Islamic Law | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Criminal Law

Islamic law, also known as Sharia law, is a legal system based on Islam’s religious and moral principles.

Islamic law comes from Islam, one of the world’s oldest monotheistic religions. Born in the 7th century in the Arabian Peninsula, Islam quickly spread across the globe. As Islam expanded, it needed a system of laws to guide its adherents’ actions. Islamic law evolved from this need.

The law, known as Sharia, is derived from the Quran, Islam’s holy book. It’s also influenced by the Hadith, stories, and sayings attributed to the Prophet Muhammad. Scholars of Islam, known as ulama, analyze these texts to develop and refine Islamic law. This process of interpretation is called ijtihad. It’s like piecing together a complex puzzle, where each piece is a verse or a saying.

Elements of Islamic Law

Islamic law is an intricate system. It covers a broad spectrum of life, including moral, social, political, and economic aspects. Its fundamental objective is to help Muslims lead a life in line with the values and principles of Islam.

In Islamic law, actions fall into five categories. They are obligatory, recommended, neutral, discouraged, and forbidden. It addresses issues ranging from daily routines, such as prayer and dietary regulations, to marriage and inheritance rules. It even provides guidelines for commercial transactions and criminal justice.

Application in the Justice System

Within the justice system, Islamic law offers specific regulations for crimes. It categorizes crimes into three categories: crimes against God, crimes against individuals, and crimes against public order. For example, theft is a crime against individuals. Adultery and apostasy, abandoning Islam, are considered crimes against God. Disorderly conduct is a crime against public order.

The punishment for crimes is diverse. It can range from fines to imprisonment. For more severe crimes, the punishments can be more severe, such as flogging, amputation, or even capital punishment. However, enforcing these punishments depends on the strictness of proof required and the country’s specific interpretation of Islamic law.

Role of Islamic Courts

In countries that follow this law, special courts administer it. These courts interpret and enforce the law according to their understanding of the Quran and Hadith. In many cases, the judges are religious scholars who have studied Islamic law for many years.

However, there’s no universal application. Different countries and regions interpret and apply it differently. This variation leads to a diverse range of legal systems across the Islamic world.

Human Rights

A topic of significant discussion is the compatibility of Islamic law with modern human rights norms. Critics point out practices like corporal punishment or unequal treatment of genders, which may appear harsh or discriminatory.

However, proponents believe that it offers a holistic approach to justice grounded in Islam’s moral and ethical values. They argue that when properly applied and interpreted, Islamic law promotes justice, mercy, and equality. It encourages a balanced approach to personal rights and social responsibilities.

In conclusion, Islamic law is a comprehensive system grounded in the principles of Islam. Its influence spans from individual lives to the functioning of societies. Understanding it provides a deeper insight into the lives of nearly a quarter of the world’s population who follow Islam.

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Last Modified: 05/27/2023

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