Sharia is Islamic law, which is taken from the Qur’an and from other sources depending upon one’s Muslim sect. The law may be applied completely in theocracies, or it may be applied partially, depending upon the country. Some predominantly Islamic countries interpret Sharia and have secular judicial systems. Some have both secular and religious courts, and other have courts based only on strict interpretations of Sharia.
When Sharia is used in a theocracy it governs all aspects of life. It tells one what to eat, the punishment for adultery, how one can get a divorce, or what clothing is required. Sharia may be modernized and interpreted, but this is more common in countries that recognize a secular court. When there is separation between church and state, Sharia governs social behaviors, but does not set punishments for violation of social behaviors or for criminal behaviors.
When debate about a certain code in Sharia occurs, this is called fiqh. It is not considered wrong to attempt fiqh so one can best interpret Sharia. Other books besides the Qur’an may be considered when determining law. For example, the Sunni Muslims tend to use both the Qur’an and the Sunna to determine laws. Some Muslims use only the Qur’an for legal guidance.
Interpretation of Sharia, and its importance comes down to four basic groups of Islamic thought. Salafis advocate for a return to the old Islamic ways, and attempt to strictly follow the laws of the Qur’an. Secularist Muslims, wish a distinct separation between Sharia and civil and criminal laws. Traditionalists tend to follow Sharia but attempt to reconcile it to the modern world, particularly in the case of women’s rights. Reformers back new Islamic theories on legal proceedings, particularly as they relate to the modern women.
Interpreting Sharia can cause dissension between Muslim sects and the different Islamic countries. Yet certain laws are always applicable. Blasphemy, for example, is never permitted. Codes on dress, divorce, circumcision and dietary laws are all highly interpretive however. It is valuable to understand the degree to which a country holds to traditional Sharia prior to visiting that country.