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What is sharia law?

You may have heard of the term sharia law, but do you know how it works? Read on to find out more.

Sharia law is the most widely used religious law and one of the three most common legal systems in the world alongside common and civil law.

Under the 1996 Arbitration Act sharia courts have had the right to make legally binding decisions, enforceable by English court, provided they do not conflict with English law.

What is sharia law?

All aspects of a Muslim’s life are governed by sharia law from politics to economics, banking, business, contracts and family.

The law comes from the Qur’an (the Muslim holy book), the Hadith (sayings and conduct of the prophet Muhammad) and fatwas (the rulings of Islamic scholars).

What does it cover?

Western law is mainly confined to criminal, contractual, civil relationships and individual rights.

Sharia rulings, however, have been developed to help Muslims understand how they should lead every aspect of their lives according to God's wishes.

In the UK, it is common for Muslims to seek advice and arbitration on family matters, business and finance from a sharia court.

How are rulings made?

Like any legal system, sharia is complex and its practice is entirely reliant on the quality and training of experts or scholars. These people spend decades studying the law and, as with Western law, an expert on one aspect of sharia is by no means the authority on another.

In parts of the Muslim world the criminal courts and their punishments are drawn from the rules of sharia.

In the West, Muslim communities have established sharia courts to deal mainly with family or business disputes.

Sharia in British law

British law is actively incorporating religious legal considerations in the areas of food and finance. 
For example, British food regulations allow meat to be slaughtered according to Jewish and Islamic practices.

The Treasury has also approved sharia-compliant financial products such as mortgages and investments. Islam forbids interest on the basis that it is money unjustly earned. However, according to supporters these products meet the needs of modern life in a way that fits the faith.