Islamic law (Shariah Law)
The word “shariah” has come to be understood as Islamic Law although its literal meaning is “path” or “way”. It is a word which competes with “jihad” for the position of most misunderstood Islamic term. Too often, and not only by non-Muslims, it is regarded as referring to a rigid system of criminal law which metes out cruel physical punishments and has little else to say of relevance to modern society. There is also the idea that it is a body of laws contained in one book, presumably the Quran, and applicable to all Muslims in all parts of the world, and preferably to be imposed on non-Muslims as well. We hope to be able to address some of these myths whilst at the same time point out areas where Muslims themselves perhaps need to rethink their approach to shariah.
Muslims seek guidance on how to live their lives primarily from the Quran, their holy book, which they believe was revealed by God to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) through the agency of the angel Gabriel. Muslims further believe that the Quran in its present form is in the unaltered, authentic state in which it was revealed. A secondary source for guidance is the Hadith, namely collections of sayings and practices attributed to the Prophet. There is, however, much debate about the authenticity and authority of the Hadith which does not need to be explored for present purposes. The issue to be considered here is what role the shariah plays in either the Quran or Hadith. The first thing to note is that the word “shariah” only occurs once in the entire Quran (chapter 45 verse 18) and there it is simply referring to the ethical code of Islam rather than specific laws. Secondly, even the Hadith, which were collated over a century after the Prophet’s death, cannot be described as the shariah or as a system of laws.
By the time of the death of the Prophet there was no system of shariah as we regard it today. The legal system itself evolved...