Islamic law, as revealed in the Qur'an. Many areas are covered, including behavior, government, diet (see also halal), the practice of worship, and whatnot. When strictly applied, Shari'ah seems harsh to most Westerners; we've all heard about the Taliban in Afghanistan cutting hands off thieves and requiring women to wear the chador (which isn't just a veil).

Heed Jaez; I'm leaving this here only so his reference to it will make sense.

Shariah, or Islamic Law is often deeply misunderstood outside the muslim world.

The idea of harshness as mentioned in wharfinger's writeup is quite misleading (no-offence meant to wharfinger, I am sure he was being earnest). The islamic ideal of justice is something comprehensive that everyone can rely on, in ANY area of life. This holistic approach is alien to societies that make a differentiation between religious/moral activites and statecraft, or criminal and civil courts. A muslim would view these distinctions as artificial and quite arbitrary. The purpose of a just society is to prevent crimes, and provide justice when they occur by helping the victims, and punishing the criminals.

Simplistic, yes. But also true.

Often times the Shariah is criticised by people on the basis of its punishments, yet they fail to show the complex, intricate, and rigorous process it provides for establishing proof only by examination of evidence before any judgement is reached. Processes that were observed by travellers from the west in the past and brought back to form the basis of the justice systems in place there now.

To sum up: Shariah is a set of rules that guide muslims through their lives, and sets out responsibilities and rights, duties and crimes, and remedies for society. It is designed for a different type of society in mind than the one in which most of its critics live, which must be understood inorder to avoid prejudice.

In response to some of the points raised about Sharia by the_quark:

punishments under Sharia: Again, there has been a misunderstanding. I didn't intend to justify the punishments of the Sharia as a code of law - it stands independently of any relativistic cultural judgements made on it. The point about the average Westerner is this: there is simply no need to justify anything about Sharia to him, as he doesn't accept the value system upon which it is based. Islamic justice is swift, rigorous, and compassionate. The reasons for this elude people until they realise that Sharia is used not just to mete out punishments for crimes, but to generate a complete, self contained society which is fully functional, with minimal crime, and maximum welfare for the whole population. For such a system to flourish, crime must be deterred. It works. Just ask the Saudi nationals, most of whom will tell you that their country is the safest and most pleasant on earth. They certainly don't feel oppressed, and as a believer in Sharia, neither do I.

Muslims and non-Muslims alike: the only people subject to sharia are those who are living in countries where it is the law. The law in this country has to treat everyone equally, and religion is a matter of personal choice, so regardless, if you are part of the Islamic society, enjoying it's benefits, putting up with it's annoyances then you deserve to be treated no differently to anyone else who is protected by the law. This is a principle found in all countries, not just Muslim ones. Why should non-muslims be exempt from the law? Because they don't like it? Does that mean I can stop paying taxes to the UK government, and start killing? Clearly not. You don't like the laws of your society? Move.

Adultery: punishment for adultery is incredibly harsh, for both parties. Islam's duty is to preserve the family, protect the children, maintain the honour and dignity of each individual who is sincere in their love. The reason for this harshness is partly due to the fact that Islam allows both men and women to divorce each other quite easily. In fact the procedure under Shariah is identical for each person (regardless of gender) and takes less than three months. So if a woman is genuinely in love with another man, then she can leave her husband and family relatively easily. Thus there is no excuse for adultery at all, it violates trust, and destroys the fabric of love and sincerity that holds the family together, and places the future of the children in jeopardy. The guilty party bears full responsibility, and under Islam an adulteress can only marry an adulterer (and vice versa). Of course as you may have guessed, if this is the case, then the punishment for adultery cannot be death, and it isn't.

Fornication is punished differently, but under Sharia it isn't a capital offense either. Please don't confuse the Taliban or Wahabi interpretation of Islamic law as Sharia. These are two very extreme countries, a better example might be seen in Malaysia which has a much more normal Islamic system. As for the man 'getting off scot free' in the age of DNA matching, and paternity testing I find it doubtful that any man would escape the net of justice if a woman can't. "The Islamic world is quite modern you know, they have roads, police, books, and EVERYTHING!"

Rights of Women: I recommend visiting a Muslim country. Women go about unescorted, especially shopping, and with other women as well. Faces are usually uncovered, cos it's normal Sharia, which encourages modesty in both sexes but not being buried in cloth. Women have the same rights under the law as men. Just ask anyone. Sharia encourages education of both genders. It certainly doesn't stop women from reading. The head of the Islamic family is the mother, and so she owns the man, if anyone is property, which they aren't. People are free to believe what they wish, but Sharia does demand something that western cultures don't: sincerity. You can believe what you wish, but under Shariah you cannot preach Atheism or Christianity for the same reason you don't inject yourself with poison. It is bad for you.

In reality, there are two versions of the sharia: the Uncreated Sharia, which is known only to Allah, and the Created Sharia, which is known to human beings. Traditionally, there were three sources of revelation whereby the Uncreated Sharia was revealed and turned into Created Sharia. These were the Qur'an, the Hadith, and the Sunna. In other words, the actual text of Islam's sacred text (note that this is the Created Qur'an, which exists on Earth, as opposed to Uncreated Qur'an, which is, like Uncreated Sharia, known only to God), the collected sayings and anecdotes of the Prophet, and the customs of those who had gone before (sunna has a meaning close to 'custom' or 'tradition', from which we get Sunni, the most populous branch of Islam).

In practice, the sunna becomes similar to the concept of precedent in the civil and criminal law of various nations of the world, as well as the idea of legal interpretation. Learned scholars of the sharia and Islam generally, the ulama, would render opinions on aspects of religious law, based on the rulings of earlier scholars and their own interpretation of the law.

The goal of all of this is to make created Sharia as close as possible to the Uncreated Sharia. This is, in the end, impossible, since Allah is held to be perfect, while humans are flawed. Therefore, while the Uncreated Sharia is perfect and infallible, and therefore cannot be changed, the Created Sharia is subject to reform, re-interpretation and change, and is therefore not infallible.


In Islam, the term used for the law revealed by God unto mankind. In older Jewish and Christian texts written in Arabic, the term is also used to refer to those laws (such as the ones given to Moses) which God had revealed through his prophets. In the Qur'an itself, the word shari'a only occurs once, used to refer to the path pointed out by God.

It is the Islamic position that living by shari'a is an absolute duty, interpreted broadly to mean rules for worship, way of life and the interrelations of the members of the greater muslim community.

To muslims, therefore, the task has been to study the Qur'an and the sunna (the overt acts and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad), in order to derive an understanding of the intent of God. This juridical task, termed fiqh, led to the establishment of several different schools of legal tradition within Islam, from the 9th century onward.

For many centuries, fiqh was the basis of the legal systems of the various Islamic states. From the latter half of the 19th century, however, European-style codified law was introduced nearly universally in the Islamic world.

Beginning in the 1970s, and continuing today, shari'a became a political symbol of a legal system more "suitable" to Islamic traditions, and several countries (including Pakistan, Sudan and Iran) reintroduced shari'a.

See also qadi, ulama, hadith.

First, I am an atheist. No doubt Muslims would feel that this fact makes me an incapable commentator, but I point it out mostly to underscore that my bias at least is not Christian.

Jaez states, in his definition, "Often times the Shariah is criticised by people on the basis of its punishments, yet they fail to show the complex, intricate, and rigorous process it provides for establishing proof only by examination of evidence before any judgement is reached." This is fallacious; criticism of harsh punishments is deflected by appealing to the rigoursness of the detection of the proof of guilt. The complaint that punishments under Sharia are cruel and unusual - executions, maimings - is not addressed, instead, the reader is redirected to consider how "complex, intricate and rigorous" the process of determining guilt is. I believe the average response by an average Westerner would be, "I don't care how sure you are he stole it, you can't cut off his hand!"

Similarly, he goes on to claim, "Shariah is a set of rules that guide muslims through their lives, and sets out responsibilities and rights, duties and crimes, and remedies for society. It is designed for a different type of society in mind than the one in which most of its critics live, which must be understood inorder to avoid prejudice."

The problem is, of course, that Sharia is imposed on Muslims and non-Muslims alike. It does not just "guide muslims sic through their lives," it requires non-Muslims to abide by the rules, as well. Punishments are way out of proportion for crime (maiming for petty theivery) and, in many cases, apply to things most non-Muslims feel are not the business of the state to begin with (death for adultery).

Punishment for adultery, by the way, falls most heavily upon women, because of the aforementioned strong burden of proof. If a man has sex with a woman who is not married, and she gets pregnant, there is manifest proof of her adultery (or fornication, at the least), and, under Sharia, she is to be put to death (by stoning). No evidence against him, of course, so he gets off scott free. Quite just.

This, of course, doesn't get into all the other things Sharia forbids - like, being an athiest (or a Christian for that matter), women going out in public unescorted (or with faces uncovered), women apparently having any sort of rights beyond being property, women being able to read, or, for that matter, believing Sharia is wrong.

I'm going to break with Political Correctness, here, and say, Any system of law that kills women for having sex with men they love is wrong. And I'm not ashamed for feeling that way. I wish more people weren't afraid to say that opressing half of your population isn't "a different lifestyle" - it's wrong.

The closest translation I can think of concerning Sharia is project. Arabic is a very complicated language and translation of its terms into English or any other language is as equaly complicated. The basic laws of sharia as a relegious law (project to build upon) are contained in the Qur'an, from these laws people can build up on it to complete the project.

People who understand Arabic will often see these phrases in news papers, magazines, or TV:

" Al Mashroo Al Sahee " -- The health project.

" Al Mashroo Al Elmi " -- The education project.

Sharia is made up from the 3 letter Arabic root verb, Sh'Ra'Ein. We can manipulate these three letter root verb by adding differnt accent marks, or additonal letters to make it past, present, future, ownership, masculine, feminine, but it basicly means the same thing, project.

I felt I had to state something in reply to the quarks definition being painted with a brush of prejudice and misunderstanding. And as a Muslim woman I am more than qualified.

First of all as far as the cutting off of hands for stealing I seen to remember something about other possible punishments (can't remember exactly what they were but I think it was stuff like giving in charity and the like) in case the person that stole also made an honest living doing some kind of handiwork. After all you would not want to destroy a person's way of making an honest living.

Secondly, Sharia has two sets of rules. One set that applies to everyone that covers the more civil aspects and another that covers the more religious aspects of life. A Christian or Jewish woman living amongst Muslims would not be required to wear a veil and a Christian store owner would be allowed to sell pork and alcohol to other Christians if he so wishes.

Thirdly as far as Adultery and Fornication are concerned a person, male or female, is not supposed to be killed for having sex if she is single. Only if she cheated on her husband she is to be killed and if she catches him in bed with another woman he is to be killed. Otherwise, she might be supposed to get 100 lashes but she is still alive after. And anyways nobody gets away with something forever. Even if a man doesn't get caught and therfore punished in this life he surely will in the next unless he repents his sins. And the woman if she repents will end up in Paradise when she finishes her life. Of course since you are an athiest you probably believe this life is all you have so of course it would seem unfair to you.

Lastly, I just want to make a comment about your comment, "Any system of law that kills women for having sex with men they love is wrong". A woman is most definately allowed to have sex with the man she loves if it is her husband. A lot better than a society where a woman is nothing but a sex object to most men. In western society men can have sex with a woman without any strings attached. They are the ones that truly benifit from modern society. After all it is like free sex for them insted of having to take responsibility for it.

Anyways, in closing I would just like to mention that some recent interpretations of Sharia would be far from what is acceptable in the religion itself. But that is just the fault of the humans trying to implement it not of the system itself. Ideal Sharia would be a fair and just system.

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