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.
Meaning and origins of the word
People of different religions who speak Arabic use the word sharīʿah to describe a religious tradition that comes from teachings of prophets. Christians and Jews in the Middle East have used it to describe their own religion. For many Muslims the word "sharia" means simply "justice". They will say that any law agrees with sharia as long as it helps to build a more fair and prosperous society.
Most Muslims think that sharia should be interpreted by experts in Islamic law. In Arabic, the word sharīʿah refers to God's revelation, which does not change. In contrast, the rules of behavior created by scholars as they try to understand God's revelation are called fiqh. These rules can change and Islamic scholars have often disagreed about them.
Scholars disagree about the origins of the word "sharia". Some say that "sharia" comes from the old Arabic word meaning "pathway to be followed". This would make it similar to halakha (the way to go), the Hebrew word for Jewish law. Other scholars think that the word "sharia" originally meant "path to the water hole". They say that knowing the way to a water hole could save a man's life in the dry deserts where many Arabs lived in ancient times, and that is why this word came to refer to God's guidance to man.
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