Sharia and Sharia Law have received much positive and negative exposure in the media; and remains for many a source of interest and confusion. To understand what these terms mean it is necessary to first understand their true definition. Likewise, it is imperative for us to acknowledge that Sharia and Sharia Law are different in use, expression and meaning.
Sharia is an Arabic word that is defined as “the path that leads to water”. Within the religious context, it is a way for people to fulfill their spiritual thirst and reach an ideal way of life. This is why the Quran refers to what Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad conveyed to their people as Sharia. Sharia is the overall principles and objectives that Muslims are expected to live by. One can be correct in saying that Sharia is the entire religion.
Sharia protects rights in the following categories: Religion, Life, Intellect, the Dignity of One’s Offspring and Wealth.
Throughout history, Jurists have been influenced by their time, location and the specific circumstances of the individual or situation. An analogy can be made with secular legal scholars analyzing the same constitution with a variety of outcomes. The divergence in outcomes have a relationship with the Jurists’ way of thinking (literal or metaphoric), the circumstances that surround their interpretation, and the occasion or point of timing.
Muslims believe in the same Sharia, but not necessarily in the same Sharia Law. For instance, Muslims believe in modesty as a religious concept; however, Jurists define how this concept fits into the rubric of society in that specific time and location. Further, Jurists are free to agree or disagree with the interpretations of other Jurists. As such, Muslims may generally agree on a particular religious concept; however, they may vary in opinion as to the appropriate action or inaction that should be taken in association with that concept. Nations may also adopt a specific interpretation of Sharia which would then become the law of the land and be Sharia Law simultaneously. It is significant to note that according to most if not all Jurists, and the majority of Muslims, Sharia Law requires that Muslims adhere to and obey the laws of the country in which they reside with very limited exceptions.
When considering Sharia Law, it is important to recognize the pluralism within the Muslim community, and disagreements among scholars similar to those within other religions that adhere to a variety of doctrines. Some feel that they can select any extreme opinion from any Jurist in any location or time and assume that the interpretation is the understanding and law for all Muslims throughout the world when it is clearly not. While Sharia is fixed, Sharia Law is not uniform, nor set in stone. There is no codified book of Sharia Law for all Muslims. Sharia Law is a fluid, living, breathing body of interpretations that can differ significantly from place to place, and in time.