Sharia is an Arabic word meaning “the path to a watering hole”.
Sharia is the traditional Islamic law that is derived from the teachings of the Koran and the Sunna (the practice of the prophet Mohammed).
The purpose of Sharia is to guide all aspects of a Muslim’s life. Like many religious cultures, Islam did not distinguish between religious and secular life. Hence Sharia covers religious rituals and also many aspects of political, social, domestic and private life.
Sharia is adopted by most Muslims to a greater or lesser degree as a matter of personal conscience. It has been formally instituted as law by some Islamic countries and other Islamic countries have adopted elements of Sharia law governing areas such as inheritance, banking and contract law.
Aspects of Sharia law apply differently to Muslims and non-Muslims. For example, under strict Sharia law only Muslims can be full citizens of an Islamic state. The term Sharia is hot for people who believe that there is no justification for discrimination on religious grounds in the multicultural world we live in. Muslims living in countries not governed under Sharia law would protest to be treated as second-class citizens under the law and similarly it is believed that non-Muslims living in Muslim countries should not be discrimated against.
Sharia is sometimes considered to be restrictive and fundamentalist. For example, the term Sharia becomes very hot when it conjures up images of a public beheading and amputation. Within Sharia law there is a specific set of offences known as the Hadd offences under which murderers and drug smugglers may be executed, thieves hands amputated and adulterers stoned.
Sharia differs enormously in its implementation throughout the Islamic world. Some countries, such as Saudi Arabia, claim to live under pure Sharia law and have a long history of enforcing the penalties for Hadd offences. Most Muslim countries are legally secular and do not practice Sharia. For example, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Indonesia and Turkey have not adopted Hadd offences as part of their state laws.
26 November 2004