problem of creeping sharia."