ISLAM—World's Greatest Religion!

Islamic Sharia Law : A Practical Guide

Posted on: June 27, 2012

In The name of Allah,The Most Merciful,The Most gracious

Sharia: A Practical Guide

Commonly asked questions regarding Sharia and Islam

How did Sharia start?

What, nowadays, is the authoritative source of Sharia?

What are the basic principles of Sharia?

Zinah (sexual offences)
Is Sharia the same in all countries?
Individual rights vs needs of society?
Does Sharia make life easier or harder for the ordinary Muslim?
Why has Sharia become a synonym for cruelty and lack of compassion?
Sharia and dress
Forced and arranged marriages
Men having many wives?
Is it easier for men to divorce?
Sharia and food
The Prophet’s wife Aishah

In countries where Sharia law is enforced, how are specific punishments decided on and who makes these decisions?

Would many Muslims in Britain be in favour of Sharia law being implemented here?

What areas of law do Muslims in Britain think are mishandled by British state law?

How did Sharia start?

The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) laid down the laws – some of them were direct commands stated in the revelation of the Qur’an; other laws grew up based on the Prophet’s own example and the various rulings he gave to cases that occurred during his lifetime. These secondary laws are based on what’s called the Sunnah – the Prophet’s words, example, and way of life.

So, all the laws of Sharia are based primarily on Qur’an and then on Sunnah, and after that, if there was no information in those two sources, judges were free to use their intelligence to make analogies. As in most legal systems, cases could then be referred to by later judges.

What, nowadays, is the authoritative source of Sharia?

Just the same as outlined above. What is important, however, is that judges are highly educated in Islamic law and jurisprudence, and this is an area where some damage was done during the colonial periods when Islamic schools of law were closed down with a great loss of knowledge and expertise which is only now being repaired slowly. The problem is that it is all too easy for an individual judge to make some pronouncement or invoke some penalty without full knowledge of the background of Sharia and the spirit behind the various laws and penalties.

What are the basic principles of Sharia?

These are to see the will of God done on earth as it is in Heaven (as in the Christian Lord’s Prayer). How can we possibly know this will? By study of the revealed scriptures and by choosing talented, intelligent and far-sighted merciful people of excellent character as our judges. The whole principle of God’s will is to bring about compassion, kindness, generosity, justice, fair play, tolerance, and care in general, as opposed to tyranny, cruelty, selfishness, exploitation etc. All the rules of Sharia are towards those ends.

The usual criticisms of Sharia – that it is so cruel as regards execution, flogging and cutting off hands, totally ignore all the extenuating circumstances that would lead to these penalties not being applied – they are known as hadd penalties (pl. hudud), the hadd being the extreme limit of the penalty. Thus, if a person was sentenced to having a hand cut off, he or she should not be sent to prison and/or be fined as well. People who regard these practices as cruel will never be persuaded otherwise, so Muslims usually leave that aside.

Their point is that the cutting of the hand for theft is a very powerful deterrent – Muslims care less for the callous and continual thief than they do for the poor souls who are mugged and robbed and hurt by the thieves. The Middle East is certainly not full of one-handed people – as any traveler would tell you. What we have lost here is the horror of dishonor that true Muslims still have.

They would do anything rather than offend Allah, and they of course believe that Allah sees every single thing that is done – there are no secrets. Even if you get away with something on earth, it has been seen and recorded and you will have to face judgment for it eventually, and the people hurt by your action will be recompensed. Of course, if you do not believe in God, or a judgment, or a life to come, the whole system is quite meaningless to you. In Sharia law, if a thief could prove that he/she only stole because of need, then the Muslim society would be held at fault and made to supply that need, and there would be no hand-cutting. Most thieves would think twice before risking a hand on mugging an old lady for her handbag!

In the UK, we live in a society where anything not fixed down that you take your eyes off for a second would risk being stolen – in Muslim society this is not the case. Nobody wants to have a thief in their family, village, street or society. They despise thieves, and of course, they also despise rapists, murderers, and adulterers.


In the west, adultery has become so commonplace because of sexual freedoms – all the emphasis these days seems to be on finding sexual satisfaction; in Muslim societies, there is far less emphasis on sex – it is usually regarded as a weakness that can lead to all sorts of trouble. Family is far more important; the notion of a million unborn children per year being aborted, and single mothers, is abhorrent in Islam.


Sharia law for murder allows the death penalty, but is kinder than western law in one respect – after judicial judgement has been made, appeals are then allowed to the family of the murdered victims, and they are begged to be merciful. In Islam, it is always regarded as the height of mercy to forgive a murderer, even though one may have the right to take his/her life in reprisal.

The form of execution is not specified in Islam – i.e. it is not usually a stoning. Beheading used to be regarded as the quickest and most merciful way (as in Roman law, and the French guillotine); these days other methods may find approval. There are apparently far less executions in most Muslim countries than in the USA, for example.

The penalty for adultery is open to debate. Most scholars will insist that the penalty as laid down in the Qur’an was 100 lashes, and there were various rules for regulating how lashes were to be given too. Other scholars maintain that the old penalty for adultery as laid down by the previous prophets was stoning (as in the Old Testament). By New Testament times, the prophet Jesus had the famous case where a guilty woman was forgiven and sent away, told only to sin no more.

In some Muslim societies, judges and populaces might stone out of mistaken belief that this was what Islam required. In fact, Islam made it virtually impossible – to be sentenced to death for adultery, the couple had to be actually witnessed performing the physical act by four people who were in a position to identify both parties without doubt; this virtually ruled out the penalty, since adultery is taken for granted as a secret act and something not done in public.

Zinah (sexual offences)

There is some confusion over the meaning of the word zinah – this means a sexual offence, ANY sexual offence, and includes not only adultery but also sex before marriage and rape. In rape cases, the witnesses are no longer relied on since forensic evidence and scientific analysis can usually nail the offender. There is no suggestion whatsoever, anywhere, in Islam for a death sentence being required for sex before marriage.

Sometimes family members can become very shocked and upset about the behaviour of those in their families that they feel have brought shame upon them and may take matters in their own hands. We hear of girls being shot by fathers and brothers because of the shame. Sometimes these girls had not even had sex at all, but had just been chatting to males, or behaving in what is regarded as a shameful manner.

Many Muslim societies take a fairly lenient view of fathers thus killing their daughters, in a similar way to the old UK society taking a more lenient view of ‘crimes of passion’. However, it is still murder, and not something allowed in Islam, and Sharia judges would be obliged to bring the murderers to judgment. Whether such a father would get two year’s probation or be sentenced to death for murder would depend on the court judge, and would be subject to all the usual appeal procedures.

Is Sharia the same in all countries?

I’m afraid I do not know the answer to this, but certainly the principles are exactly the same in whatever country they are applied.

Individual rights vs needs of society?

Basically in Islam the needs of society always come first, with the proviso that injustices should always be able to be taken to judges who are not corrupt. The old Arab system allowed any person, no matter how humble, to take his/her case to the highest in the land personally. Islam brings a very strong sense of justice, and care of the oppressed and exploited.

Does Sharia make life easier or harder for the ordinary Muslim?

Much easier for those who strive to live the correct life pleasing to God and in kindness and peace with the neighbor; much harder for the one who is selfish, callous, cruel, exploitative, dishonest etc. There is virtually no sympathy for such people – unless they really are mentally ill, in which case they are not regarded as culpable in Sharia. All those before the age of puberty, or not of sound mind, are not regarded as culpable.

Why has Sharia become a synonym for cruelty and lack of compassion?

I think through two things – ignorance of the reality of Sharia law, and much publicized cases where Muslims in positions of authority have been very poor Muslims, if not non-Muslims in Muslim disguise. For example, 100 years ago we had stories of awful Turkish sultans, and people being rushed to blocks to have their hands cut off etc.

The media picks out certain cases and blows them up to make a big drama of them – they might pick on one particular murderer on death row in the USA and rouse everyone’s feelings, but totally ignore all the others due to be executed that day! A case like the Nigerian woman in danger of being stoned for adultery is a case in point. She might have been stoned by irate villagers, but on being taken into custody and judged by Sharia law she gets the opportunity to appeal and explain etc.

In her case, if it is true that she was raped, she most certainly would not be sentenced to death. What interests me is who were the rotten people who brought the case against her anyway?

Incidentally the correct Islamic method of stoning according to Sharia was similar to that advised by the Pharisees at the time of Jesus – the person was held fast in a fixed position, and a stone or rock that it took two men to lift (i.e. was heavier than one man could lift alone) was to be dropped to crush the head – it was not someone tied to a post and rocks hurled at them, although this has been done in some cultures.

The point was that if someone really had to be executed, it was to be done swiftly, with as little torture as possible, and usually publicly so that no vindictive person could do further nasty things behind the scenes and get away with it.

Sharia should promote gender equality. In fact, the natural Islamic tendency is to always consider women as the weaker sex in need of care and protection, and come down hard on the men who allow their womenfolk to get into difficulties.


Sharia does not require women to wear a burqa. There are all sorts of items of dress which are worn by Muslim women, and these vary all over the world. Burqas belong to particular areas of the world, where they are considered normal dress. In other parts of the world the dress is totally different. The rule of dress for women is modesty, the word hijab implies ‘covered’.

Some Muslim women feel that they should cover everything from neck to ankle, and neck to wrist. Others also include a head veil (this is the most controversial bit, and millions of Muslim women choose to wear it, or alternatively choose not to wear it – and there is much disagreement between the types!), and finally some choose to cover even their faces, although there is no Islamic text requiring this extreme. My own preference is a long black dress and a white headscarf – I have never worn a burqa in my life. Incidentally, when men try to enforce Muslim dress on women, this is forbidden – no aspect of our faith is to be done by coercion. It is up to the woman what she chooses to do – some choose full hijab and their men hate it!

Forced and arranged marriages

In Sharia Law any marriage that is forced or false in any way is null and void. It is not a proper marriage. This is a problem that seems to plague Muslim women from India/Pakistan/Bangladesh and nowhere else in the Islamic world – and it also applies to Hindus and some Sikhs from those areas too.

Forced marriage is totally forbidden in Islam. False marriage is too – for example, some of our teenage girls are sent back to Pakistan for a holiday when they are about 15, and sign things they do not understand, and then find out later that they have been ‘married’ even if it has not been consummated. UK lawyers are getting far better at studying Sharia these days, in order to protect these girls from this particular culture.

Forced marriage is not at all the same thing as arranged marriage. Muslims from many countries have a system of arranged marriages, in which the spouses may not have seen each other before marriage, but it always has to be with their free consent. The Prophet himself advised prospective spouses to at least ‘look’ at each other, until they could see what it was that made them wish to marry that person as opposed to any other.

Women forced into marriage, or seeking divorce for general reasons, have the same sort of grounds in Sharia as in the west – cruelty, mental cruelty, adultery, abandonment, etc. They may even request a divorce for no specific reason whatever, so long as they agree to pay back the mahr (marriage payment) made to them by their husband if the husband does not wish to let them go but are obliged to.

Men having many wives?

Men and women can have as many spouses as they can fit into a lifetime; but this is not generally approved. Women are requested to have only one husband at a time (there is evidence that wealthy Arab women were polyandrous before the coming of Islam – certainly wealthy men were polygynous), and men are limited to four at one time, whereas previously there had been no limit, and a wealthy and generous man was expected to cater for as many women as he could afford (in the absence of a welfare state).

Allah sent the proviso that no Muslim was ever to deliberately cause hurt or harm to another Muslim, so a man might not take extra womenfolk into his home if it would cause upset and distress (it was recommended when there were lots of widows after warfare, if the women were willing to be generous to bereft ‘sisters’).

Also, if a man could not provide equal treatment of his wives – equal food, clothing, money, living quarters, time spent with – he was refused permission for polygamy. Equal sexual activity was not ruled on, however. Some wives had no sexual relationship with their husbands at all after a while, or if they came into the household as widows of relatives. Don’t forget that most widows also came with their children. When the Prophet married the widow Sawdah he took on six of her children, and with Umm Salamah another four, for example.

Is it easier for men to divorce?

Yes, to a certain extent – but because of various cultural reasons. Most Muslim women until very recently in the UK would have found it hard to live after divorcing a husband, because they did not own property, had no jobs to support themselves or were burdened with young children. The same is often true in many societies to this day where it is not the norm for women to go out to work.

In Sharia, the custody of the children would normally go to the mother, but the father would have to pay for their upkeep. If the woman remarried, the children might well go to their own father – all this puts a woman off divorce, because of financial circumstances.

Regarding grounds for divorce, they are virtually the same as in the west, including incompatibility, and living apart for a length of time. The caliphs (successors of The Prophet Muhammad) ruled that couples should not be separate for more than 4 months without permission, and if they were it was grounds for divorce. If the woman wanted divorce but the man did not, she could approach a religious judge and be granted divorce so long as she repaid the husband’s mahr. Some women only ask very little, a few pounds; others put a price of thousands of pounds on themselves. The Indian subcontinent seems to abuse this too – since some husbands do not seem to pay it at all, and others even expect the bride to pay money to the bridegroom or his father!! The very opposite of Sharia law.

Sharia and food

The rules are those of haram (banned) and halal (allowed). All vegetable, fruit, grain and seafood is halal. Meat is halal providing it has been killed in the kindest possible way by a sharp instrument that pierces and kills swiftly (sharp knife, bullet, sword), and the appropriate prayers are said at its death (or at the time of eating if one is not certain).

Muslims may not eat any food that has been sacrificed to idols (e.g. Hindu meat), but kosher is fine. They may not eat any pork product or flesh with blood undrained from it; the most extreme Muslims will not touch anything that has animal fat included – even a biscuit – in case it is pork lard or gelatin from an animal not killed in the halal manner. If Muslims eat haram food without realizing it is haram (i.e. some butchers ‘fake’ their halal tickets), they are not held to blame, but judged by their intention. In cases of necessity, Muslims may eat anything available, even pork, rather than suffer hardship. Alcohol is haram.

The Prophet’s wife Aishah

No-one is absolutely certain of her age when she married the Prophet, but it could have been as young as 6; some scholars believe she was ten years older. However, the majority go for the age of 6.

The marriage that took place then was an agreement on paper, there was no physical relationship until Aishah reached puberty – but this in itself could have been at around 9 or 10 years old. That is not an unusual age for menstruation to start in hot climates, and once a girl is capable of producing a child she is regarded as technically a woman.

Sex for children under 16 is forbidden by law in the UK at the moment, but this has not always been the case and it is nonsense to suppose that there is no sexual activity amongst children under 16 in this country. No-one is able to stop them and if the girls get pregnant they frequently have abortions.

In Muslim countries it is considered far better to get youngsters married as soon as they show inclinations to have sex – then they can have it honourably, as much as they like, and the children born are not bastards. Many Muslim countries in fact do try to keep to the age of about 16 for marriage (as is the legal age in the UK), and prefer not to marry off their girls too young. Some societies expect marriages to be life-partnerships, but in others divorces are frequent if things do not work out and girls choose other husbands.

In the Prophet’s day, the normal age for boys to marry was about 15 and girls between 13-15, although some girls preferred to defer the role until their twenties if they had their own money. Don’t forget, there was virtually no contraception and marriage implied having a baby every two years or so.

The used to feed babies as long as possible to avoid too frequent pregnancy. As far as I know, the Virgin Mary was around 12-13 when she had baby Jesus, and she was living with her husband in one of these non-physical arrangements. The Prophet was certainly not a pedophile! He did not marry his first wife until she was 40, and he had no other wife until she died at the age of 65; then his second wife was in her 40s, to help him out while he was a single parent!

In countries where Sharia law is enforced, how are specific punishments decided on and who makes these decisions?

The specific punishments are decided on by the lawyers of the land, many of whom have been educated and trained in the west!

Would many Muslims in Britain be in favour of Sharia law being implemented here?

I think many Muslims in the UK would be in favour of Sharia law being implemented here, but true Sharia law is only really possible in a Muslim society, not in a non-Muslim or mixed society. Flogging for public drunkenness, for example, might make some of our louts and cruel men folk think twice before acting as they do, and thinking nothing of it.

I once left my expensive camera on a wall in Egypt and it was gone when I returned for it – no big surprise. What was a surprise is that someone in that village found out where my coach had gone next and took the trouble to travel nearly 100 miles to find me and return the camera – they had picked it up for safe-keeping and did not want any of their summer tourists (it is hard for Egypt to get tourists in August!) to think there was a thief in their village! I was also very impressed by the way people just left shop tills and went off to mid-day prayers, trusting that no-one would steal their money or stock.

I don’t think lawyers in the UK would ever bring back the death sentence, but many people here think that they should. Personally, I could never bring a case against a man seeking his death for adultery, and I would not be willing to put even the worst of criminals to death myself.

I feel the electric chair is far more barbaric than stoning. Incidentally the correct Islamic method of stoning according to Sharia was similar to that advised by the Pharisees at the time of Jesus – the person was held fast in a fixed position, and a stone or rock that it took two men to lift (i.e. was heavier than one man could lift alone) was to be dropped to crush the head – it was not someone tied to a post and rocks hurled at them, although this has been done in some cultures.

The point was that if someone really had to be executed, it was to be done swiftly, with as little torture as possible, and usually publicly so that no vindictive person could do further nasty things behind the scenes and get away with it. People gathering at executions were often those who had come to pray for and support the person being executed and not just ghoulish onlookers. I would feel just the same about witnessing such an execution as I felt about hanging when it was done here. I prayed all night before the execution of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hung in the UK.

What areas of law do Muslims in Britain think are mishandled by British state law?

I think Muslims generally are shocked by the general lack of respect and discipline here, especially if they are immigrants and not born here. They are particularly shocked by lack of discipline in schools and the difficulties faced by so many teachers in getting children to behave in class and actually learn.

They are shocked by the appalling rates of theft, drunkenness, drug addiction, sex outside marriage, abortions, rape of children and old ladies, homosexuality – especially when it is being put forward as quite normal and an acceptable alternative sexual lifestyle; homosexuals in positions of authority (from teachers to MPs).

They are also shocked by the general lack of respect for those in authority, and older people in general. In Muslim homes, children would probably be expected not to smoke in front of parents, not to sit down or start eating before them. They are terrified of their girls being chatted up, taken advantage of and made pregnant by British boys and men, who seem to be uncontrollably predatory and often drunk.

by Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood

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14 Responses to "Islamic Sharia Law : A Practical Guide"

if you abide by the ten commandments then you don’t need other peoples law


Perhaps, this will a give a little bit more understanding on the subject. jazakallah


Should be JazakallahKHAIR which means May Allah reward you well.


noted and thanks


ur welcome.


Btw, your blog indeed is a great source of inspiration to me. Love going there all the rime, great articles


I don’t have a blog brother…


I don’t have a blog brother…I’m just a normal visitor in this website.


I don’t have a blog brother… I’m just a normal visitor in this website. But Jazakallahkhair anyway. Salaam😉


Ooh ok, Jazakallah khair anyway. Perhaps, you should start blogging, yes?


Wa’iyyakum Brother…..what do you mean by blogging?


Dear sister Maryam, I mean create a blog (wordpress/blogspot) and share your thoughts. Perhaps you already have one?


Oh ok……sorry about that bro……no I don’t have one…..and I’m not planning to make one. Jazakallahkhair anyway.


Masha’Allah, Jazakallahukhairan😉


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