Shariah, Sharia, Shari’ah, Shari’a Shariah is the name given to the sacred laws of Islam. In the West it is often called Shariah law, but the word law is largely superfluous as the concept of law is inherent in the word Shariah. Shariah is derived from two sources: the Qur’an and the actions and words of the Prophet Muhammad (known as the Hadith). A second layer of law, known as fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), deals with activities that are not expressly mentioned in either of the above sources but are arrived at by debate and consensus among religious scholars. In many Muslim-dominated nations, Shariah is the default legal structure, meaning that crimes and punishments specified in the Qur’an or the Hadith are applicable to daily life. In non-Muslim countries, Muslim communities can sometimes have special dispensation to apply Shariah to everyday life, although in such cases it is normally restricted to non-criminal law such as marital, inheritance and family law and laws that are only applicable to Islam, for example eating pork or drinking alcohol, although any punishments will be limited by the laws of the land.
As there have been many technological advances and sociological changes since the time of Muhammad, scholars of Shariah are charged with interpreting the written word for the modern age. Because some Muslims see such changes as fundamental change to the basic tenets of Islam, there is much opposition, but there is also a strong modernising faction who believe that by following the spirit of individual rulings put down by the Qur’an and the Hadith rather than the literal meanings that may no longer be applicable, Shariah can remain strictly Islamic whilst creating closer ties with the West and the modern Muslim world. The progress of the argument in different jurisdictions means that the word Shariah can already entail different interpretations of specific laws in different parts of the world. The area of finance and business is a particularly active one as regards Shariah interpretation. Many of the advances in banking, insurance and business contracts have come about not by neglecting to follow the words of the Qur’an and the Hadith but by arguing that the previously held interpretations could have been wrong or overly prescriptive, and by careful work and study, financial transactions can be created which fulfil two important conditions: to be Shariah-compliant and to compete with the business procedures that prevail in the Western world.