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Sharia ( ) refers to a body of Islamic law. In the Islamic state Sharia governs both public and private lives of those living within the state. Sharia governs many aspects of day-to-day life, including politics, economics, banking, business law, contract law, and social issues. Some accept Sharia as the body of precedent and legal theory before the 19th century, while other scholars view Sharia as a changing body, and include reform Islamic legal theory from the contemporary period.

Before the 19th century legal theory was considered the domain of the traditional legal schools of thought. Most Sunni Muslims follow Hanafi, Hanbali, Maliki or Shafii, while most Shia Muslims follow Jaafari (Hallaq 1997, Brown 1996, Aslan 2006).

Divergent developments after the 19th century


During the 19th century the history of Islamic law took a sharp turn due to new challenges the Muslim world faced: the West had risen to a global power and colonized a large part of the world, including Muslim territories. Societies underwent transition from the agricultural to the industrial stage. New social and political ideas emerged and social models slowly shifted from hierarchical towards egalitarian. The Ottoman Empire and the rest of the Muslim world were in decline and calls for reform became louder. In Muslim countries, codified state law started replacing the role of scholarly legal opinion. Western countries sometimes inspired, sometimes pressured, and sometimes forced Muslim states to change their laws. Secularist movements pushed for laws deviating from the opinions of the Islamic legal scholars. Islamic legal scholarship remained the sole authority for guidance in matters of rituals, worship and spirituality, while they lost authority to the state in other areas. The Muslim community became divided into groups reacting differently to the change. This division persists until the present day (Brown 1996, Hallaq 2001, Ramadan 2005, Aslan 2006, Safi 2003).
  • Secularists believe the law of the state should be based on secular principles, not on Islamic legal theory.
  • Traditionalists believe that the law of the state should be based on the traditional legal schools. However, traditional legal views are considered unacceptable by most modern Muslims, especially in areas like women's rights or slavery *.
  • Reformers believe that new Islamic legal theories can produce modernized Islamic law and lead to acceptable opinions in areas such as women's rights [http://www.averroes-foundation.org/articles/free_and_equal.html.
  • Salafis believe that the traditional schools were wrong, and therefore failed, and strive to follow the generation of early Muslims.

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Centre of Islamic and Middle Eastern Law - Advancing the analysis of the various systems of law at work in the Islamic and Middle Eastern world as well as an active interaction with Middle Eastern and Muslim lawmakers and scholars.
Meta Description: [ The Centre of Islamic and Middle Eastern Law website provides resources for the academic study of sharia and contemporary law in the Arab states and the wider Muslim world. ]

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