WWROD? What does sharia law look like in practice?

WWROD? What does sharia law look like in practice? August 30, 2013

The other day, in a discussion of events in Egypt, I noted — once again — that there is no one Islam, no monolithic version of the same faith. The same thing is true of Islamic law, even among people who believe that they want to live in a society that is ruled in accordance with sharia. Click here to go back and catch up on that.

This is a very complex subject and, even as I wrote that piece, I looked around a link or two that offered more information on this topic. And, yes, I wondered if former Time and Associated Press religion pro Richard Ostling (now semi-retired) had taken a look at this puzzle, writing at his “Ridgewood Religion Guy Answers Your Questions” site elsewhere in the Patheos universe.

As it turns out, he has. Thus, here is another GetReligion post under the banner of WWROD?

Let us attend.

As always, one of his readers posed the start-off question for the mini-essay:


What would sharia [Muslim law] look like if implemented? Would there be differences by country or region?

I immediately thought, “Implemented WHERE? In Egypt or in Tennessee?”

But I digress:


Fundamental starting point: In principle, Islam draws no distinction between the spiritual and the secular such as Jesus’ famous biblical dictum “render therefore to Caesasr the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

It’s often said that Christianity centers on theology while Islam centers on law. Sharia (or “shariah”) covers personal morals (e.g. truth-telling), behavior (abstinence from alcohol), and religious duties (charity gifts, fasting, prayers, the pilgrimage) but also encompasses the entirety of existence.

If you have spent some time in the Muslim world, you can already see some of the issues that some Muslims want to carve into civic stone and others do not. The Guy has been around the religion-beat block multiple times in multiple decades and knows that.

That leads to the crunch section of the piece and an especially provocative not to debates within Christianity:

In the following The Guy cannot begin to treat sharia regarding warfare, terror, and the current turmoil of political Islam in Egypt and elsewhere across the Mideast, Asia, and Africa. But in broad-brush terms, we’re currently witnessing a crucial global struggle within Islam over what sharia mandates, how to interpret and apply the legal tradition, and who has the right to do the interpreting and the applying. This pits rising activists, often figures like Osama bin Laden with thin religious credentials, over against traditional jurists and jurisprudence. The insurgents and amateurs not only hope to upend older authorities but challenge the substance of tradition, for instance discarding the ethical absolutes against kidnapping, suicide, murders of innocent civilians, or destruction of churches on grounds of political expediency.

Is this at all similar to modern Christian liberals’ moral relativism or “situation ethics”? You be the judge.

Read it all. There is much more information ahead and some useful links at The Guy’s site.

Suffice it to say, we are talking about debates that will not be settled anytime soon.

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  • Donalbain

    So, when the question specifically asked if there would be differences depending on where it was being implemented, you immediately thought about the differences depending on where it was being implemented. Genius.

    • tmatt

      You are right. I didn’t write that very well.

      What I mean is that when I read the question my mind connected immediately to two locations that had BEEN IN THE NEWS on this issue. I should have put that better.

  • kmbold

    Good example of Islamist thinking/ Sharia law is portrayed in “The Price to Pay” by Joseph Faddelle (spell?) from Ignatius Press.

  • Julia B

    Interesting that Richard Ostling calls himself THE GUY.

    Isn’t that what the English call the effigy of Guy Fawkes that is burned every November 5th? Or does “The Guy” have a different meaning these days?



  • Judy Harrow

    I’m just a law school dropout, so I’m hoping the real attorneys on here will check me on this. It seems to me that there’s too much emphasis on the (sometimes pretty scary) content of Sharia, and not enough on plain old Anglo-American law.

    As I understand things, there are two distinct types of legal authority: binding and persuasive.

    Binding authority comes from courts directly “up-line” from the one that is deciding any particular case. That means a decision from, say, Illinois is not binding in New Jersey, although one from pre-1776 England might be.

    Persuasive authority, in contrast, is any statement that seems to make sense regarding the question at hand. It might come from the state next door, or it might come from classical Greece. Or it might be derived from Sharia, Talmud, or whatever.

    Because of this, quoting Sharia is certainly harmless and, given current social attitudes, probably completely ineffectual.