I have received a number of interesting questions regarding the passage of health care reform but none so much as from one person who asked me to verify an internet rumor that Muslims had been exempted from PPACA’s individual mandate as part of President Obama’s secret Muslim agenda–specifically to help establish sharia law in the United States, and to grant benefits to Muslims (including free health care) without requiring them to pay taxes like everybody else.

The rumor includes mistaken notions that those who fail to abide by PPACA’s individual mandate will face hard prison time, and that the Muslim exemption to PPACA is part of a larger practice of “dhimmitude,” a derogatory academic term used to denote the subservience of a conquered people to their Muslim overlords. All of this is, as my grandmother might say, balderdash. Codswallop. Nonsense.

Normally, I would write off such a thing to internet detritus, but this came from a National Underwriter reader, and this audience is educated, intelligent and skilled. Moreover, while the reader obviously had internet access enough to receive a spooky e-mail about dhimmitude and health care, and e-mailed me asking to look into it, the reader apparently could not just Google this or draw up a copy of PPACA and word-search it himself. Given that this notion of a Muslim exclusion is obviously a fraud, but it is not obvious to everyone, a little debunking is in order.

PPACA does grant an exemption to the individual mandate to maintain health insurance coverage to those who are members of a recognized religious sect, that objects to receiving health care of any kind. But to qualify, you’ve got to be a member of a recognized sect that has already gotten exemption from Social Security in accordance to section 1402(g)(1) of the Internal Revenue Code. A quick look at the list of sects to date that have gained such approval shows that they are almost entirely Anabaptist or Mennonite congregations. Those that are not also appear to be Christian. Not a single Muslim group is on the list. More to the point, PPACA does not single out any religious sects as exempted from the mandate. (I would presume it is vague either because it is a hastily compiled government document, or because the authors did not want to accidentally exclude anyone.)

It is also worth noting that nowhere in the PPACA text are the words “Muslim,” “sharia” or “dhimmitude” used. Not once. And why would it? After all, PPACA was not written by Obama (who is not a Muslim, by the way), but by members of Congress, a body politic that is overwhelmingly Christian.

The rumor also notes that the Muslim exemption was based off of Islamic law’s prohibition on insurance. There is a grain of truth here, but a small and misplaced one. Insurance as we know it is prohibited by a strict reading of sharia (Islamic law) because it breaks the tenets of riba (interest), al-maisir (gambling) and al-gharar (uncertainty). Basically, modern insurance entails paying something for nothing unless there is a claim, and given the interest involved with insurance investments, it all trips off sharia’s rules against usury. That said, Muslims are not fools, and they have devised a kind of sharia-compliant insurance model called takaful, that basically functions as a risk pool rather than a traditional insurance contract. This lets them enjoy modern finance without compromising their religious beliefs. This also provides them with means of complying with the individual mandate for health care by simply joining a sharia-compliant health insurance arrangement.

As for the presence of sharia in the United States–which appears to be the real issue in this rumor–let us not forget that not all Muslims practice sharia as we know it. American Muslims in particular are not very fundamentalist, and are just like anybody else: hard-working, freedom-loving and seeking the American Dream. Are there aberrant, radical members of that culture? Indeed. Just as there are with any culture. Let’s not take things out of proportion here.

In the end, those few American Muslims who do abide by a strict reading of sharia and who might theoretically object to the individual mandate on religious grounds could certainly abide by that mandate if they did so through a takaful arrangement, thereby negating the notion that there is a specific exemption for Muslims in PPACA.

This odious rumor going around is little more than a toxic intersection of people’s ignorance of PPACA, ignorance of the Muslim faith, a lingering suspicion that Obama is a secret Muslim, and resentment that somebody might be getting a free ride when it comes to the individual mandate. There is plenty of stuff to criticize about PPACA, but let’s not get sidetracked chasing whacky conspiracy theories and internet hokum.