What is Shariah law?



The word Shariah means “the path to a watering hole.” It denotes an Islamic way of life, not just a system of criminal justice.

Sharia is a now a familiar term to Muslims and non-Muslims. It can often be heard in news stories about politics, crime, feminism, terrorism and civilisation.

It is a code of living that most Muslims adopt as part of their faith.

Some countries formally institute it as the law of the land, enforced by the courts. However, the way Shariah law is applied from country to country can vary widely.

How did it originate?

According to Muslim scholars, the Prophet Muhammad laid down the laws. Some of the laws are said to be direct commands stated in the Qur’an. Other laws were based on rulings Muhammad is said to have given to cases that occurred during his lifetime. These secondary laws are based on what’s called the Sunnah – the Prophet’s words, example and way of life.

According to the Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C., “Muslim scholars do not consider Islam to be an evolving religion, but rather a religion and legal system which applies to all times.

It is, therefore, the application that is susceptible to evolution. Indeed, the provisions of the Qur’an are such that by their disciplined interpretation, with the aid of the Hadith and Sunnah and other sources of interpretation, Islam can, as intended, supposedly provide the solution to contemporary social problems.”

What do its critics say?

One of the major concerns of people critical of Shariah law is that it is subject to interpretation and evolution.

There is virtually no formal certification process to designate someone as being qualified to interpret Islamic law.

With Shariah law there are no easy answers or quick interpretations.

As it stands today, almost anyone can make rulings, as long as they have the appearance of piety and a group of followers.

In the West it’s common for people to equate Shariah law with harsh physical punishments, polygamy and the oppression of women.

What is punishment and equality under Shariah law?

“In Shariah, there are categories of offences: those that are prescribed a specific punishment in the Qur’an, known as hadd punishments, those that fall under a judge’s discretion, and those resolved through a tit-for-tat measure (blood money paid to the family of a murder victim, etc.), according to information provided by the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations.

“Despite official reluctance to use hadd punishments, vigilante justice still takes place. Honour killings, murders committed in retaliation for bringing dishonour on one’s family, are a worldwide problem.”

Men and women are not equal under Shariah law, and same-sex relationships are forbidden.

Shariah law prohibits bribery or special favours in court, demands equal treatment for rich and poor, and calls for the protection of everyone’s property.

What are some of the tough punishments?

File photo: A woman is caned for violating Islamic sharia law outside a mosque in Jantho, Aceh province, Indonesia, 1 October 2010

Caning is one of the punishments allowed under Sharia law

Hadd offences include theft, which can be punishable by amputating the offender’s hand, and adultery, which can carry the penalty of death by stoning.



Some Islamic organisations have argued that there are many safeguards and a high burden of proof in the application of hadd penalties.

The UN has spoken out against death by stoning, saying it “constitutes torture and is a cruel, inhuman degrading treatment or punishment and is thus clearly prohibited”.

What is stoning?

Stoning, or lapidation, refers to a method of execution in which an organized group throws stones or rocks at the person they wish to execute.

Although it takes many different forms, stoning has been used throughout history and in many religious and cultural traditions as a kind of community justice or capital punishment.

For instance, the practice has been documented among the ancient Greeks to punish people judged to be prostitutes, adulterers or murderers.

It is also documented in the Jewish Tradition via the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, and the Talmud, or Jewish Oral Law.

In the Old Testament of the Bible, stoning is prescribed a method of execution for crimes such as murder, blasphemy or apostasy.

Although there is no mention of stoning in the Quran, the practice has since grown to be associated with Islam and Muslim culture.

Is stoning still practiced? In which countries?

Yes. Stoning to death has been introduced as a legal form of punishment for the “adultery of married persons” (zina al-mohsena) in Afghanistan, Iran, Nigeria (about one-third of the 36 states), Pakistan, Sudan, and the United Arab Emirates.

Some of these countries have since repealed the law of stoning. While the penalty has never been carried out in Nigeria, or by the state in either Pakistan or Iraq, incidents of stoning have been carried out by communities, seemingly encouraged by the existence of the punishment in law.


For what crime is stoning prescribed?

 Stoning is largely prescribed, either by law or by custom/practice in particular communities, for the crime of “adultery of married persons” (zina al-mohsena).

Adultery here applies to a sexual act where at least one of the parties is married to a third party. It does not include premarital sex or homosexual acts, although this too is illegal under most interpretations of Muslim laws.

File photo: A woman reads a copy of the Koran

Sharia law acts as a code of conduct for all aspects of a Muslim’s life

Can Muslims be executed for converting?

Apostasy, or leaving the faith, is a very controversial issue in the Muslim world and experts say the majority of scholars believe it is punishable by death.

But a minority of Muslim thinkers, particularly those engaged with Western societies, argue that the reality of the modern world means the “punishment” should be left to God – and that Islam itself is not threatened by apostasy.

The Koran itself declares there is “no compulsion” in religion.

While many idiots in the west, like in Europe, Australia and North America are converting or reverting to Islam they are unaware that once you join this cult that you cannot really leave it.

Apostasy in Islam is a crime that is a death penalty under Islam and Islamic sharia law.

This Canadian tv cable news show shows a guy who converted from Islam to be a Christian and once he did Muslims targeted him for killing.

What do its defenders say?

“Today’s advocates of Shariah as the source of law are not actually recommending the adoption of a comprehensive legal code derived from or dictated by Shariah — because nothing so comprehensive has ever existed in Islamic history,” says Noah Feldman, a contributing writer for The New York Times, a law professor at Harvard University and an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“To the Islamist politicians who advocate it or for the public that supports it, Shariah generally means something else. It means establishing a legal system in which God’s law sets the ground rules, authorizing and validating everyday laws passed by an elected legislature.”

How does Shariah law operate with modern economies?

According to the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations, Islamic banking is growing at an estimated 15 per cent annually. It modifies modern business practices to conform to the rules of Shariah. Central to this field is riba, the charging or payment of interest, which is banned under Islamic law.

Clever twists on standard financial products like credit cards, savings accounts, mortgages, loans, and even trust funds bypass the interest business model.

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