Imam Ilyas Sidyot


1. What is Sharia Law?

2. What specifically is Muslim Law?

Answer: Dear questioner! Before I answer your specific query, I would like to state that in recent years, several states in America banned Sharia law and others proposed bills to ban it. The authors of the bill incorrectly defined Sharia as a system of legal, political, military and religious laws that calls its followers to overthrow the United States government through brutal force, acts of terrorism, and holy war (i.e., Jihad) in order to establish itself as the sole political and religious power in the world". Canada isn't immune from such negative sentiments about Sharia. Therefore in brief I aim in the following lines to explain the definition of Sharia, its origin, objectives and some of the misconceptions which will help you and our fellow Canadians understand it better.

1. Definition of Sharia:

Sharia is an Arabic term, and lexically it has two connotations, a strait path and a path to water. Sharia in Islam is," all the divine laws that God the almighty has revealed to the believers to follow is Sharia". (Al Mausu'a Fiqhiyya,Vol 26/17). Sharia law, Muslim Law, Muslim personal Law or Islamic law, all refer to the same code of conduct God through his prophet Muhammad peace be upon him has mandated the believers to practise. In other words, sharia is holistic and covers all that Islam preaches from belief to behavior, it is not what the western media says about. It is a rather a complete code of conduct that governs all aspects of Muslims' life spiritual, ethical, social, financial and legal.

2. Sources of Sharia Law:

It stems from the two primary sources that are infallible to Muslims, The Holy Quran and the traditions of the prophet Muhammad peace be upon him. The bulk of Sharia, approximately 70 percent deals with ritual worship such as prayer, charity, fasting pilgrimage etc. another 25 percent of it deals with dietary restrictions and personal economic and family laws, and the remaining five percent of it is about applying it at a national level and include corporal punishment for theft, murder and rape etc.( Shaikh Yasir Qadhi's online article on 3haria Law) The laws that relate to corporal punishment are intended to be only in a system of government that derives its rules from Islam hence they are not applicable in secular societies that have their own system of governance.

3. Basis of 3haria Law:

Islamic 3haria has its deep roots in the following Islamic values that are cherished by all. Justice, Mercy, Wisdom, Equality, Good manners, Elimination of prejudice and poverty, alleviation of hardship and common good for all etc.

4. Objectives of 3haria Law:

Reading through the sources of 3haria, one would find that Shari`ah promotes a set of values through all of its teachings, and these values are known as the objectives of 3haria The following long excerpt from the book Ilm Usulil Fiqh by a great jurist of our recent past Sheikh Mohamed Abu Zahra explains the aims of 3haria Law, the author writes; " 3haria came as a mercy to mankind. This mercy demonstrates itself in achieving three major goals, they are;

1. Nurturing the righteous individual Looking at this divine law, one would realize that the first goal it aims to achieve is to develop and nurture the righteous human being to be a source of good for himself or herself and for the community, and to reduce any bad that may occur from him or her that may harm himself or herself or people in the community. This takes place through the rituals and moral systems that aim mainly at developing the righteous human being.

2. Establishing justice Secondly, Shari`ah came to establish justice between people within the community of believers, and with other communities. {Indeed, Allah commands justice …} (An-Nahl 16:90) as God said in the Qur'an and commanded people to {stand firmly for justice.} (An-Nisaa' 4:135) Justice in Islam is a noble goal and is comprehensive. Islam promotes justice in court, in dealing with each other, to family members, and justice with oneself. 3haria considers people to be equal, no one has superiority over another because of race, wealth, or family. 3haria even obligates Muslims to be just with their enemies during war. it establishes justice between men and women and makes women peers to men in terms of rights and responsibilities. {And women shall have rights similar to the rights upon them, according to what is equitable; …} (Al-Baqarah 2:228) as Allah mentioned.

5. 3. Realization of benefit (Maslahah) Thirdly, 3haria came to achieve benefits. it never states anything except to achieve a real benefit (maslahah). Muslim scholars observed that all the teachings of Shari`ah aim at preserving and protecting five major benefits, namely, religion, life, intellect, progeny, and property (or wealth). Those five benefits (or necessities as some call them) are essential to the honorable human life. As Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali said, "Bringing about benefits and removing harm is essential to people. However, what we mean by the benefit is what the Shari`ah aims at. Shari`ah aims at five objectives for people; that is to protect their religion, life, intellect, progeny and property. Anything that protects these is a benefit and anything that emaciates them is a harm and overcoming it is a benefit. "(Kitab al-Mustasfa vol 1/278) The Three Categories in Preserving Maslahah (Benefit) The Shari`ah's teachings and rulings regarding those five objectives are categorized into three levels:

1. Necessities, 2. Needs, 3. Refinements.

A necessity is any ruling that is essential to protecting one of the objectives or, in other words, without it the objective will completely perish. For example, forbidding killing is in the category of necessities since, with killing, life is completely lost. The second category, the category of needs, contains any ruling without which the objective will be achieved but with a lot of difficulty and burden. For example, the prohibition of monopolies is in this category – although monopolies will not demolish the wealth completely, they place difficulty upon people preserving their wealth. The final category is the category of refinements. Refinement achieves the highest quality of the five objectives. For example, to close all possible doors of sexual attraction in the public shapers of life that may serve as a gateway to fornication which is a grave sin in Islam, Shari`ah commands that men lower their gaze while interacting women that are non-related and women shouldn't go out in public either in revealing cloths that would entice sexual attraction to men. This categorization is extremely important in order to arrive at the correct ruling especially when different benefits compete with each other. What is necessary always overrules the other two categories and so on. Praying in congregation is important to the preservation of religion. However, it is not essential. If praying in congregation put's one's life at risk (such as having to pass through an unsafe neighborhood), he can pray at home since the latter is necessary for the preservation of life".( Usulul Fiqh:327-335)

6. Is 3haria the only religious law exists in the word? The study of world's religions reveal to us that nearly all ancient religions have a set code of conduct for their followers. Quran indorses this historic fact. God the Almighty said," To each of you we prescribed a law and a method".( Ma'idah/48) This verse in particular refers to the divine laws prescribed to Jews, Christians and Muslims. According one of the commentators of Quran "God gave each different laws in different times in history to test them of their obedience to him (Tafsir Tabari: 385/5) Hence the religious law for Christian is known as Canon law, for Jews as Halakhah, for Hindus as Dharma and Buddhists call their religious law as Dharma as well. Douglas Todd the renowned columnist of the newspaper" Vancouver Sun" writes," 3haria in not unique. Most religions maintain their own internal codes of conduct, particularly marriage, divorce, financial wrongdoing, and sexual behavior". (Online article; 3haria sets off alarms in Canada).

7. Misconceptions about 3haria :

Huffington post in one of its recent online post said, "Many North Americans think of 3haria as an evil legal system characterized by misogyny, intolerance and harsh punishments. Some anti-Islamic activists warn that Muslims are trying to sneak 3haria into North American legal system in ways that do not reflect U.S legal principles of beliefs".(Online article 3haria Law in the USA).

It is often two things that cause great confusion and misunderstanding to the general masses about 3haria Law. The first is decontextualizing the Islamic teachings from their right contexts.

For example. Some people cite the following verse" kill the polytheist wherever you find them "(Baqarah/191) if we decontextualize this verse then indeed it sounds very frightening but the fact of the matter is it was said about those polytheists who drove Muslims out of their homes and waged continues wars against them even in their new homeland. It was not directed to general non-Muslims, on the same note, any religion in the world can be made look ugly by decontextualizing its teachings.

For example we read in the book of Samuel: 15- 3 " and kill both men and women, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey", Likewise we read in Luke: 19/27, "But bring here those enemies of mine who did not want me to reign over them, and slay them before me". One can say by citing the above statements from the Old Testament and New Testament in the Bible that Judaism and Christianity promote violence, brutality and killing The other reason for misunderstanding 3haria is ignorance about its meaning, objectives and general application. As such, from among the most misconstrued issues of 3haria Law is corporal Punishment. No doubt as mentioned earlier corporal punishment is part of 3haria law, however it has strict criteria and complex rules that revolve around the subject.

For example cutting off hands as a result of theft has a range of strict rules to applying prior to cutting off hands of a thief. Muslim jurists explain some of these rules as follows;

1- The person of theft has to be mentally stable and over the age of puberty.

2- It must be a deliberate attempt and not the compelling circumstances of a society such as famine or shortage of food in a society that forces him to steal some food for survival. In cases of drought, famine and high unemployment rate in a society, the punishment will be suspended.

3- The thing should have been taken by stealth; if it was not taken by stealth.

4- The stolen property should be something of value. Something that is insignificant such as some fruits or things that people don't hold with value will not be deemed as a crime for corporal punishment.

5- The value of the stolen property should be above a certain limit, which is three Islamic Dirhams or a quarter of an Islamic Dinar, or their equivalent in other currencies.

6- The stolen property should have been taken from a place where it had been put away, i.e., a place where people usually put their valuables in a secured place, such as jewelry in a locker or money inside homes etc., if the stolen object was taken away in a public place and no one was there to guard it then corporal punishment will not apply.

7- The theft itself has to be proven, either by the testimony of two qualified witnesses or by the confession of the thief.

8- The person from whom the property was stolen has to ask for it back; if he does not, then (the thief's) hand does not have to be cut off. (see for further details, Al Badai Sanai, chapter on theft, Al-Mausu'a Fiqhiyya chapter on theft ) Similar is the case with respect to other types of corporal punishments in Islam, but one thing is very clear, after the due process , when the crime is proven in a 3haria based Muslim country then Quran requires to apply punishment to criminals for the sake of greater human benefit which is to discipline other criminals from their habitual crimes and this will secure life property and restore peace and prosperity in the land, therefore the holy Quran rightfully states," And there is for you in legal retribution saving of life O you people of intellect,"( Baqarah/179) i.e. you gain greater good by bearing some loss.

I hope this answers your question