Islamic law represents one of the world’s great legal systems. Like Judaic law, which influenced western legal systems, Islamic law originated as an important part of the religion.
Sharia, an Arabic word meaning “the right path,” refers to traditional Islamic law. The Sharia comes from the Koran, the sacred book of Islam, which Muslims consider the actual word of God. The Sharia also stems from the Prophet Muhammad’s teachings and interpretations of those teachings by certain Muslim legal scholars. Muslims believe that Allah (God) revealed his true will to Muhammad, who then passed on Allah’s commands to humans in the Koran.
Since the Sharia originated with Allah, Muslims consider it sacred. Between the seventh century when Muhammad died and the 10th century, many Islamic legal scholars attempted to interpret the Sharia and to adapt it to the expanding Muslim Empire. The classic Sharia of the 10th century represented an important part of Islam’s golden age. From that time, the Sharia has continued to be reinterpreted and adapted to changing circumstances and new issues. In the modern era, the influences of Western colonialism generated efforts to codify it.
Development of the Sharia
Before Islam, the nomadic tribes inhabiting the Arabian peninsula worshiped idols. These tribes frequently fought with one another. Each tribe had its own customs governing marriage, hospitality, and revenge. Crimes against persons were answered with personal retribution or were sometimes resolved by an arbitrator. Muhammad introduced a new religion into this chaotic Arab world. Islam affirmed only one true God. It demanded that believers obey God’s will and laws.
The Koran sets down basic standards of human conduct, but does not provide a detailed law code. Only a few verses deal with legal matters. During his lifetime, Muhammad helped clarify the law by interpreting provisions in the Koran and acting as a judge in legal cases. Thus, Islamic law, the Sharia, became an integral part of the Muslim religion.
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Further reading: Sharia: Islamic Law