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'Abd Allah ibn Shaykh Murshid al-Katib - Sa'di and a Dervish Go to Settle their Quarrel Before a Judge - Walters W618106B - Cropped
The poet Saadi and a dervish go to settle their quarrel before a judge (16th century Persian miniature)
Melaka State Syariah Court
Shariah Court in Malacca, Malaysia.

Sharia, Sharia law or Islamic law is a set of religious principles which form part of the Islamic culture. The Arabic word sharīʿah (Arabic: شريعة ) refers to the revealed law of God and originally meant "way" or "path".

Classical sharia deals with many aspects of public and private life, including religious rituals, family life, business, crimes, and warfare. In former times, sharia was interpreted by independent jurists, who based their legal opinions on Qur'an, Hadith and centuries of debate, interpretation and precedent. Some parts of sharia can be described as "law" in the usual sense of that word, while other parts are better understood as rules for living life in accordance with God's will.

Modern countries in the Muslim world all have their own laws. In most of them only a small part of the legal system is based on classical sharia. Muslims disagree on how sharia should be applied in the modern world.

Classical law

Classical legal theory

Islamic scholars who lived during the first centuries of Islam developed different methods for interpreting sharia. Most of them came to agree that sharia rules should be derived from the following main sources:

  1. The Qur'an, which Muslims believe was revealed by God to Muhammad through the angel Gabriel (Jibril).
  2. The actions and words of Muhammad, which are called the sunnah and were preserved in collections called hadith
  3. Consensus, when legal experts all agree on a point of law
  4. qiyās or legal reasoning by analogy

The process of deriving sharia rules from the Qur'an and hadith is called ijtihad. Sharia rules classify actions into one of the following categories:

  • Fard (action that one must perform)
  • Mustahabb (recommended action)
  • Mubah (action that is allowed)
  • Makruh (action that is despised)
  • Haram (forbidden action)

Sharia in Islam is viewed as the revealed law of God, which cannot be altered. On the other hand, its interpretation, called fiqh, is the work of legal scholars, who have frequently differed in their legal opinions. Some parts of sharia are similar to what people in the West call "law", while other parts are better understood as rules for living life in accordance with God's will.

There are several schools of legal thought in Islam, of which the most important are the Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi'i and Hanbali schools of Sunni Islam and the Ja'fari school of Shia Islam.

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