Islamic Life and Sharia Law: Faith & Culture

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  • 0:01 Fundamental Islam
  • 1:13 Orthodox Laws
  • 2:22 Daily Life
  • 3:04 Sharia as True Path
  • 4:14 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

Today's lesson will explore Sharia law in reference to fundamentalist Islam. In doing so, it will highlight the concept of Sharia law as the True Path. It will also discuss its origins in the sacred texts of Islam known as the Koran, the Sunnah, and the Hadith.

Fundamental Islam

For those of us who've grown up in a society that heralds the separation of church and state, the concept of fundamentalist Islamic Sharia law will definitely stray from our paradigms. Unlike our Western government, which shies away from the idea of legislating morality or invading privacy, Sharia law pervades all aspects of Islamic culture.

Before we dive into the definition and specifics, and the implications of Sharia law, there's one point we need to cover. This lesson will be explaining Sharia law in reference to fundamental Islam, not all practicing modern-day Muslims. In using the word fundamental or orthodox, we'll mean rigid adherence to the original principles of a faith.

To explain, Sharia is the sacred law of Islam. It is the religious and moral code of life for fundamentalist Muslims, or followers of Islam. Unlike our Western concept of law, Sharia isn't simply the decisions of a court room or the workings of a political office. Far from this, Sharia directs all aspects of Islamic life. It governs the diet, dress, leisure, finances, family, and so on of a Muslim's life.

Orthodox Laws

When studying Sharia, it's usually divided into parts. There are laws concerning worship, laws regulating financial workings, laws dealing with the family, and laws dealing with punishment. For example, when dealing with punishment, fundamental Sharia states that theft is to be punished by amputation of the right hand. As far as marriage, a woman can have only one husband, but a man can have up to four wives. As for worship, a Muslim who leaves the faith is to be killed, and as far as finance, a female heir inherits only half of what a male inherits.

These are just a few examples of orthodox Sharia law, which, like I said, fall outside most Western paradigms. Also, as stated previously, many modern Muslims do not implement these laws down to the letter. However, in countries like Egypt, a woman's testimony in court is still worth half of a man's testimony, and in the country of Saudi Arabia, criminal law is based entirely on Sharia.

Daily Life

Along with the criminal aspects of Muslim law, there is also a civil side to the Sharia law. For instance, Sharia requires those who are financially able should pay an annual fee to help support the less fortunate of society. Similar to our Western tax system, Sharia law states how this tax is to be levied and dispensed. Unlike our Western system, Sharia law also deals with personal hygiene. In fact, before a Muslim takes part in worship, they must first follow a prescribed cleansing ritual. Although not usually as strict, cleansing rituals also accompany daily household cleaning duties.

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