What is Sharia Law?

Sharia Law is used in some court systems.
Sharia Law is used in some court systems.

Sharia Law

Sharia law is a core part of Islamic traditions, representing the religious law mainly drawn from the Quran and the Hadith. Apart from the Quran and Hadith, Sharia law has other sources such as analogical reasoning and consensus. Various schools have been established for the study and interpretation of Sharia laws. The law covers abstract concepts that guide relationships with God. Classical and historical interpretations and the contemporary rules that are observed in modern society are also studied.

Origin and Development

The origin of Sharia law is linked to the development of the Islamic faith during the period of Prophet Mohamed. Sharia law was established by the followers of Prophet Mohamed who passed down the acts of the prophet through generations as Hadith. As generations of Islam adherents were taught of the conduct of Mohamed, they sought to emulate him and developed a code of conduct which was also shaped by religious precepts in the Quran. Although there are various theories explaining the origin of the Sharia law, all are in consensus that the actions of Prophet Mohamed together with religious and ethical concepts of Islam played a significant role in the development of Sharia law. Sharia law has continued to form a central part of the Islam culture with modifications in some concepts. Islamic traditionalists and reformists have had disputes concerning the interpretation and application of Sharia laws. Reformists have vouched for the alignment of sharia laws with European models, something that has been rejected by traditionalists.

Cultural Significance

The Islamic culture is deeply intertwined with the Sharia law which guides rituals and social relations. The Sharia law has five broad categories: mandatory, allowed, reprehensible, recommended, and forbidden actions. Allowed and recommended actions attract rewards in the afterlife, reprehensible acts are not sins but are generally to be avoided, and failure to perform a mandatory act or performing a forbidden act are considered punishable. Being a central part of the Islamic culture, some nations such as Saudi Arabia and Indonesia have enforced the laws through methods such as the use of religious police. Foreigners visiting such Islamic states like Saudi Arabia are bound by Sharia laws and practices.

Relationship With International Law

With the worldwide spread of Islam, the Sharia law has been compared to international law and is recognized by international bodies. Most of the Islamic countries adopt Sharia laws as part of the law. Those with minority numbers of Muslims incorporate certain aspects of the Sharia into their law, for example through the establishment of Kadhi courts. International bodies and human rights groups have raised the question of observance of human rights in the Sharia law. While most countries in the world treat women and men equally, the Sharia law explicitly empowers men more than women. Most countries that use the Sharia law have incorporated the use of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but subject it to the Sharia law raising controversies with human rights groups.

Support and Opposition

The reception of Sharia has been variant across the world. Most Muslim adherents support the use of Sharia as official law especially for solving family and property disputes. Many oppose the use of severe punishments such as beatings and the cutting off of hands. Others believe that more severe punishments should be introduced. However, various groups have opposed the institution and recognition of Sharia citing its incompatibility with democracy. Others have cited the use of Sharia law by extremists to support terrorist activities, an issue that has led to contentions between various Islamic and non-Islam groups.


More in Politics