The Islamic law, also known as sharia law, is one of the most misunderstood subjects in the contemporary world, both by Muslims and non-Muslims.

From time to time, we hear the echoes and slogans of implementation and imposition of sharia law from many corridors around the world.

A large number of Muslims believe that sharia law should be applied and implemented at once in each and every country of the world, both Muslim and non-Muslim alike.

And non-Muslims think that if sharia is applied no one will remain safe and secure, that followers of the other religions will be forcefully bent to accept Islam, and freedom of speech and faith will vanish from this planet once and forever.

In fact, it is not the love of sharia or Islam that is urging some sections of Muslims to demand sharia law, but it has been exploited by some Muslim governments, politicians, radicals, religious clerics and zealots as an effective instrument to gain power and strength, demonstrate supremacy and rule society in the name of God as they might like to. In brief, it is not spurred by the love of Islam but the hunger for power.

What is sharia? Why is its implementation so important for Muslims around the globe? Can Islamic sharia law be applied everywhere forcibly? Is it practicable in today’s world? Why is the West so afraid of Islamic sharia law? These are some of the basic important questions that come into mind and are frequently asked whenever Islamic sharia is discussed.

Sharia literally means “a way to the watering place or a path to life-giving water”. In religious terminology it refers to the laws and commandments given by God, because spiritual life sustains itself on divine teachings – sharia.

Sharia is not unique to Islam. It is not a new phenomenon or reality as every faith has its own form of sharia: the divine teachings and laws.

To sum up, religious teachings, commandments, laws and divine guidance is sharia.

For every religion that claims to be based on divine teachings and commandments, all those laws or principles constitute a sharia. Islamic sharia, in a nutshell, is the whole spiritual system of Islam.

A large number of people do not fully understand the Islamic sharia and only consider it to be the system of punishment. There are more than 6,000 verses in the Holy Quran and of those nearly 200 relate to talking about the sharia.

Islam believes in freedom of faith and rejects the idea of imposition of Islamic teachings on anyone

About 80 of the verses pertain specifically to the legalities that Muslims have to follow – the penal code which the Holy Quran provides is only a part of it.

Islamic Sharia can be divided into five main branches:  ibadah (ritual worship), muamalat (transactions and contracts), adab (behaviour, morals and manners), itiqadat (beliefs), and uqubat (punishments).

Islam prescribes certain laws or principles that govern all five main branches.

The demand for implementation of Islamic sharia law in the Western societies by some individuals or groups is also illogical and grossly misunderstood.

Islam believes in respecting the laws of the land. As far as religious matters are concerned, Muslims living in Western countries are already enjoying freedom of faith.

Muslims are not hindered from calling themselves Muslims, practising their faith and performing their rituals according to their religion. They are free to pray, to fast, to pay Zakaat (charity) and to go for the pilgrimage in Mecca, and so on.

Islamic rules and regulations and the code of life are only for Muslims. So far as the imposition of sharia law is concerned, this concept is against the very principle of the sharia that they want to impose.

Islam believes in freedom of faith and rejects the idea of imposition of Islamic teachings on anyone. The Holy Quran makes it abundantly clear that “there should be no compulsion in the matters of faith” (2:257).

The Quran has an injunction that Muslims are not allowed to impose their wills, their systems, their faith or beliefs on anyone: “It is the truth from your Lord; wherefore let him who will, believe, and let him who will, disbelieve” (18:30).

In a nutshell, Islamic sharia is a system of spiritual and moral reformation – through fulfilling the rights of God and the rights of mankind.

It is a system that seeks to create a harmonious and peaceful society in which justice, equality, affection, tolerance and freedom apply to all the people.

At its core, sharia is intended to develop and sustain a moral, prosperous, caring and just society.

Laiq Ahmed Atif is President, Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat Malta.

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