Amongst the most misunderstood and abused terms and concepts of Islam, by both non-Muslims and Muslims alike, is the Sharia Law. The term ‘Sharia’ linguistically originates from an Arabic word which means ‘a path that leads to a watering-place.’ Figuratively, the term refers to a clear, straight path. In the context of Islam, Sharia Law translates to mean Divine legislation; a legal system; the law of Islam. Sharia is a set of Divine given laws and ethics that Muslims follow and live by, to draw closer to God and live in justice and kindness in honor of His Creation.
“And We have revealed to you, [O Muhammad], the Book in truth, confirming that which preceded it of the Scripture and as a criterion over it. So judge between them by what Allah has revealed and do not follow their inclinations away from what has come to you of the truth. To each of you We prescribed a law and a method. Had Allah willed, He would have made you one nation [united in religion], but [He intended] to test you in what He has given you; so race to [all that is] good. To Allah is your return all together, and He will [then] inform you concerning that over which you used to differ” (Quran 5:48)
The Shariah provides the legal framework for a healthy foundation and functioning society. The religion of Islam incorporates a set of rules and regulations that will protect and preserve the rights and freedoms of individuals and society. It is a doctrine concerned with justice, equality, and respect to all.
Shariah is more than just Islamic law because it is not limited to legal issues; rather this form of law details ethical, moral, political, and social codes of conduct for Muslims at both an individual and communal levels. The Sharia deals with every aspect of life, such as economics, politics, crime, diet, spirituality, hygiene, sexual intercourse, and more. These laws tell Muslims what God expects from them and how they can please Him. Man was created solely for the purpose of worshipping and serving Him; and without Guidance and God showing one the path, no cannot achieve and realize this purpose.
These laws tell Muslims that which is permissible for them to do, eat, drink, how to dress, how to sleep, and even how to relieve themselves. These laws also outline that which Muslims are not permitted to do.
Sharia law addresses personal religious observances such as prayer, charity, fasting, and God-consciousness. The Sharia is also concerned with worldly matters, such as paying alms to the poor and needy, being good to one’s parents, business affairs, inheritance, and marriage. These laws and ethics encourage Muslims to be God-conscious, kind, respectful, merciful, generous, and compassionate in all ways. A Muslim is one that submits, acknowledges, and understands that Allah the Glorious knows what’s best for him so he follows His Laws.
No society can function without some form of rule and regulation; without these legal boundaries, society will dissolve in anarchy and chaos. Most religions feature Sacred Divine laws and ethics equivalent to those of Islam’s Sharia. For instance, Judaism has the Halakhah, which is like the Sharia in method and content.
The Sharia Law is derived from the Holy Qur’an, its primary source. The second source is the Sunnah (which translates to mean tradition and refers to the model of behavior and teachings of Prophet Muhammad, sent by God as a Messenger and Prophet and a role model for all of mankind as recorded in Hadith scripture). Islamic Scholars draw from an interpretative process that includes Qiyas (reasoning by analogy, derived by the primary sources) and Ijma (the consensus of the opinions held by the Prophet’s companions, and agreements reached by Islamic scholars), and Ijtihad, the effort to arrive at one’s own judgment or reasoning to provide the answers in which the Holy Qur’an and Sunnah is silent. Out of the five sources, the first two are Divine, while the other three (Qiyas, Ijma, and Ijtihad) are humanistic efforts based on independent juristic reasoning.
The Sharia Law is applied to protect and preserve five basic rights: the right to practice religion, the protection of Muslim and non-Muslim life, the safeguarding of the mind/intellect/reason, the preservation of honor, dignity, and family, and the sanctity of wealth and property. The ultimate aim of the Sharia is to secure the welfare of humanity and establish a righteous society.
Since the Sharia is concerned with the protection and preservation of rights and freedom of individuals and communities, the law as a body must contain rules, regulations, and punishments for misdeeds. Islam imposes laws and punishments on those that transgress. To preserve life, Islam prescribes the law of retribution; to preserve the mind, Islam prescribes punishment for drinking and the use of intoxicants; to preserve family lineage, the faith prescribes the punishment of fornication; and to preserve wealth and property, Islam prescribes the punishment for theft.
At a state or national government level, Sharia is not synonymous with criminal law. Some people falsely equate Sharia with criminal laws which are centuries old; laws that impose specific punishments for major crimes like killing, adultery, or theft, such as the cutting off of the hand. Whereas Sharia addresses these national laws, these regulations form only a small portion of the Sharia and can be applied only by an Islamic State or Caliphate, which Muslims maintained in their homelands for most of their early existence.
These laws were purely discretionary, and it is important to note that not a single incident such as the stoning of an adulterer–occurred during the first 1000 years of Prophet Muhammad’s life, because these laws impose a process of prosecution nearly impossible to execute.
Regarding Muslims living in the West or non-Muslim countries, Muslims must obey the law of the land; providing that those laws do not stop one from practicing their religion. Muslims can be true to both their faith and their home country. Muslims cannot enforce Sharia or Islam to anyone who does not wish to follow them, nor do there exist organizations in the West that seek to establish a global caliphate or Islamic State. Muslims seek merely to follow Sharia in the context of their personal and spiritual lives.
“There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion…” (Quran 2:256)