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
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.