Some US states are trying to curb the possibility of Sharia law making its way onto the books
Sharia law refers to the set of principles that govern the moral and religious lives of Muslims
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump says he wants to test Muslims coming into America to make sure they don’t want Sharia law to supersede the US constitution. Meanwhile some states have passed, or are trying to pass, laws to curb the possibility of Sharia law making its way onto the books in the US.
With the rise in recent years of both radical Islamic terrorism and anti-Muslim bigotry, Sharia – or Islamic religious law – has become a hot topic of debate.
Some of its harsher versions can demand women clad in all black, adulterers being stoned and thieves getting their hands cut off. But Sharia governs many other areas of Muslim life, such as prayer. And many Muslims, turning to Sharia for moral guidance, have more moderate and varied interpretations.
Here’s what you need to know about Sharia:
What does its name mean?
The word Sharia means “the path,” or “a road that leads one to water.” It refers to a set of principles that govern the moral and religious lives of Muslims.
“Sharia represents how practicing Muslims can best lead their daily lives in accordance with God’s divine guidance,” according to Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
What’s in Sharia?
Sharia is based on Islam’s holy book, the Quran, and the life of prophet Mohammed. The majority of it concerns the faith of the individual and how to practice Islam, along with guidance on when to pray and how to fast during Ramadan.
Shariah law, according to Muslims, includes “the principle of treating other people justly, of making sure that the financial system treats people fairly … and most importantly the basic principles of Islamic fate,” says Harvard Law professor Noah Feldman.
It encompasses things like marriage, divorce, inheritance and punishments for criminal offenses.
Is it one law, or many?
While the Quran and the life of the prophet make up Sharia, its interpretation is called ‘fikh’ and is done through Muslim scholarship. Most practicing Muslims take their cues about their faith from Sharia, but it is not practiced uniformly.
Its implementation varies greatly across the Muslim world. A Pew religious landscape survey found that 57% of American Muslims say there is more than one way to interpret Islam’s teachings.
Terror groups such as ISIS are trying to implement a brutal version of Sharia law, but millions of Muslims are guided by a much more moderate interpretation.
Where is it practiced?
Sharia has been applied in varying degrees and with great diversity in practice – both by individual Muslims and predominantly Muslim countries. While both Saudi Arabia and Iran claim to be ruled by Sharia, they differ greatly in how they implement its laws.
When asked about how they want their nations’ laws crafted, many Muslims are comfortable with Sharia governing family law but don’t want to see severe corporate punishment implemented.
What do American Muslims want?
Most Muslims enjoy the religious freedom they need to practice their faith, which is guaranteed by the US constitution.
“It doesn’t consume my life that I want to make it the governing law of the country I live in. I am very content to live in the US under the constitution,” says retired Lt. Col. Shareda Hosein in an interview with CNN. “And for me the constitution affords me my freedom of religion, which is the most important thing for me and other Muslims.”