By this point, most Americans have heard some reference to Sharia law. There is even a growing movement in the U.S. dedicated to fighting the encroachment of Sharia – or Islamic – law in this country.
Sharia literally means the Straight Path. At some level, Sharia governs every aspect of Muslim life. I say at some level because just as some Catholics might ignore strictures on birth control or many Jews eat pork, Muslims also sometimes veer off “the straight path.”
In countries governed by strict adherence to Islam, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, Sharia is the law of the land. But in many other Muslim countries, such as Egypt, there are separate civil and Sharia law courts, with the latter governing issues such as marriage and family law, while civil courts decide the rest.
There are five main sources for Sharia law:
- The Qur’an
- The sunna: Oral history of the Prophet
- The hadith: The Prophet Mohammed’s sayings and teachings;
- Legal opinions that arise from consensus
- Legal analogies based on the Qur’an and hadith
Just as the New Testament of the Bible consists of accounts of the life of Jesus Christ, the Hadith is a compilation of the sayings and teachings of the Muhammad, while the sunna is an oral history by those around him. These consist of thousands of accounts documented and reconstructed by Islamic scholars through the centuries. These accounts are only considered authentic if the scholars have traced an uninterrupted chain of connection to the family or entourage of Muhammad.
The legal opinions are the work of Islamic scholars through the centuries, while the analogies represent the effort by Islamic scholars to apply the lessons of Muhammad’s age to modern events and issues.
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