Apologetics Index

Sharia | Islamic Law

Information about Apologetics Index research resources This is a continuation of our older entry on the Sharia — Newer resources will be placed on this page

Sharia is the moral code and religious law of Islam.

The Arabic term Sharia (Shari’a, Shari’ah) literally means “the clear, well-trodden path to water.” Muslims use the term to refer to Islamic law, which they believe to be equivalent to Allah’s (God’s) law. Muslims believe that, just as water is vital to human life, so the clarity and uprightness of Sharia is the means of life for souls and minds. [1]

All Muslims believe Sharia is God’s law, but they have differences between themselves as to exactly what 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 and cultures have varying interpretations of Sharia, as well. [2]

The Sharia regulates all human actions and puts them into five categories: obligatory, recommended, permitted, disliked or forbidden.

Obligatory actions must be performed and when performed with good intentions are rewarded. The opposite is forbidden action. Recommended action is that which should be done and the opposite is disliked action. Permitted action is that which is neither encouraged nor discouraged. Most human actions fall in this last category.

The Sharia covers all aspects of human life. Classical Sharia manuals are often divided into four parts: laws relating to personal acts of worship, laws relating to commercial dealings, laws relating to marriage and divorce, and penal laws.
– Source: Sharia, BBC. Last accessed Saturday, July 10, 2010 – 11:13 AM CET

Lit. path or road which leads to water, Islamic law, divine law, four main schools: Hanafi, Shafii, Maliki, and Hanbali (most conservative)

It consists only about 30 ayat ul-ahkam (verses containing ordinances, nasus) of the Qur’an and about 70 ahadiths. These ordinances (nasus) are said to be self-evident (zahir) and not open to conflicting interpretations.

The Shar’ia specifies the obligatory acts (fardh), the omission of which constitutes sin, and forbidden acts (haram), the practice of which constitutes sins. Everything else, not derived from these principles, are said to be permissable (mubah).
– Source: Comparative Index to Islam

Muslims may hold in great unity and with much tenacity to the major beliefs and pillars of their religion, yet these same Muslims may differ greatly with one another. The differences may be affected by politics, legal interpretations, theological positions, and cultural variations.

Several Islamic legal traditions were in place during the first several centuries. One legal tradition may interpret and rule a harsher penalty for a violation of Islamic Law than another.
– Source: George W. Braswell Jr., What You Need To Know About Islam and Muslims Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000, page 60.

Wherever it is applied, Sharia has led – and still leads – to human rights violations – including cruel and unusual punishments (e.g. death penalty by stoning, hanging, or beheading. Amputations of hands and/or feet. Public executions, and etcetera).

Four Schools of Islamic Law

Islamic Law … is based on the following:

  • Quran: the revealed and perfect word of Allah
  • Hadith: the traditions about the life and saying of Muhammad
  • Ijma: the consensus of the community under the leadership of the ulama [3]
  • Qiyas: analogical reasoning and deduction by ulama based on the other three sources

A class of Islamic scholars and jurists called Ulama make interpretations of the law. These jurists developed schools of law. Each school may make decisions about matters such as marriage rights, divorce procedures, inheritance, and forms of punishment, which may differ from each other.

Four major schools of law are Shafite, Hanafite, Malikite, and Habalite.

  • Shafite school was founded by al Shafi, who died in 820. This school is known for its classical theory of Islamic law based on proper prophetic tradition with the use of analogical reasoning for applications to new circumstances.
  • Hanafite school was founded by Abu Hanafah in Iran in the eight century. More freedom is allowed in interpretation, and it is considered one of the more liberal legal traditions.
  • Malikite school was founded by Malik Ibn Anas in Medina. He died in 795. He relied on the living tradition of Medina as supported by the hadith.
  • Hanbalite is the latest school begun by Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, who died in 8565. Its interpretations of the Quran are very legalistic and literalistic. It is the dominant school in Saudi Arabia.

– Source: George W. Braswell Jr., What You Need To Know About Islam and Muslims Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000, pages 61-62.

A law expert explains Sharia

CNN’s Soledad O’Brien sits down with Harvard Law professor Noah Feldman, who describes the basics of Sharia law and the difference between Islam and Sharia law.

“There’s a fundamental contradiction in how the Muslim world and the West view Sharia law,” says Feldman. It is popular in Muslim countries, while in the West the very word is “radioactive”:

Noah Feldman: Muslim and Western Views of Sharia

Research Resources on Sharia Law


  • Sharia’s Sinister Smiles by Raymond Ibrahim (Middle East and Islam specialist).

    The totalitarian nature of Sharia law can only be grasped when one appreciates how thoroughly it permeates and dictates everything in a believer’s life–including when and to whom a Muslim may smile.

    Popular Islamic TV preacher Sheikh Muhammad Hassan appears in this video clip asserting that, according to Sharia, it is “not at all permissible” for Muslims to smile at non-Muslims, “except in cases of da’wa.”

    Often translated as “missionary work,” the word da’wa means to “call” or “summon” non-Muslims to Islam. Because it shares the same goals of jihad — empowering and spreading Islam — da’wa is often seen as jihad’s nonviolent counterpart.

  • Terrorizing Muslim Women [Contra] by Nonie Darwish, a former Muslim. FrontPage Magazine, July 12, 2010.

    The silence is deafening around the world in regards to the inhumanity and brutality of Sharia towards women. Most of the activism against stoning, flogging and abuse of women under Sharia is heard from former Muslim women, like myself, and a few others in the West who dare to expose the truth.

    Muslim women have no choice but to abide by Sharia, since rejecting it is grounds for the charge of apostasy, punishable by death. Having been exposed to Sharia for centuries, Muslim women have learned convoluted coping mechanisms to avoid Sharia’s wrath. Engaging in their own form of Stockholm Syndrome, most Muslim women publicly defend the very laws that enslave them.

  • The view from inside a Sharia court by Dan Bell, BBC, Feb. 11, 2008

    For many people Sharia courts are seen as brutal institutions where zealots in hardline Muslim states pass down draconian punishments.

    But there are already Sharia courts operating throughout Britain in ways that have very little to do with the stereotype.

  • Why Sharia Is Incompatible With Western Law [Contra] by David P. Goldman, First Things, May 24, 2010

    To what extent is sharia compatible with Western law? Dr. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Britain’s Supreme Court president Lord Phillips created a stir in 2008 by proposing that British courts might permit the application of Muslim religious law. Numerous American scholars have suggested that sharia might have an application to family law. All the proponents of importing sharia into the West cite the example of Jewish religious law, Halakha, which has coexisted seamlessly with Western law for two thousand years.

    In a “Spengler” essay published today at Asia Times Online, titled “Wife-beating, Sharia,and Western law,” I characterize these proposals as “monstrous.” Sharia, I argue, stems from a radically different, and indeed antithetical, concept of the relation of the individual to the state.


  • Cruel and Usual Punishment: The Terrifying Global Implications of Islamic Law [Contra] by Nonie Darwish, a former Muslim who converted to Christianity. Darwish is an Egyptian-American human rights activist, founder of Arabs For Israel, and Director of Former Muslims United. She also wrote Now They Call Me Infidel: Why I Renounced Jihad for America, Israel, and the War on Terror

    Nonie Darwish presents an insider’s look at Sharia and examines how radical Muslim laws are destroying the Western world from within. Living under Sharia law for the first thirty years of her life,a virtual slave to Islamic law, Darwish never questioned or challenged her rights–or dared to even think about the validity of Sharia laws. She didn’t try to examine what Sharia was, how it came about or why she followed it. “This is Allah’s law,” she was told, and she knew what awaited those who questioned Allah’s law.

    But she doesn’t believe the lies anymore, and now she wants to share her experiences with the Western world. Cruel and Usual Punishment is an insider’s look at how Muslims sacrifice their basic human rights to obey the archaic and brutal laws handed down to their prophet centuries ago. Heed this warning: Sharia Law is attempting to infiltrate Western culture and destroy democracy.
    – Source: Product description as cited by Amazon.com

  • Islam: A Sacred Law : What Every Muslim Should Know About the Shariah [Pro] by Feisal Abdul Rauf. Raud is the imam of a New York mosque just 12 blocks from the World Trade Center site. He also authored What’s Right with Islam: A New Vision for Muslims and the West. Islam: A Sacred Law is out of print, but second-hand copies can still be found. It is considered a clear, objective book and relatively easy to read book on the Sharia.
  • Islam and the Secular State: Negotiating the Future of Shari’a [Pro & Contra] by Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im.

    What should be the place of Shari”a–Islamic religious law–in predominantly Muslim societies of the world? In this ambitious and topical book, a Muslim scholar and human rights activist envisions a positive and sustainable role for Shari”a, based on a profound rethinking of the relationship between religion and the secular state in all societies.

    An-Na”im argues that the coercive enforcement of Shari”a by the state betrays the Qur’an’s insistence on voluntary acceptance of Islam. Just as the state should be secure from the misuse of religious authority, Shari”a should be freed from the control of the state. State policies or legislation must be based on civic reasons accessible to citizens of all religions. Showing that throughout the history of Islam, Islam and the state have normally been separate, An-Na”im maintains that ideas of human rights and citizenship are more consistent with Islamic principles than with claims of a supposedly Islamic state to enforce Shari”a. In fact, he suggests, the very idea of an “Islamic state” is based on European ideas of state and law, and not Shari”a or the Islamic tradition.

    Bold, pragmatic, and deeply rooted in Islamic history and theology, Islam and the Secular State offers a workable future for the place of Shari”a in Muslim societies.
    – Source: Product description as cited by Amazon.com

    An-Na’im is an independent-minded intellectual who has raised sensitive issues (such as his belief that interpretations of sharia have led to discrimination against non-Muslim minorities in the Arab world) that many Muslims and their advocates would prefer to keep out of public debate…

    The crux of An-Na’im’s Islam and the Secular State is that Muslims should be allowed to practice their faith as they see fit and should comply with sharia, but voluntarily. The call from Islamists to impose sharia with the full power of the state will only lead to totalitarianism, he argues. To bolster his claim, he notes that the Koran never mentions the idea of a state and does not prescribe a particular form of government.
    – Source: Geneive Abdo, Washington Post Book World, as cited by Amazon.com

Dictionaries, Encyclopedias


  • Religion News Blog’s archive of articles on sharia. Other news articles filed in the Islam category may also include information about sharia. Use the Google-powered search engine on the site to find additional material.


  • Shariah: The Threat to America Report by the Center of Security Policy, Sep. 13, 2010

    This study is the result of months of analysis, discussion and drafting by a group of top security policy experts concerned with the preeminent totalitarian threat of our time: the legal-political-military doctrine known within Islam as “shariah.” It is designed to provide a comprehensive and articulate “second opinion” on the official characterizations and assessments of this threat as put forth by the United States government. This study challenges the assumptions underpinning the official line in the conflict with today’s totalitarian threat, which is currently euphemistically described as “violent extremism,” and the policies of co-existence, accommodation and submission that are rooted in those assumptions.

See Also


  1. Sharia, BBC. Last accessed Saturday, July 10, 2010 – 11:06 AM CET
  2. Sharia, Wikipedia. Last accessed Saturday, July 10, 2010 – 11:00 AM CET
  3. Ulema (Arabic for “scholar”) refers to the educated class of Muslim legal scholars engaged in the several fields of Islamic studies. They are the arbiters of Sharia law.

Article details

Category: Islam, Sharia | Islamic Law
Related topic(s): , ,

First published (or major update) on Saturday, July 10, 2010.
Last updated on November 28, 2017.

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