What is Sharia Law?

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As Christians, sharing our faith also requires us to understand where other religious beliefs come from. For a Muslim, the concept of “Sharia Law” is the guiding principle for nearly every area of their lives. The literal meaning of “Sharia” in Arabic is, “the way to the oasis.” With this definition in mind, it may not surprise you that the majority of Muslims believe that in following this law lies the solution to all of their problems. In thier minds, if everyone could simply adhere to these simple rules, there would be no war, no poverty, and no sickness.

Sounds pretty nice right? But what exactly is in the fine print of this law? And where did it originate? The answers may shock you!

What is Sharia?

Unlike the Ten Commandments, your city’s building codes, or our national legislation, Sharia law is not one specific legal code. Rather, there are tens of thousands of volumes about Sharia, all of which are open to interpretation. In Turkey, Sharia is referenced when declaring the headscarf as a compulsory order for Muslim women or allowing the marriage of a Muslim with a nine-year-old girl. When ISIS beheads someone for their beliefs, it is the same Sharia law that is used as the justification. In fact, in many Islamic countries, Sharia law has been adopted into the national legislation, sometimes partially, and other times completely.

Where does Sharia Law come from?

The sources of Sharia

1. The Koran

Worldwide, Muslims consider Sharia as "the law of Allah“. However, only a small part of the Sharia is from Allah himself. There is a simple reason for that, namely that the Koran – the word of Allah – is barely dealing with legal aspects of Islam. Among the 6,236 verses in Koran not more than 100 verses comment on legal topics. Ironically, most of those Koran verses deal with Mohammed’s marital difficulties. Since The Koran shed little light on how Muslims could find “the way to the oasis” there were also other influences.

2. The life of Mohammed

The second source is Mohammed’s proverbs and personal writings on his own life. According to Islamic scholars, Mohammed’s proverbs have almost the same rank as the Koran in terms of weight and importance in a Muslims life. Moreover, they say that Allah demanded all Muslims to obey Mohammed and to imitate him in all areas of their lives. The Koran itself does not comment on many common Muslim practices. For example, how to perform the Islamic prayer or how to fast during Ramadan. Muslims learn these laws from the reports about Mohammed’s life.

3. The Judgments of the Sharia Scholars 

For over a 1,000 years, Muslims have had a third authoritative legal basis besides the Koran and the life of Mohammed. This is called “The consensus of the Sharia scholars." Whenever scholars of the Sharia agree upon something, their consent is considered a decision of Allah.  

This way, Sharia is capable of establishing rules on current matters, such as “fasting in Antarctica”, organ transplantation, cloning, genetic engineering or aerospace. Even the duty to establish an “Islamic state” (caliphate) can be traced back to a “consensus of the Sharia scholars”. Today’s Sharia scholars around the world actually owe their powerful positions to other Sharia scholars who appointed themselves the role in creating the “law of Allah.”

Judgments of the Sharia scholars binding for all Muslims

The Sharia is an ever-changing and constantly growing collection of laws. The more questions that are answered by Sharia scholars, the larger the law grows. Each time a group of Sharia scholar decides on a new consensus it becomes binding for all Muslims. In fact, in 2016, scholars introduced over 700,000 thousand new fatwas (legal advices on Muslim law) to answer the questions of Muslims.

Questions can come from the everyday life of a Muslim, like “Am I allowed to eat in a restaurant, in which there is also being served pork?”; “Is it a sin, if I greet my Christian neighbor?  Their legal advice is binding for all Muslims worldwide – not only for the inquirer.

Allah’s Law in People’s Everyday Life

Sharia law is deisgned to teach Muslims how to behave in everyday life. In order to keep track of the sheer volume of laws, everything a Muslim says and does is divided into five behavioral patterns:

Obligatory: Anything that Allah or Mohammed instruct are considered “Obligatory” by the law. For example, every Muslim after a certain age must pray fiver times a day. Obligatory laws are expected to be obeyed and Muslims believe they will face punishment from Allah on the earth and also in the after life.

Prohibited: Everything that Allah and Mohammed have clearly forbidden or warned of is considered as “prohibited”. For example, the consumption of alcoholic beverages is prohibited. Anyone who violates this rule, is punished with 80 lashes.  If a Muslim is caught repeatedly drinking alcohol, Mohammed demands that this person be put to death.

Recommended: A recommended act, such as friendliness of a Muslim towards another Muslim, might help a Muslim in Islamic “paradise.” However, if he chooses not to do so, it is not considered a “sin”.  

Reprehensible: A reprehensible act, such as eating garlic and onions (Mohammed hated them) can be done without consequence. However, by doing this he loses his reputation as devout Muslim.

Indifferent: What Islam has neither commanded nor prohibited, is considered as “indifferent “. For example, eating a watermelon is an “indifferent” act, as Islam knows neither a precept nor a prohibition as to this matter.