Sharia law in a nutshell

There is no compulsion in religion. (Al Quran 2:25&

There is no compulsion in religion. (Al Quran 2:257)

By Laiq Ahmed Atif, President, Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat Malta. amjmalta@gmail.com

The Islamic law, also known as sharia law, is one of the most misunderstood subjects in the contemporary world, both by Muslims and non-Muslims.

From time to time, we hear the echoes and slogans of implementation and imposition of sharia law from many corridors around the world.

A large number of Muslims believe that sharia law should be applied and implemented at once in each and every country of the world, both Muslim and non-Muslim alike.

And non-Muslims think that if sharia is applied no one will remain safe and secure, that followers of the other religions will be forcefully bent to accept Islam, and freedom of speech and faith will vanish from this planet once and forever.

In fact, it is not the love of sharia or Islam that is urging some sections of Muslims to demand sharia law, but it has been exploited by some Muslim governments, politicians, radicals, religious clerics and zealots as an effective instrument to gain power and strength, demonstrate supremacy and rule society in the name of God as they might like to. In brief, it is not spurred by the love of Islam but the hunger for power.

What is sharia? Why is its implementation so important for Muslims around the globe? Can Islamic sharia law be applied everywhere forcibly? Is it practicable in today’s world? Why is the West so afraid of Islamic sharia law? These are some of the basic important questions that come into mind and are frequently asked whenever Islamic sharia is discussed.

Sharia literally means “a way to the watering place or a path to life-giving water”. In religious terminology it refers to the laws and commandments given by God, because spiritual life sustains itself on divine teachings – sharia.

Sharia is not unique to Islam. It is not a new phenomenon or reality as every faith has its own form of sharia: the divine teachings and laws.

To sum up, religious teachings, commandments, laws and divine guidance is sharia.

For every religion that claims to be based on divine teachings and commandments, all those laws or principles constitute a sharia. Islamic sharia, in a nutshell, is the whole spiritual system of Islam.

A large number of people do not fully understand the Islamic sharia and only consider it to be the system of punishment. There are more than 6,000 verses in the Holy Quran and of those nearly 200 relate to talking about the sharia.

Islam believes in freedom of faith and rejects the idea of imposition of Islamic teachings on anyone

About 80 of the verses pertain specifically to the legalities that Muslims have to follow – the penal code which the Holy Quran provides is only a part of it.

Islamic Sharia can be divided into five main branches:  ibadah (ritual worship), muamalat (transactions and contracts), adab (behaviour, morals and manners), itiqadat (beliefs), and uqubat (punishments).

Islam prescribes certain laws or principles that govern all five main branches.

The demand for implementation of Islamic sharia law in the Western societies by some individuals or groups is also illogical and grossly misunderstood.

Islam believes in respecting the laws of the land. As far as religious matters are concerned, Muslims living in Western countries are already enjoying freedom of faith.

Muslims are not hindered from calling themselves Muslims, practising their faith and performing their rituals according to their religion. They are free to pray, to fast, to pay Zakaat (charity) and to go for the pilgrimage in Mecca, and so on.

Islamic rules and regulations and the code of life are only for Muslims. So far as the imposition of sharia law is concerned, this concept is against the very principle of the sharia that they want to impose.

Islam believes in freedom of faith and rejects the idea of imposition of Islamic teachings on anyone. The Holy Quran makes it abundantly clear that “there should be no compulsion in the matters of faith” (2:257).

The Quran has an injunction that Muslims are not allowed to impose their wills, their systems, their faith or beliefs on anyone: “It is the truth from your Lord; wherefore let him who will, believe, and let him who will, disbelieve” (18:30).

In a nutshell, Islamic sharia is a system of spiritual and moral reformation – through fulfilling the rights of God and the rights of mankind.

It is a system that seeks to create a harmonious and peaceful society in which justice, equality, affection, tolerance and freedom apply to all the people.

At its core, sharia is intended to develop and sustain a moral, prosperous, caring and just society. 

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16 replies

  1. Wonderful explanation of the Sharia of Islam. I have following questions for the author of this article. A straight answer to these questions might help take care of the anxiety about Sharia not only for the non Muslims but for the Muslims too.
    1) The punishment for theft is cutting of a hand. The theft could be only of small money, yet it has to be applied. Would this punishment be just for the Muslims or the non Muslim subjects of the country will also be prescribed this punishment?
    2) If after committing theft, a person leaves Islam, would he still be given this punishment?
    3) After cutting their hand they will not be able to make a living anymore. Would the government then take care of these disabled people with the Tax payer money for the rest of their lives?
    4) Who would define what is theft? The government or a religious scholar? If help from a religious scholar is needed to understand Sharia, then the scholar of which sect of Islam will be acceptable?
    It is easy to say that Sharia is nothing but good. But it is hard to explain what actually is Sharia.
    I agree with the author that Sharia and the religion of Islam have been misunderstood both by the Non Muslims and the Muslims. I would also point out that the religion of Islam has existed for more than 1400 years. How much longer it will take to understand the religion. Is it so complicated?

  2. @Rafiq. Thanks for the encouragement. I have been reading. It would have been more helpful if you had answered the questions. May be you are also in the process of understanding and do not have the answers. Take another millennium. Don’t worry.

  3. In reply to Lutf:
    1) The punishment for theft is cutting of a hand. The theft could be only of small money, yet it has to be applied. Would this punishment be just for the Muslims or the non Muslim subjects of the country will also be prescribed this punishment?
    Answer: During the time of second caliph, Hazrat Umar Rz.a. it was forbidden to cut the hand of any one who stole bread. Similarly, theft of a very small amount may not be punished by cutting the hand. Some other punishment of a sign may be applied which will stop the thief from stealing again.
    2) If after committing theft, a person leaves Islam, would he still be given this punishment?
    Answer: If the law is for Muslims and non-Muslims alike then there is no running away from the punishment for any one where the law is applicable.
    3) After cutting their hand they will not be able to make a living anymore. Would the government then take care of these disabled people with the Tax payer money for the rest of their lives? Answer: It should be known to every one that stealing will have severe punishment. Every one should keep away from stealing. Somebody will look after the thief whose one hand is cut-off.
    Also, there will not only be punishments in the country under Sharia law. There will be peace and security and much welfare by means of zakat etc.
    4) Who would define what is theft? The government or a religious scholar? If help from a religious scholar is needed to understand Sharia, then the scholar of which sect of Islam will be acceptable?
    Answer: It is no use making any doubt about theft. We should all know what is theft. All sects of Islam know about theft with minor differences.
    ————————————
    It is easy to say that Sharia is nothing but good. But it is hard to explain what actually is Sharia.
    Answer: Much of the laws of Sharia are described in the Quran and Sunnah. Cutting the hand of male or female thief is one law recommended by Sharia. There are some laws about fornication and adultery (100 lashes), gambling or drinking. They can be applied if all people (majority) want to live under Sharia laws. Or inhabitants can decide to make their own laws and reject the Sharia laws.
    —————–
    I agree with the author that Sharia and the religion of Islam have been misunderstood both by the Non Muslims and the Muslims. I would also point out that the religion of Islam has existed for more than 1400 years.
    Answer: Religion has existed for long time and people do forget and go astray. Yet the truth remains for those who want to follow it. At present, followers of all faiths have gone astray including Islam. There is no doubt about that. But all faiths have indications to the truth too in their scripture.
    If after getting the good law from God, people did not go astray then just one prophet was enough for the whole world for all times. But we all know what happened to the nations and what they did for themselves. There is no need to discuss that subject. Struggle between good and bad will continue. Be prepared to guard against evil.

  4. Shriya lay is for muslims and only applicable on matters of faith on onself if in non muslim countries. But in muslim countries first the government has to preach islam and then implement it. Here today no islamic country is preaching islam they are preaching the sharia of USA. And praying the new GOD that is money. Fullstop.

  5. 1) The punishment for theft is cutting of a hand. The theft could be only of small money, yet it has to be applied. Would this punishment be just for the Muslims or the non Muslim subjects of the country will also be prescribed this punishment?
    answer::::punishment of cutting hands is not applicable to small money. there must be a proper nisab for it that is 4.457 gm of gold .Theft less than this amount will not result in cutting hands… this punishment is only for muslims .. hadd is not iflicted upon non muslims . non muslims would be treated under their personal law. stealing food does not amount to cutting hands
    2) If after committing theft, a person leaves Islam, would he still be given this punishment?
    Ans::::::if a person leaves Islam then his punishment for appostasy is death

  6. @Ghulam Sarwar:
    Thanks for the attempt to answer the questions. Once again good wishes do not make a law.
    1) In response to my question, whether the law of hand cutting will be applied to Muslims and non Muslims, your answer is that it will be applied to all. This is not the view of majority Muslims as well as Ahmadis. Laws based upon religion can only be applied to those who submit to that religion. This is a basic and fundamental teaching. Why would Christian subjects of the state would accept Muslim religious laws?
    2) In one of your answers you also indicated that punishment other than hand cutting can be given to stop the thief. I wish this was the understanding of majority of Muslims, including Ahmadis. But once a threshold for theft is met, the punishment of hand cutting becomes applicable according to all schools of fiqh.
    3) You also said that “Somebody will look after the thief whose one hand is cut-off.” Who will be this “somebody” and where will the resources come from?
    4) You also said that everyone knows what theft is “with minor differences between the sects”. These differences have to be resolved before a law can be implemented. So you did not mention how this will be resolved.
    I am glad that you attempted to answer the questions. But your answers show that it is just what you think. There is no common understanding of Sharia upon which all Muslims can agree.
    And this underscores my point that in last 1400 years there is no common understanding of Sharia among Muslims. I just presented one of the most easy cases of theft where the crime is not in doubt. Yet it will be hard to come to a consensus.
    According to Islamic Sharia the punishment for apostasy is death. I know you will disagree with that. But all seven Imam of fiqh have agreement on this, including Imam Abu Hanifa. Even Ahmadiyya explanation of “la ikraha fid deen” permits coercion within the religion. The implications of that are amazing.
    5) You also said that with Sharia there will be peace and prosperity. Eleven Muslim countries including Pakistan have Sharia law as the supreme law of the land. None of them is a beacon of hope.
    I am a Muslim and as such I believe that everything Islam teaches is for the good of everyone. But I also need to be able to demonstrate this with arguments to others. For this we need knowledge. Just good wishes and vague statements do not do it.

  7. @lutf

    The Quran states that we should be just in our affairs.
    Hence if a person commits a theft and has stolen over the nisaab level then that person will have his/her hand cut off (other conditions must also be met). Therefore Punishment regarding the same crime has to be the same.

    Conditions for the penalty of theft:

    The following are the conditions which must be met in order to establish the penalty of theft:

    1) The one who steals is sane

    2) He/she has reached puberty

    3) He steals equivalent to the amount (nisab) or more. The Nisab is one Dinar or ten Dirhams (about 4.5 grams of gold).

    The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said:

    “There is no cutting (of hands) for stealing that is less than ten Dirhams.” (Musnad Ahmad)

    4) He steals the article from a safeguarded place.

    5) The article is in the ownership of another person.

    Allah Most High says:

    “As to the thief, male of female, cut off his or her hands. A punishment by way of example from Allah, for their crime.” (Surah al-Ma’idah, 38)

    If any of the above conditions are not met, then the amputation of the hand cannot happen but rather other forms of punishment may occur such as prison or community service.

    regarding apostasy the 4 madhabs stated death penalty when the apostate joined forces that attack the muslims.

  8. Dear Lutf, thanks for your remarks. I will need more explanation of your last lines of your Number 4. i.e. about “No compulsion in religion..”
    I still ay that every one understands what is theft. I am o any specialist of Islamic law. I just read Quran try to understand it.
    A count needs a law. It cold be a man made law or divine law as invented or approved by majority.
    I am not responsible if the sects are in disagreement about the Sharia law. I am not going to enforce the law very soon. We are only discussing it. Even in Madinah, law was implemented gradually.
    What different schools of thought believe, I cannot explain. I also do not believe the present day Mullas who are reporting the differences. I do not trust their reports. How can I believe any great Imam of the past about punishment of death for apostasy or adultery!
    I mentioned the points of a good welfare state along with other strict laws. There is no need to apply the punishments without arranging Zakaat etc.
    I believe that no one is responsible to enforce Sharia law. If at all, it should be applied by every on himself.
    There are verses in the Quran which state that anyone who will not apply (enforce) Sharia will be a Kafir (and cruel etc.) But these verses have been misunderstood. That is why all maulvis terrorists are busy trying to establish the Sharia law in the world.
    I believe that if I am the head of a state and countrymen and give me the mandate to enforce any law that I may like, then I must enforce (implement) the Law of Sharia. If I will not do that then I will be a Kafir (etc.) [ For I, please read any one]
    The present best system of government is secular system. Islam is also secular in nature. Nobody can be made a slave or Dimmi unless there be a war or war zone.
    Please remember that Haraam/ Halaal are part of Sharia law. It is Allah who decides what is Haraam. And that thing is well known. People try to create doubt about the identity of that thing what that is. There is no chance of any doubt.
    About cutting off hands of a thief, we may have to decide whether we want thieves in the country or we need hands.
    Please explain further abut your last lines under your number four. Thanks.

  9. @parez: regarding apostasy the 4 madhabs stated death penalty when the apostate joined forces that attack the muslims.
    ————————
    Thank you. That means there is no punishment for apostasy if apostate does not join enemy forces.

  10. @Ghulam Sarwar.
    Sharia has two parts. The great majority of sharia pertains to ones own self such as ibadaat. Halal and haram fall in this category. No laws are needed to implement these matters. No one has a problem with it. All religions have a sharia in this sense.
    The controversy arises when Muslims wish to make laws to address those parts of the sharia which pertain to public life, such as rights of women, punishment for apostasy and some other crimes such as adultery and theft. These issues are not settled and with the multi ethnic and multi religious societies of the modern day it just becomes impossible to implement these laws. Also on the one hand you would keep saying that Islam is secular in governance and there is separation of mosque and state, but on the other hand keep insisting upon laws based in your religious understanding. The confusion is obvious.
    It is clear that you are opining on a matter of which you have no knowledge. Please read your comment and make some sense of it.
    I think people should resist the urge to comment when they have no knowledge of the subject.
    As for the explanation of “la ikraha fid deen”, don’t ask me. Give me your understanding and let us see if it can stand scrutiny. Enlighten us!!

  11. @ Ghulam Sarwar

    Apostasy in of itself is not a crime and thus there is no hudood punishment in this world.

    The Holy Prophet forbade the killing for apostacy, because the principle of punitive regulations is that in such cases the penalty should be left for the hereafter, as a penalty imposed in this life would contravene the purpose of apostacy being a trial the calling to account for which pertains to God alone. This can be departed from only when the object in view is to restrain the person concerned from continuing hostilities. [al-Hidayah The Guidance by al-Marghinani]

    The execution of an apostate is permissible only when it is designed to restrain the apostate from continuing his aggression; it is not permissible merely on account of his reversion to disbelief, for the punishment of disbelief can be imposed only by God Almighty. [Fath al Qadeer by Imam Al hafiz Al Kamal al hanafi]

    There is no execution except in the case of fighting, for it is not permissible to execute anyone merely on the ground of disbelief. [Inayah by Akmal al-Din]

    The Qur’an directly contradicts the idea that apostates should be sentenced to death.

    “…There is no compulsion in religion. The right direction is here forth distinct from error…” [2:256]

    “Say (Muhammad it is) truth from the Lord of all. Whosoever will, let him believe, and whosoever will, let him disbelieve.” [18:29]

    “And so, O Prophet, exhort them, thy task is ONLY to exhort; thou canst NOT compel them to believe.” [88:21-22]

    “Your duty is to make the message reach them; it is OUR PART to call them to account.” [13:40]

    “Call you (all mankind) unto the Sustainer’s path with wisdom and goodly exhortation, and argue with them in MOST KINDLY MANNER…” [Quran 16:125]

    “Those who believe, then reject Faith, then believe (again) and again reject Faith, go on increasing in Unbelief, Allah will not forgive them nor guide them on the Way.” [Quran 4:137]

    “How shall Allah guide those who reject Faith after they accepted it and bore witness that the apostle was true and that clear signs had come unto them? But Allah guides not the unjust. Of such the recompense is that on them (rests) the curse of God, of His Angels, and of all mankind; In that will they dwell; nor will their penalty be lightened, nor respite be their lot; except for those that repent after that, make amends; For verily Allah is oft-forgiving, most merciful.” [Quran 3:86-89]

    The hadith in bukhari and abu dawud attributed to the Holy ProphetSallahu alahi wasallam : Execute him who changes his faith and leaves the congregation; has been interpreted as meaning the execution of a combatant aostate. (Fateh al Qadeer]

  12. @ lutf

    Yes i agree that Most of the Islamic Shariah is personal such as Aqeeda, Ibada, aqhlaq and most of the rulings such as halal and haram.

    However its clear from the Quran that the Shariah also has regulations regarding the social, econmic and criminal laws.

    If a Muslim country elects a government that wants to implement the Shariah then that is absolutly fine.

    The main question is whether the implementation of Shariah on a state level is fard or mustahab in Muslim countries?

    I personally believe it is mustahab based upon the seerah.

    Muslims living in non-muslim countries don’t have to implement shariah on state level since the sahabas who emigrated to abysinia did not implement it on a state level. Muslims can live anywhere in the world as long as the objectives of Islaimc sharia are preserved; protection of life, religion, intellect, property, family, honour, educationa and security.

    And Allah Subhana wa ta’ala knows best.

  13. It seems that all the three of us are talking the same things. What parvez has written, my belief is also the same. I did not say that Sharia law should be implemented in western countries. I also wrote that that there is no worldly punishment just for apostasy. Parvez has said the same thing. I said that one should implement Sharia on himself only.
    But as Parvez has indicated, there are guideline for civil code of life (legislation) in the Quran which could be applied for those who wished for it.
    I am happy that we are on the same platform. Parvez has mentioned that any one who changes his religion cannot be punished here in this world.
    Al Hamdu Lillah.
    In my last post there were many typing mistakes.
    I asked Lutf for something that he wrote. How can I give any remarks about his assertion?

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