Among the most misunderstood and abused terms and concepts of Islam, both by non-Muslims and Muslims alike is the Sharia Law. Sharia is often portrayed in the media as evil and barbaric, an evil that extremists and terrorists follow, preach, and try to spread in the West. The media often do this for political reasons.
The term “Sharia” linguistically originates from an Arabic word meaning “a path that leads to a watering place.” Figuratively, the word refers to a clear, straight path. In Islam, Sharia Law means Divine legislation, the infallible law of God, as opposed to human legislation. Sharia is a set of Divine laws and ethics that Muslims live by to draw closer to God and to live in justice and kindness in honor of His Creation.
“And We have revealed to you, [O Muhammad], the Book in truth, confirming that which preceded it of the Scripture and as a criterion over it. So judge between them by what Allah has revealed and do not follow their inclinations away from what has come to you of the truth. To each of you We prescribed a law and a method. Had Allah willed, He would have made you one nation [united in religion], but He intended to test you in what He has given you; so race to all that is good. To Allah is your return all together, and He will then inform you concerning that over which you used to differ” (Quran 5:48)
No society can function without rules and regulations; without legal boundaries, society will dissolve into anarchy and chaos. Most religions feature sacred Divine laws and ethics equivalent to Islam’s Sharia — for instance, Judaism’s Halakah Law and the Catholic’s Canon Law. Shariah provides the legal framework for the healthy foundation and functioning of society. The religion of Islam incorporates a set of rules and regulations that protects and preserves the rights and freedoms of individuals and society. It is a doctrine concerned with justice, equality, and respect for all.
The Sharia Law is derived from the Holy Quran, its primary source, and the Sunnah (teachings of Prophet Muhammad PBUH), a secondary source. Laws of Sharia also come from Islamic Scholars, who, in their conveyance of the law, draw upon an interpretative process that includes Qiyas (reasoning by analogy, derived from the primary sources), Ijma (the consensus of the opinions held by the Prophet’s companions and agreements reached by Islamic scholars), and Ijtihad, the effort to arrive at one’s own judgment or reasoning to seek the answers that go unaddressed by the Holy Qur’an and Sunnah. Of these five sources, the first two are Divine, while the other three (Qiyas, Ijma, and Ijtihad) are humanistic efforts based on independent juristic reasoning.
Sharia Law is applied to protect and preserve five basic rights: the right to practice religion, the protection of Muslim and non-Muslim life, the safeguarding of the mind/intellect/reason, the preservation of honor, dignity, and family, and the sanctity of wealth and property. The Sharia aims to secure humanity’s welfare and establish a righteous society.
Shariah is more than just Islamic Law; it is not limited to legal issues. Sharia deals with ethical, moral, political, and social codes of conduct for Muslims at the individual and communal levels. Sharia deals with every aspect of life, such as economics, politics, crime, diet, spirituality, hygiene, sexual intercourse, and more. These laws tell Muslims precisely what God expects from them and how they can please Him.
Man was created solely to worship and serve God, and without the guidance of God showing the right path, no one can achieve this purpose. These laws tell Muslims precisely what is permissible to do, eat, and drink and how to dress, sleep, and even relieve themselves. These laws also outline what Muslims are not permitted to do.
Sharia law addresses personal religious observances such as prayer, charity, fasting, and God-consciousness. The Sharia also addresses issues such as paying alms to the poor and needy, being good to one’s parents, business affairs, inheritance, and marriage. These laws and their inherent ethics encourage Muslims to be God-conscious, kind, respectful, merciful, generous, and compassionate. A Muslim submits, acknowledges, and understands that Allah the Glorious knows what’s best for them in all areas of life, so he follows His Laws.
Since the Sharia is concerned with protecting and preserving the rights and freedoms of individuals and communities, the law must contain rules, regulations, and punishments to address and redress misdeeds. Islam imposes laws and penalties on those that transgress. To preserve the goodness of life, Islam prescribes the law of retribution; to safeguard the mind, Islam prescribes punishment to deter drinking and using intoxicants; to preserve family lineage, the faith prescribes the punishment of fornication; and to protect wealth and property, Islam prescribes the punishment for theft.
Like many countries, Sharia Law also allows for the penalty of criminal laws as a form of a deterrent from illegal acts. At the state level, Sharia Law can impose specific punishments for major crimes like killing, adultery, or theft, such as cutting off a hand. Whereas Sharia addresses national laws, these regulations form only a tiny portion of the Sharia. They can be applied only by an Islamic State or Caliphate, which Muslims have maintained in their homelands for centuries.
These laws were purely discretionary, and it is essential to note that not a single incident involving the stoning of an adulterer occurred during the first 1,000 years of Prophet Muhammad PBUH’s life. The administration of these laws involved a whole and fair process of prosecution.
One may find some Islamic Laws to be harsh: for example, the punishment for treason, when one deceptively betrays his country’s trust, is death; but if Islam didn’t level strict laws for treachery, society would be in harm’s way constantly. Hence, strict laws are necessary to protect the community and deter dangerous crimes. When you study Islam and Sharia Law, you’ll notice that its rulings are based on mercy and compassion. Crimes committed by people do not harm or affect God, but the victims of these crimes suffer. Their rights are violated and need to be restored.
Anyone accused of a crime must be tried and convicted in the Islamic State of Law before punishment is administered. And only a Muslim judge can carry out the sentences for these violations. It is not permissible for individual Muslims to carry out the penalties for these sentences, as there is no place for vigilantism in Islam, which can lead to chaos and injustice.
Western Muslims do not believe that Sharia Law should be applied in the West, in non-Muslim countries. Muslims do not have the secret intention of overtaking Western countries to apply Sharia Law by force. Muslims living in the West and other non-Muslim countries must obey the law of the land, providing that those laws do not bar them from practicing their religion.
Muslims can be true both to their faith and their home country. Muslims cannot enforce or impose Sharia or Islam on anyone who does not wish to follow their mandates; such a dictatorial act would not be permissible in Islam. Nor do western Muslim organizations seek to establish a global caliphate or Islamic State. Muslims seek merely to follow Sharia in their personal and spiritual lives. A Muslim’s job is to live the best way possible and be a good role model and representative of Islam for non-Muslims. A Muslim’s life task is to relay the Message of Islam with his actions and words without force.
“There shall be no compulsion in acceptance of the religion…” (Quran 2:256)
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