Definition of sharia
- (Islam) traditional Islamic religious law; it covers the totality of religious, political, social and private life making no distinction between religion and life, in other words between transgressions of moral rules (sin) and of social rules.
Sharia, shariah, sharīʿah or shariat (Arabic: شريعة šarīʿah, IPA: [ʃaˈriːʕa], "way" or "path") is the code of conduct or religious law of Islam. Most Muslims believe sharia is derived from two primary sources of Islamic law: the precepts set forth in the Quran, and the example set by the Islamic prophet Muhammad in the Sunnah. Fiqh jurisprudence interprets and extends the application of sharia to questions not directly addressed in the primary sources by including secondary sources. These secondary sources usually include the consensus of the religious scholars embodied in ijma, and analogy from the Quran and Sunnah through qiyas. Shia jurists prefer to apply reasoning ('aql) rather than analogy in order to address difficult questions.
Muslims believe sharia is God's law, but they differ as to what exactly it entails. Modernists, traditionalists and fundamentalists all hold different views of sharia, as do adherents to different schools of Islamic thought and scholarship. Different countries, societies and cultures have varying interpretations of sharia as well.
Sharia deals with many topics addressed by secular law, including crime, politics and economics, as well as personal matters such as sexual intercourse, hygiene, diet, prayer, and fasting. Where it enjoys official status, sharia is applied by Islamic judges, or qadis. The imam has varying responsibilities depending on the interpretation of sharia; while the term is commonly used to refer to the leader of communal prayers, the imam may also be a scholar, religious leader, or political leader.
The reintroduction of sharia is a longstanding goal for Islamist movements in Muslim countries. Some Muslim minorities in Asia (e.g., in India) have maintained institutional recognition of sharia to adjudicate their personal and community affairs. In western countries, where Muslim immigration is more recent, Muslim minorities have introduced sharia family law, for use in their own disputes, with varying degrees of success e.g., Britain's Muslim Arbitration Tribunal. Attempts to impose sharia have been accompanied by controversy, violence, and even warfare (cf. Second Sudanese Civil War).
Definitions and descriptions
Sharia has been defined as:
- "Muslim or Islamic law, both civil and criminal justice as well as regulating individual conduct both personal and moral. The custom-based body of law based on the Quran and the religion of Islam. Because, by definition, Muslim states are theocracies, religious texts are law, the latter distinguished by Islam and Muslims in their application, as sharia or sharia law."
- "a discussion on the duties of Muslims," -Hamilton Alexander Rosskeen Gibb
- "a long, diverse, complicated intellectual tradition," rather than a "well-defined set of specific rules and regulations that can be easily applied to life situations," -Hunt Janin and Andre Kahlmeyer
- "a shared opinion of the [Islamic] community, based on a literature that is extensive, but not necessarily coherent or authorized by any single body" -Knut S. Vikor
From the 9th century, the power to interpret and refine law in traditional Islamic societies was in the hands of the scholars (ulema). This separation of powers served to limit the range of actions available to the ruler, who could not easily decree or reinterpret law independently and expect the continued support of the community. Through succeeding centuries and empires, the balance between the ulema and the rulers shifted and reformed, but the balance of power was never decisively changed. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Industrial Revolution and the French Revolution introduced an era of European world hegemony that included the domination of most of the lands of Islam. At the end of the Second World War, the European powers found themselves too weakened to maintain their empires. The wide variety of forms of government, systems of law, attitudes toward modernity and interpretations of sharia are a result of the ensuing drives for independence and modernity in the Muslim world.
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