“Islamic law” redirects here. For Islamic jurisprudence, see Fiqh
Sharia applies in full, covering personal status issues as well as criminal proceedings
Sharia applies in personal status issues (such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, and child custody)
Regional variations in the application of Sharia
Members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation where Sharia plays no role in the judicial system
Sharia or sharia law (Arabic: شريعة (IPA: [ʃaˈriːʕa]), is the Islamic legal system derived from the religious precepts of Islam, particularly the Quran and the Hadith. The term sharia comes from the Arabic language term sharīʿah, which means a body of moral and religious law derived from religious prophecy, as opposed to human legislation.
Sharia deals with many topics, including crime, politics, and economics, as well as personal matters such as sexual intercourse, hygiene, diet, prayer, everyday etiquette and fasting. Adherence to sharia has served as one of the distinguishing characteristics of the Muslim faith historically. In its strictest and most historically coherent definition, sharia is considered in Islam as the infallible law of God.
There are two primary sources of sharia: the Quran, and the Hadiths (opinions and life example of Muhammad). For topics and issues not directly addressed in these primary sources, sharia is derived. The derivation differs between the various sects of Islam (Sunni and Shia), and various jurisprudence schools such as Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i, Hanbali andJafari. The sharia in these schools is derived hierarchically using one or more of the following guidelines: Ijma(usually the consensus of Muhammad’s companions), Qiyas (analogy derived from the primary sources), Istihsan(ruling that serves the interest of Islam in the discretion of Islamic jurists) and Urf (customs).
Sharia is a significant source of legislation in various Muslim countries. Some apply all or a majority of the sharia code, and these include Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Brunei, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Yemen andMauritania. In these countries, sharia prescribed punishments such as beheading, flogging and stoning continue to be practiced judicially or extra-judicially. The introduction of sharia is a longstanding goal for Islamist movements globally, including in Western countries, but attempts to impose sharia have been accompanied by controversy,violence, and even warfare. Most countries do not recognize sharia; however, some countries in Asia, Africa and Europe recognize parts of sharia and accept it as the law on divorce, inheritance and other personal affairs of their Islamic population. In Britain, the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal makes use of sharia family law to settle disputes, and this limited adoption of sharia is controversial.
The concept of crime, judicial process, justice and punishment embodied in sharia is different from that of secular law. The differences between sharia and secular laws have led to an ongoing controversy as to whether sharia is compatible with secular forms of government, human rights, freedom of thought, and women’s rights.
Etymology and origins
Scholars describe the word sharia (/ʃɑːˈriːɑː/, also shari’a, šarīʿah) as an archaic Arabic word denoting “pathway to be followed” (analogous to the Hebrew termHalakhah [“The Way to Go”]), or “path to the water hole”. The latter definition comes from the fact that the path to water is the whole way of life in an arid desert environment.
The etymology of sharia as a “path” or “way” comes from the Quranic verse[Quran 45:18]: “Then we put thee on the (right) Way of religion so follow thou that (Way), and follow not the desires of those who know not.” Malik Ghulam Farid in his Dictionary of the Holy Quran, believes the “Way” in 45:18 (quoted above) derives from shara’a (as prf. 3rd. p.m. sing.), meaning “He ordained”. Other forms also appear: shara’u[Quran 45:13] as (prf. 3rd. p.m. plu.), “they decreed (a law)”[Quran 42:21]; and shir’atun (n.) meaning “spiritual law”[Quran 5:48].
The Arabic word sharīʿa has origins in the concept of ‘religious law’; the word is commonly used by Arabic-speaking peoples of the Middle East and designates a prophetic religion in its totality. Thus, sharīʿat Mūsā means religious law of Moses (Judaism), sharīʿat al-Masīḥ means religious law of Christianity, sharīʿat al-Madjūs means religious law of Zoroastrianism.
The Arabic expression شريعة الله (God’s Law) is a common translation for תורת אלוהים (‘God’s Law’ in Hebrew) and νόμος τοῦ θεοῦ (‘God’s Law’ in Greek in the New Testament [Rom. 7: 22]). In contemporary Islamic literature, sharia refers to divine law of Islam as revealed by prophet Muhammad, as well as in his function as model and exemplar of the law.
Sharia in the Islamic world is also known as Qānūn-e Islāmī (قانون اسلامی).
In Islam, the origin of sharia is the Qu’ran, and traditions gathered from the life of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad (born ca. 570 CE in Mecca).
Sharia underwent fundamental development, beginning with the reigns of caliphs Abu Bakr (632–34) and Umar (634–44) for Sunni Muslims, and Imam Ali for Shia Muslims, during which time many questions were brought to the attention of Muhammad’s closest comrades for consultation. During the reign of Muawiya b. Abu Sufyan ibn Harb, ca. 662 CE, Islam undertook an urban transformation, raising questions not originally covered by Islamic law. Since then, changes in Islamic society have played an ongoing role in developing sharia, which branches out into fiqh and Qanun respectively.
The formative period of fiqh stretches back to the time of the early Muslim communities. In this period, jurists were more concerned with pragmatic issues of authority and teaching than with theory. Progress in theory was started by 8th and 9th century Islamic scholars Abu Hanifa, Malik bin Anas, Al-Shafi’i, Ahmad ibn Hanbal and others. Al-Shafi‘i is credited with deriving the theory of valid norms for sharia (uṣūl al-fiqh), arguing for a traditionalist, literal interpretation of Quran, Hadiths and methodology for law as revealed therein, to formulate sharia.
A number of legal concepts and institutions were developed by Islamic jurists during the classical period of Islam, known as the Islamic Golden Age, dated from the 7th to 13th centuries. These shaped different versions of sharia in different schools of Islamic jurisprudence, called fiqhs.
The Umayyads initiated the office of appointing qadis, or Islamic judges. The jurisdiction of the qadi extended only to Muslims, while non-Muslim populations retained their own legal institutions. Under the Umayyads Islamic scholars were “sidelined” from administration of justice and attempts to systematically uphold and develope Islamic law would wait for Abbasid rule. The qadis were usually pious specialists in Islam. As these grew in number, they began to theorize and systemize Islamic jurisprudence. The Abbasid made the institution of qadi independent from the government, but this separation wasn’t always respected.
Both the Umayyad caliph Umar II and the Abbasids had agreed that the caliph could not legislate contrary to the Quran or the sunnah. Imam Shafi’i declared: “atradition from the Prophet must be accepted as soon as it become known…If there has been an action on the part of a caliph, and a tradition from the Prophet to the contrary becomes known later, that action must be discarded in favor of the tradition from the Prophet.” Thus, under the Abbasids the main features of sharia were definitively established and sharia was recognized as the law of behavior for Muslims.
In modern times, the Muslim community have divided points of view: secularists believe that the law of the state should be based on secular principles, not on Islamic legal doctrines; traditionalists believe that the law of the state should be based on the traditional legal schools; reformers believe that new Islamic legal theories can produce modernized Islamic law and lead to acceptable opinions in areas such as women’s rights. This division persists until the present day (Brown 1996, Hallaq 2001, Ramadan 2005, Aslan 2006, Safi 2003, Nenezich 2006).
There has been a growing religious revival in Islam, beginning in the eighteenth century and continuing today. This movement has expressed itself in various forms ranging from wars to efforts towards improving education.
Definitions and disagreements
Sharia, in its strictest definition, is a divine law, as expressed in the Quran and Muhammad’s example (often called the sunnah). As such, it is related to but different from fiqh, which is emphasized as the human interpretation of the law. Many scholars have pointed out that the sharia is not formally a code, nor a well-defined set of rules. The sharia is characterized as a discussion on the duties of Muslims based on both the opinion of the Muslim community and extensive literature. Hunt Janin and Andre Kahlmeyer thus conclude that the sharia is “long, diverse, and complicated.”
From the 9th century onward, the power to interpret and refine law in traditional Islamic societies was in the hands of the scholars (ulema). This separation of powers served to limit the range of actions available to the ruler, who could not easily decree or reinterpret law independently and expect the continued support of the community. Through succeeding centuries and empires, the balance between the ulema and the rulers shifted and reformed, but the balance of power was never decisively changed. Over the course of many centuries, imperial, political and technological change, including the Industrial Revolution and the French Revolution, ushered in an era of European world hegemony that gradually included the domination of many of the lands which had previously been ruled by Islamic empires. At the end of the Second World War, the European powers found themselves too weakened to maintain their empires as before. The wide variety of forms of government, systems of law, attitudes toward modernity and interpretations of sharia are a result of the ensuing drives for independence and modernity in the Muslim world.
According to Jan Michiel Otto, Professor of Law and Governance in Developing Countries at Leiden University, “Anthropological research shows that people in local communities often do not distinguish clearly whether and to what extent their norms and practices are based on local tradition, tribal custom, or religion. Those who adhere to a confrontational view of sharia tend to ascribe many undesirable practices to sharia and religion overlooking custom and culture, even if high-ranking religious authorities have stated the opposite.” Otto’s analysis appears in a paper commissioned by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Sources of sharia law
There are two sources of sharia (understood as the divine law): the Quran and the Sunnah. The Quran is viewed as the unalterable word of God. It is considered in Islam to be an infallible part of sharia. The Quran covers a host of topics including God, personal laws for Muslim men and Muslim women, laws on community life, laws on expected interaction of Muslims with non-Muslims, apostates and ex-Muslims, laws on finance, morals, eschatology, and others. The Sunnah is the life and example of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. The Sunnah’s importance as a source of sharia, is confirmed by several verses of the Quran (e.g.[Quran 33:21]). The Sunnah is primarily contained in the hadith or reports of Muhammad’s sayings, his actions, his tacit approval of actions and his demeanor. While there is only one Quran, there are many compilations of hadith, with the most authentic ones forming during the sahih period (850 to 915 CE). The six acclaimed Sunni collections were compiled by (in order of decreasing importance) Muhammad al-Bukhari, Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj, Abu Dawood, Tirmidhi, Al-Nasa’i, Ibn Majah. The collections by al-Bukhari and Muslim, regarded the most authentic, contain about 7,000 and 12,000 hadiths respectively (although the majority of entries are repetitions). The hadiths have been evaluated on authenticity, usually by determining the reliability of the narrators that transmitted them. For Shias, the Sunnah include life and sayings of The Twelve Imams.
Quran versus Hadith
Muslims who reject the Hadith as a source of law, sometimes referred to as Quranists, suggest that only laws derived exclusively from the Quran are valid.They state that the hadiths in modern use are not explicitly mentioned in the Quran as a source of Islamic theology and practice, they were not recorded in written form until more than two centuries after the death of the prophet Muhammed. They also state that the authenticity of the hadiths remains a question.
The vast majority of Muslims, however, consider hadiths, which describe the words, conduct and example set by Muhammad during his life, as a source of law and religious authority second only to the Qur’an. Similarly, most Islamic scholars believe both Quran and sahih hadiths to be a valid source of sharia, with Quranic verse 33.21, among others, as justification for this belief.
Ye have indeed in the Messenger of Allah a beautiful pattern (of conduct) for any one whose hope is in Allah and the Final Day, and who engages much in the Praise of Allah.
It is not fitting for a Believer, man or woman, when a matter has been decided by Allah and His Messenger to have any option about their decision: if any one disobeys Allah and His Messenger, he is indeed on a clearly wrong Path.
For vast majority of Muslims, sharia has historically been, and continues to be derived from both the Quran and the Hadiths. The Sahih Hadiths of Sunni Muslims contain isnad, or a chain of guarantors reaching back to a companion of Muhammad who directly observed the words, conduct and example he set – thus providing the theological ground to consider the hadith to be a sound basis for sharia. For Sunni Muslims, the musannaf in Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim is most trusted and relied upon as source for Sunni Sharia. Shia Muslims, however, do not consider the chain of transmitters of Sunni hadiths as reliable, given these transmitters belonged to Sunni side in Sunni-Shia civil wars that followed after Muhammad’s death. Shia rely on their own chain of reliable guarantors, trusting compilations such as Kitab al-Kafi and Tahdhib al-Ahkam instead, and later hadiths (usually called akhbār by Shi’i). The Shia version of hadiths contain the words, conduct and example set by Muhammad and Imams, which they consider as sinless, infallible and an essential source of sharia for Shi’ite Muslims.However, in substance, the Shi’ite hadiths resemble the Sunni hadiths, with one difference – the Shia hadiths additionally include words and actions of its Imams (al-hadith al-walawi), the biological descendants of Muhammad, and these too are considered an important source for sharia by Shi’ites.
Disagreements on Quran
Main article: Naskh (tafsir)
- Authenticity and writing of Quran
Some scholars such as John Wansbrough have challenged the authenticity of the Quran and whether it was written in the time of Muhammad. In contrast, Estelle Whelan has refuted Wansbrough presenting evidence such as the inscriptions on the Dome of the Rock. John Burton states that medieval era Islamic texts claiming Quran was compiled after the death of the Prophet were forged to preserve the status-quo. The final version of the Quran, states Burton, was compiled while the Prophet was still alive. Most scholars accept that the Quran as is used for Sharia, was compiled into the final current form during the caliphate of Uthman.
- Abrogation and textual inconsistencies
From the founding of Islam, the Muslim community has also debated the authenticity of compiled verses and the consistency within the Quran. The inconsistencies in deriving sharia from the Quran, were recognized and formally complicated by verses 2.106 and 16.101 of the Quran, which are known as the “verses of abrogation (Naskh)”,
When We substitute one revelation for another, – and Allah knows best what He reveals (in stages),– they say, “Thou art but a forger”: but most of them understand not.
The principle of abrogation has been historically accepted and applied by Islamic jurists on both the Quran and the Sunnah. Sharia is thus determined through a chronological study of the primary sources, where older revelations are considered invalid and overruled by later revelations. While an overwhelming majority of historical and modern Islamic scholars have accepted the principle of abrogation for the Quran and the Sunnah, some modern scholars disagree that the principle of abrogation necessarily applies to the Quran.
Islamic jurisprudence (Fiqh)
Fiqh (school of Islamic jurisprudence) represents the process of deducing and applying sharia principles, as well as the collective body of specific laws deduced from sharia using the fiqh methodology. While Quran and Hadith sources are regarded as infallible, the fiqh standards may change in different contexts. Fiqh covers all aspects of law, including religious, civil, political, constitutional and procedural law. Fiqh deploys the following to create Islamic laws:
- Injunctions, revealed principles and interpretations of the Quran (Used by all schools and sects of Islam)
- Interpretation of the Sunnah (Muhammad’s practices, opinions and traditions) and principles therein, after establishing the degree of reliability of hadith’s chain of reporters (Used by all schools and sects of Islam)
If the above two sources do not provide guidance for an issue, then different fiqhs deploy the following in a hierarchical way:
- Ijma, collective reasoning and consensus amongst authoritative Muslims of a particular generation, and its interpretation by Islamic scholars. This fiqh principle for sharia is derived from Quranic verse 4:59. Typically, the recorded consensus of Sahabah (Muhammad’s companions) is considered authoritative and most trusted. If this is unavailable, then the recorded individual reasoning (Ijtihad) of Muhammad companions is sought. In Islam’s history, some Muslim scholars have argued that Ijtihad allows individual reasoning of both the earliest generations of Muslims and later generation Muslims, while others have argued that Ijtihad allows individual reasoning of only the earliest generations of Muslims. (Used by all schools of Islam, Jafari fiqh accepts only Ijtihad of Shia Imams)
- Qiyas, analogy is deployed if Ijma or historic collective reasoning on the issue is not available. Qiyas represents analogical deduction, the support for using it in fiqh is based on Quranic verse 2:59, and this methodology was started by Abu Hanifa. This principle is considered weak by Hanbali fiqh, and it usually avoids Qiyas for sharia. (Used by all Sunni schools of Islam, but rejected by Shia Jafari)
- Istihsan, which is the principle of serving the interest of Islam and public as determined by Islamic jurists. This method is deployed if Ijtihad and Qiyas fail to provide guidance. It was started by Hanafi fiqh as a form of Ijtihad (individual reasoning). Maliki fiqh called it Masalih Al-Mursalah, or departure from strict adherence to the Texts for public welfare. The Hanbali fiqh called it Istislah and rejected it, as did Shafi’i fiqh. (Used by Hanafi, Maliki, but rejected by Shafii, Hanbali and Shia Jafari fiqhs)
- Istihab and Urf which mean continuity of pre-Islamic customs and customary law. This is considered as the weakest principle, accepted by just two fiqhs, and even in them recognized only when the custom does not violate or contradict any Quran, Hadiths or other fiqh source. (Used by Hanafi, Maliki, but rejected by Shafii, Hanbali and Shia Jafari fiqhs)
- Schools of law
Map of the Muslim world with the main schools of Islamic law (madhhab)
A Madhhab is a Muslim school of law that follows a fiqh (school of religious jurisprudence). In the first 150 years of Islam, there were many madhhab. Several of the Sahābah, or contemporary “companions” of Muhammad, are credited with founding their own. In the Sunni sect of Islam, the Islamic jurisprudence schools of Medina (Al-Hijaz, now in Saudi Arabia) created the Maliki madhhab, while those in Kufa (now in Iraq) created the Hanafimadhhab. Abu al-Shafi’i, who started as a student of Maliki school of Islamic law, and later was influenced by Hanafi school of Islamic law, disagreed with some of the discretion these schools gave to jurists, and founded the more conservative Shafi’i madhhab, which spread from jurisprudence schools in Baghdad (Iraq) and Cairo (Egypt). Ahmad ibn Hanbal, a student of al-Shafi’i, went further in his criticism of Maliki and Hanafi fiqhs, criticizing the abuse and corruption of sharia from jurist discretion and consensus of later generation Muslims, and he founded the more strict, traditionalist Hanbali school of Islamic law. Other schools such as the Jaririwere established later, which eventually died out.
Sunni sect of Islam has four major surviving schools of sharia: Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i, Hanbali; one minor school is named Ẓāhirī. Shii sect of Islam has three: Ja’fari(major), Zaydi and Ismaili. There are other minority fiqhs as well, such as the Ibadi school of Khawarij sect, and those of Sufi and Ahmadi sects. All Sunni and Shia schools of sharia rely first on the Quran and the sayings/practices of Muhammad in the Sunnah. Their differences lie in the procedure each uses to create Islam-compliant laws when those two sources do not provide guidance on a topic. The Salafi movement creates sharia based on the Quran, Sunnah and the actions and sayings of the first three generations of Muslims.
Hanafi-based sharia spread with the patronage and military expansions led by Turkic Sultans and Ottoman Empire in West Asia, Southeast Europe, Central Asia and South Asia. It is currently the largest madhhab of Sunni Muslims. Maliki-based sharia is predominantly found in West Africa, North Africa and parts of Arabia. Shafii-based sharia spread with patronage and military expansions led by maritime Sultans, and is mostly found in coastal regions of East Africa, Arabia, South Asia, Southeast Asia and islands in the Indian ocean. The Hanbali-based sharia prevails in the smallest Sunni madhhab, predominantly found in the Arabian peninsula. The Shia Jafari-based sharia is mostly found in Persian region and parts of West Asia and South Asia.
- Categories of law
Along with interpretation, each fiqh classifies its interpretation of sharia into one of the following five categories: fard (obligatory), mustahabb (recommended),mubah (neutral), makruh (discouraged), and haraam (forbidden). A Muslim is expected to adhere to that tenet of sharia accordingly.
- Actions in the fard category are those mandatory on all Muslims. They include the five daily prayers, fasting, articles of faith, obligatory giving of zakat (charity, tax) to zakat collectors, and the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca.
- The mustahabb category includes proper behaviour in matters such as marriage, funeral rites and family life. As such, it covers many of the same areas as civil law in the West. Sharia courts attempt to reconcile parties to disputes in this area using the recommended behaviour as their guide. A person whose behaviour is not mustahabb can be ruled against by the judge.
- Mubah category of behaviour is neither discouraged nor recommended, neither forbidden nor required; it is permissible.
- Makruh behaviour, while it is not sinful of itself, is considered undesirable among Muslims. It may also make a Muslim liable to criminal penalties under certain circumstances.
- Haraam behaviour is explicitly forbidden. It is both sinful and criminal. It includes all actions expressly forbidden in the Quran. Certain Muslim dietary and clothing restrictions also fall into this category.
The recommended, neutral and discouraged categories are drawn largely from accounts of the life of Muhammad. To say a behaviour is sunnah is to say it is recommended as an example of the life and sayings of Muhammad. These categories form the basis for proper behaviour in matters such as courtesy and manners, interpersonal relations, generosity, personal habits and hygiene.
Areas of Islamic law
The areas of Islamic law include:
- Hygiene and purification laws, including the manner of cleansing, either wudhu or ghusl.
- Economic laws, including Zakāt, the annual almsgiving; Waqf, the religious endowment; the prohibition on interest or Riba; as well as inheritance laws.
- Dietary laws including Dhabihah, or ritual slaughter.
- Theological obligations, including the Hajj or pilgrimage, with its rituals such as Tawaf, Sa’yee and the Stoning of the Devil; salat, formal worship; Salat al-Janazah, the funeral prayer; and celebrating Eid al-Adha.
- Marital jurisprudence, including Nikah, the marriage contract; and divorce, known as Khula if initiated by a woman.
- Criminal jurisprudence, including Hudud, fixed punishments; Tazir, discretionary punishment; Qisas or retaliation;Diyya or blood money; and apostasy.
- Military jurisprudence, including Jihad, offensive and defensive; Hudna or truce; and rules regarding prisoners of war.
- Dress code, including hijab.
- Other topics include customs and behaviour, slavery and the status of non-Muslims.
- Other classifications
Shari’ah law has been grouped in different ways, such as: Family relations, Crime and punishment, Inheritance and disposal of property, The economic system, External and other relations.
“Reliance of the Traveller“, an English translation of a fourteenth-century CE reference on the Shafi’i school of fiqh written by Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri, organizes sharia law into the following topics: Purification, prayer, funeral prayer, taxes, fasting, pilgrimage, trade, inheritance, marriage, divorce and justice.
In some areas, there are substantial differences in the law between different schools of fiqh, countries, cultures and schools of thought.
Disagreement on the objectives of Islamic law
A number of scholars have advanced “objectives” (مقاصد maqaṣid al-Shariah also “goals” or “purposes”) they believe the Sharia is intended to achieve. Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali argued that they were the preservation of Islamic religion, and in the temporal world the protection of life, progeny, intellect and wealth of Muslims.Yazid et al summarize sharia’s objective to be recognize the limitations of reason, and complement the role of reason with revelation. They state that objective of sharia in Islamic finance is to provide rules and regulations from the Quran and Sunnah.
Jan Otto writes that moderate Muslims and puritan Muslims differ in their interpretation of the objectives of sharia. The moderate Muslims consider sharia to be a flexible code of law, where technicalities of its wording cannot subvert sharia’s objectives to “help Muslims in their quest for submission, humility, gratitude before God, and a quest for Godliness”. In contrast, according to Otto, puritan Muslims believe that sharia is a strict, complete and exact set of rules that one must submit to, by strict compliance, because it is only “through meticulous obedience, Muslims will avoid punishment of God in after-life and will enter heaven” which is the ultimate objective, and it does not matter if some sharia “law is harsh or that its application results in social suffering, this perception is considered delusional”.
Application by country
Use of Sharia by country:
Sharia plays no role in the judicial system
Sharia applies to Muslim’s personal law
Sharia applies in full, including criminal law
Regional variations in the application of sharia
Most Muslim-majority countries incorporate sharia at some level in their legal framework, with many calling it the highest law or the source of law of the land in their constitution. Most use sharia for personal law (marriage, divorce, domestic violence, child support, family law, inheritance and such matters). Elements of sharia are present, to varying extents, in the criminal justice system of many Muslim-majority countries.