Sharia law is the law of Islam. Sharia is an Arabic word that literally means a path to be followed. It is cast from two main sources: 1- the Quran (which Muslims consider to be the literal word of God) 2- the words and the actions of Muhammad (Sunnah; the divinely guided traditions of him) . It is involved in many aspects such as politics, economics, banking, business law, contract law,sexuality, and social issues. Sharia law can not be altered and changed, and the interoperation of it (Islamic jurisprudence) can be made by Islamic Scholars. Moreover, Interpreting Sharia is done by jurists known as “fuqahaa” who look at the practicality of both time and place regarding how a ruling can be applied. In places where Sharia has official status, it is interpreted by judges known as “qadis.”
Following Muhammad’s death in A.D. 632, companions of Muhammad ruled Arabia for about 30 years. These political-religious rulers, called caliphs, continued to develop Islamic law with their own pronouncements and decisions. After that, The Umayyad dynasty caliphs, who took control of the empire in 661 appointed Islamic judges, qadis, to decide cases involving Muslims and non-Muslims kept their own legal system. In 750, the Umayyads were overthrown and replaced by the Abbasid dynasty where the Sharia reached its full development. Different legal systems began to develop in different provinces during the Abbasid dynasty. One group held that only the divinely inspired Koran and teachings of the Prophet Muhammad should make up the Sharia. A rival group, however, argued that the Sharia should also include the reasoned opinions of qualified legal scholars.
In an attempt to reconcile the rival groups, a brilliant legal scholar named Imam Shafii systematized and developed what were called the “roots of the law.” Shafii argued that in solving a legal question, the kadi or government judge should first consult the Koran. If the answer were not clear there, the judge should refer to the authentic sayings and decisions of Muhammad. If the answer continued to elude the judge, he should then look to the consensus of Muslim legal scholars on the matter. Still failing to find a solution, the judge could form his own answer by analogy from “the precedent nearest in resemblance and most appropriate” to the case at hand.
Examples of laws regarding Marriage:
- A Muslim man can marry only a Muslim, Christian or Jewish woman. He cannot marry an atheist, agnostic or polytheist.
- A Muslim minor girl’s father or guardian may arrange the marriage of a girl, without her consent, before she reaches adulthood.
- A marriage is a contract that requires the man to pay, or promise to pay some Mahr (property as brideprice) to the woman.
The legal systems of Muslim countries are divided into three categories: classical Sharia systems, secular systems, and mixed systems.
- Classical Sharia: Sharia has official status or a high degree of influence on the legal system, and covers family law, criminal law, and in some places, personal beliefs, including penalties for apostasy, blasphemy, and not praying. Countries use classical Sharia: Egypt, Mauritania, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, the Maldives, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and certain regions in Indonesia, Malaysia, Nigeria, and the United Arab Emirates.
- Mixed systems: Sharia covers family law, while secular courts will cover everything else. Countries use mixed systems: Algeria, Comoros, Djibouti, Gambia, Libya, Morocco, Somalia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Brunei, Gaza Strip, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Malaysia, Oman, and Syria.
- There are no Islamic courts in some countries such as United States, but Islamic las sometimes is considered in the decisions. For example, a judge may have to recognize the validity of an Islamic marriage contract from a Muslim country in order to grant a divorce in America.