A glimpse of Sharia Law.

Sharia law is the law of Islam. Sharia is an Arabic word that literally means a path to be followed. It is cast from two main sources: 1- the Quran (which Muslims consider to be the literal word of God) 2- the words and the actions of Muhammad (Sunnah; the divinely guided traditions of him) . It is involved in many aspects such as politics, economics, banking, business law, contract law,sexuality, and social issues. Sharia law can not be altered and changed, and the interoperation of it (Islamic jurisprudence) can be made by Islamic Scholars.  Moreover, Interpreting Sharia is done by jurists known as “fuqahaa” who look at the practicality of both time and place regarding how a ruling can be applied. In places where Sharia has official status, it is interpreted by judges known as “qadis.”

Following Muhammad’s death in A.D. 632, companions of Muhammad ruled Arabia for about 30 years. These political-religious rulers, called caliphs, continued to develop Islamic law with their own pronouncements and decisions. After that, The Umayyad dynasty caliphs, who took control of the empire in 661 appointed Islamic judges, qadis, to decide cases involving Muslims and non-Muslims kept their own legal system. In 750, the Umayyads were overthrown and replaced by the Abbasid dynasty where the Sharia reached its full development. Different legal systems began to develop in different provinces during the Abbasid dynasty. One group held that only the divinely inspired Koran and teachings of the Prophet Muhammad should make up the Sharia. A rival group, however, argued that the Sharia should also include the reasoned opinions of qualified legal scholars.

In an attempt to reconcile the rival groups, a brilliant legal scholar named Imam Shafii systematized and developed what were called the “roots of the law.” Shafii argued that in solving a legal question, the kadi or government judge should first consult the Koran. If the answer were not clear there, the judge should refer to the authentic sayings and decisions of Muhammad. If the answer continued to elude the judge, he should then look to the consensus of Muslim legal scholars on the matter. Still failing to find a solution, the judge could form his own answer by analogy from “the precedent nearest in resemblance and most appropriate” to the case at hand.

Examples of laws regarding Marriage:

  1. A Muslim man can marry only a Muslim, Christian or Jewish woman. He cannot marry an atheist, agnostic or polytheist.
  2. A Muslim minor girl’s father or guardian may arrange the marriage of a girl, without her consent, before she reaches adulthood.
  3. A marriage is a contract that requires the man to pay, or promise to pay some Mahr (property as brideprice) to the woman.

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The legal systems of Muslim countries are divided into three categories: classical Sharia systems, secular systems, and mixed systems.

  • Classical Sharia: Sharia has official status or a high degree of influence on the legal system, and covers family law, criminal law, and in some places, personal beliefs, including penalties for apostasy, blasphemy, and not praying. Countries use classical Sharia: Egypt, Mauritania, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, the Maldives, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and certain regions in Indonesia, Malaysia, Nigeria, and the United Arab Emirates.
  • Mixed systems: Sharia covers family law, while secular courts will cover everything else. Countries use mixed systems: Algeria, Comoros, Djibouti, Gambia, Libya, Morocco, Somalia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Brunei, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Malaysia, Oman, and Syria.
  • There are no Islamic courts in some countries such as United States, but Islamic las sometimes is considered in the decisions. For example, a judge may have to recognize the validity of an Islamic marriage contract from a Muslim country in order to grant a divorce in America.

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4 Responses to A glimpse of Sharia Law.

  1. imdebock says:

    A glimpse of Sharia Law
    Thank you for giving us that brief history of Sharia. Coming from a Muslim country, I never knew that Sharia law came from the Quran. I thought it is the Sunna of Prophet Muhammad and only involves social and cultural activities of Muslim behavior that can be decided by only religious leaders. This enlightenment is great in terms of my previous idea I had in this area. What is confusing is the law of marry. Could a Muslim man allows his Christian or Jewish wife to practice her own religion? If not is that Christian or Jewish woman forced to practice her Muslim man’s religion? How can we consider that in terms of religious justice or freedom? Another Muslim practice in my home that is common is when a Muslim man saw a minor girl from a muslin home that he loves, he comes to the parents of that minor girl to express his interest in that girl for marry and if the parents approve of it, the parents will look after their daughter for that Muslim man until the girl is mature enough to get marry. I see this practice as Islamic culture rather than law. Of course the girl’s dowry is very important in Muslim culture. Obviously my country does not have Islamic courts which makes me happy that sharia law will not be implemented in that country. Whatever the case may be, I believe that Sharia law is too severe. Example, when married couple commits adultery; they are to be stoned to death or when someone steals his hands should be cut off. Who wants to undergo such cruel behavior? It’s difficult to live in such country that practice Sharia law.
    Thanks.

    • wdaghist says:

      Thanks for your reply IMDEBOCK. Let me start by telling you that I totally respect your opinion and I just want to clarify some points you mentioned. First, and regarding to your first question, yes of course, a muslim man can marry a Jewish or a Christian woman and she can still practice her religion freely. Moreover, a man or a woman can arrange and marry in anyway they want and prefer. As you said, there are many cultural believes and norms that are being implemented, but these do not represent Islam. For example, the marriage of the first woman prophet Muhammad got married to was very normal because he married a woman who was his employer and he knew her for a long time before they got married. Also, among his waives, he married a Jewish and a Christian women.

      I think that adultery is one of the most grievous, hideous, harmful and dangerous forms of immorality, and it has many negative and harmful consequences,. Especially, it destroys families and in the long run, it will destroy societies. And that is why Islam prohibits it. It is true that there is a punishment for adultery in Sharia law, and the punishment is commonly believed to be the death by stoning. BUT INFACT, Quran does not mention anything about that ( the punishment by stoning ), and the only punishment it mentions is 100 lashes as the Quran says (( The woman and the man guilty of unlawful sex (adultery or fornication), flog each of them with a hundred stripes; let not compassion move you in their case in a matter prescribed by Allah if ye believe in Allah and the Last day; and let a party of the believers witness their punishment ))(24:2) Because of that, many Islamic scholars have argued and opposed the death by stoning as it is not mentioned in the Quran.Others believe that prophet Muhammad actually stoned a person who committed adultery because this is mentioned in some islamic and historic books about his life ( Opponents do not believe that these stories are true and claim that they are fake )

      Moreover, and regarding your second point about stealing, there are many extreme conditions that have to be considered before the implementation, which makes nearly impossible to implement. In fact, there is also a big and a huge debate between Islamic scholars of how to interpret the text of the law such as should the hands be cut physically or not. (( the thief, the male and the female, amputate their hands in recompense for what they earned [i.e. committed] as a deterrent [punishment] from Allaah. And Allaah is Exalted in Might and Wise. ))5:38

      Thanks ,

  2. smbockrath says:

    This was such an enlightening post. Before reading I only had a vague understanding of Sharia law, and only knew it as a set of rules that some Muslim countries abide by. I had no idea that Sharia law is an actual system of law that is in place in a decent amount of Muslim countries around the world, and was certainly unaware of its intricacies (i.e. who interprets, what kind of laws are actually involved, the origins, etc.). It is fascinating to learn that in this day and age there are places in the world where religion is quite literally the law; and not only the law, but a kind of law that requires the entire legal system to be religious in nature. In our class we’ve discussed the nature of the American legal system, which is fairly secular in nature (I would argue that some people who interpret our laws do so from a clear Evangelical Christian perspective), and it was interesting to compare Sharia law to the types of legal systems we’ve studies thus far. To get a glimpse into the history of Sharia law, and to gain a better understanding for the types of laws it entails (family law and criminal law) helps me better comprehend the world in which we all live. Thank you.

  3. anapuri11 says:

    Wow! What a great post. I feel as though this should be taught to students in school. This, along with other religious practices. It is disappointing that this is not well known by students, but that many are knowledgeable of previous Christian based laws and interpretations of the law.

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