What is Sharia?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Sharia is Islamic law, which is taken from the Qur’an and from other sources depending upon one’s Muslim sect. The law may be applied completely in theocracies, or it may be applied partially, depending upon the country. Some predominantly Islamic countries interpret Sharia and have secular judicial systems. Some have both secular and religious courts, and other have courts based only on strict interpretations of Sharia.

Sharia law is interpreted differently among Muslim nations.
Sharia law is interpreted differently among Muslim nations.

When Sharia is used in a theocracy it governs all aspects of life. It tells one what to eat, the punishment for adultery, how one can get a divorce, or what clothing is required. Sharia may be modernized and interpreted, but this is more common in countries that recognize a secular court. When there is separation between church and state, Sharia governs social behaviors, but does not set punishments for violation of social behaviors or for criminal behaviors.

Islamic law, taken from the Qur'an, is called sharia law.
Islamic law, taken from the Qur'an, is called sharia law.

When debate about a certain code in Sharia occurs, this is called fiqh. It is not considered wrong to attempt fiqh so one can best interpret Sharia. Other books besides the Qur’an may be considered when determining law. For example, the Sunni Muslims tend to use both the Qur’an and the Sunna to determine laws. Some Muslims use only the Qur’an for legal guidance.

The Qu’ran is the main source of Sharia.
The Qu’ran is the main source of Sharia.

Interpretation of Sharia, and its importance comes down to four basic groups of Islamic thought. Salafis advocate for a return to the old Islamic ways, and attempt to strictly follow the laws of the Qur’an. Secularist Muslims, wish a distinct separation between Sharia and civil and criminal laws. Traditionalists tend to follow Sharia but attempt to reconcile it to the modern world, particularly in the case of women’s rights. Reformers back new Islamic theories on legal proceedings, particularly as they relate to the modern women.

Interpreting Sharia can cause dissension between Muslim sects and the different Islamic countries. Yet certain laws are always applicable. Blasphemy, for example, is never permitted. Codes on dress, divorce, circumcision and dietary laws are all highly interpretive however. It is valuable to understand the degree to which a country holds to traditional Sharia prior to visiting that country.

In places where church and state are separated, Sharia is used to interpret behavior but not to mete out punishments.
In places where church and state are separated, Sharia is used to interpret behavior but not to mete out punishments.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


She was probably raped by a married Imam, and therefore she committed adultery.


What gets me with Sharia Law is who can apply a law that is based on a fallacy? I mean the Qur'an states that it confirms the books before it, in fact "that which is with you", so it is a lie that they have been changed, as this is stated more than ten times in the Qur'an.

So it now disregards all the teachings of Christ, and instead follows the false teachings of the Church, inasmuch as being involved in bloodshed and false books.

So what a stupid law system, and no, it is not based on Theocracy as God is not involved in Sharia Law, but it is following a man. A man who married a six year old, and his best friend's wife, let alone 13 others.

If the leader can't follow his own religion, then how and why should anyone else?


@stormyknight: I just read that story. It said that when the crime occurred, the girl was said to be 22 years of age and that was the reason she was treated as an adult. On August 15, 2004, she was hanged in a public square in Neka, an Iranian city.

A journalist who was covering the case got word that the girl was only 16 years old. He talked with the family who provided the girl’s birth certificate, confirming the fact that she was just 16. It’s a very sad story.

Along with drug smuggling and murder, sex outside of the sanctions of marriage is considered a capital crime. Since the death of that young girl, Iran has sworn not to execute anyone else under the age of 18.


@stormyknight: First of all, I am absolutely no expert on this subject. The information that I am going to share with you is what I pulled up by doing a Google search.

Apparently, a few years ago, there was a 16 year old girl by the name of Atefah Sahaaleh who was, indeed, executed. It was said that she was charged with “crimes against chastity”. They said that she committed adultery. Later, it was released that the girl had never even been married.

In the same year that Atefah was executed, there were around 160 more executed in accordance with the Islamic law, based on the Sharia code.


It seems like I read somewhere that a young girl was sentenced to death in accordance with the Sharia code. Is that true?

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