By Saulat Pervez


When the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, first began to receive revelations from God in 610 A.D., little did he know that they were the foundational stones for the formation of a future state to be refined piecemeal over the next 23 years. Complete with divinely-ordained laws, a blueprint for societal balance, and individual and mutual sense of accountability, this ‘way of life’ called Islam was presented to the general public through the medium of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.
Compiled into one text, these revelations not only represent the holy book of the Muslims, the Quran, but are also the foremost source for Shariah, Islamic law. Shariah, quite literally, translates to a path leading to a water hole; figuratively, it refers to a clear, straight path. It is a body of laws derived mainly from the Quran and the example of the Prophet Muhammad, along with interpretive, analogous, and/or consensus rulings for cases where no evidence could be sought from primary sources. (Read more: Understanding Shariah)

The laws as present in the Quran are binding on Muslims and range from prohibition of alcohol consumption and gambling to setting punishments for such grave offences as adultery and theft. Due to their divine origin – directly conveyed to the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, via the Archangel Gabriel – these laws are considered timeless and perfect, geared towards the success, welfare and peace of humans in this world and in the hereafter.


What exactly is Shariah? Why do Muslims want to practice this age old system which strips them of their basic human rights? Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi, chairman of Fiqh (Islamic Law) Council of North America corrects misconceptions and explains Shariah

Shariah: Commitment to Justice

While many people, both Muslim and non-Muslim, vocally and vehemently oppose Shariah law today in favor of western legal systems, this disenchantment tends to stem from either an unclear understanding of Shariah or instances of misuse of justice ‘back home’ in the name of Shariah. In fact, the establishment and internalization of justice is the supreme purpose of Shariah. The Quran states, “Thus we have made you a just nation, that you be witnesses over mankind, and the Messenger be a witness over you.” [2:143]

Further, God commands His believers: “O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even though it be against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, be he rich or poor. Allah is a better Protector to both. So follow not the lusts, lest you avoid justice; and if you distort your witness or refuse to give it, verily Allah is Ever Well-Acquainted with what you do.” [4:135]

This emphasis and primacy of justice was not at all introduced with Islam. In Ch. 57, verse 25, God reminds humankind of the fact that a similar code was brought by each previous Messenger so that “mankind may keep up justice.” Therefore, it is no surprise that the Code of Hammurabi and the Law of Moses also contain retributive laws, similar to the famous “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” Islam, however, adds the following corollary to such retribution: It is better to forgive.


Today, such laws are considered by the vast majority to be medieval, barbaric, and primitive. Shariah, likewise, is intractably coupled with merciless executions, chopping off of hands and honor killings. To accept such a generalized picture of an intensely complex legal system is not only a disservice to divinely ordained laws but also to one’s own sense of integrity. Here is an attempt to dispel some of the prevalent myths and to bring clarity to the matter.