What Is the Sharia?

The literal meaning of Sharia is “the way to water.” The Sharia is a broad term for Islamic law, and represents the way to God and purity.

The overarching goal of the Sharia is to establish justice. Islamic law is not meant to suppress women or individual freedom. It is meant to create a just and peaceful society.

The Origins of Islamic Law

The Law of Islam is derived from three primary sources:

  • The Quran – This is the Word of Allah. None of the rules of Allah established in the Quran can be changed or modified by man.
  • The Sunnah (Tradition) of Prophet Muhammad – This is mostly contained in the hadith, or stories of the Prophet and his companions. The Hadith explains the Quran and sets forth laws not mentioned in the Quran. Generally speaking, the laws set by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) are just as valid as the laws set forth in the Quran.
  • Consensus of the Companions of Prophet Muhammad – Most of the major Schools of Thought (Madhdhaab) in Islam accept the Ijma’, or consensus, of the companions of Prophet Muhammad as basis for a particular ruling. The lone exception is Imam Malik who rated the Ijma’ of the people of Medina higher than the Ijma’ of the Companions.
  • Individual Opinions of the Companions – If an issue came up, and there was no available consensus from the companions of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), the different Madhdhaab (Schools of Thought) would accept any individual companion’s ruling given that it did not violate any of the previous three source.
  • Qiyas (Analytic Deduction) – If an issue could not be resolved with any of the above sources, then a ruling could be resolved by using Qiyas, or analytic deduction. Using this, Islamic scholars would compare a similar issue that had already been resolved with the current issue at hand in order to come to a ruling. However, this option often caused disagreement between scholars.
  • Urf (Local Customs) – If none of the above options could resolve an issue, Islamic scholars would rely on local customs.


The Purpose of Sharia

The Sharia is not just a crude set of laws derived from ancient texts. It is a code that has worked admirably for many different societies for over a thousand years. And Sharia is still effective in several different nations even today.

It is no coincidence that those societies that still practice Islamic Law tend to have lower crime rates, less drug abuse, and a lower occurrence of sexually transmitted diseases.

The purpose of the Shariah is to protect five important aspects of Islamic society:

  • To protect the religion – Examples are the punishment for Ridda (leaving Islam) and the prohibition on Muslim woman marrying non-Muslim men.
  • To protect individual dignity – Examples are the establishment of Zakah (charity) and the prohibition of Riba (interest and usury).
  • To protect life – Examples are the punishment for murder, the establishment of Qisas (retribution for murder), and prohibition of suicide.
  • To protect the family – Examples are rules of marriage, prohibition of fornication and homosexuality, and the punishment for adultery and extra-marital sex.
  • To protect property – Examples are the punishment for theft, and the rules of Islamic business.

Putting Shariah in Context

You might think the Sharia is arcane and overbearing. How can any government dictate what makes a good family? How can a modern government punish someone for choosing a different faith?

One must understand that Islam is not just a religion. Islam is a way of life. For devout Muslims, Islam is life.

In Islam, there is no such thing as separation of church and state. The Church (or Mosque) and the State are not considered two different entities.

The Government runs the state according to the laws of Sharia. And Islamic Law is the foundation for a just and peaceful society.

Related Articles:

Muslim Culture
The Role of Hadith
Monotheism in Islam

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