What is Sharia Law? | Demystifying Islam


Hey folks,
Sharia law. The scariest new word of 21st-century American
media. A quick google search will expose tons and
tons of articles about how this law code is something Muslim and scary, and apparently
rural cities in the United States really need to ban it. So, what is it? Is this Islamic law code really the boogeyman
we think it is? Let’s take a dip into Sharia, the Islamic
legal system. Hi, I’m Tristan Johnson, and this is Step
Back History. I know what you’re thinking… this isn’t
Thursday! It’s my birthday today and decided to give
you all an extra video as my gift to you to celebrate. All countries have some sort of basis for
their legal code. In the English world, you have what we call
common law, which prioritises precedent in deciding legal outcomes. If you can show a similar decision before,
then it’s likely decided again. In many other parts of the world, you have
a Civil law, based on Roman Law which instead of appealing to precedent uses the legal code
as the reference in which to interpret. There’s also a customary law which appeals
to tradition, and for Jews and Muslims, you have religious legal codes, the Muslim one
being called Sharia. Sharia is one of the fundamental concepts
in Islam. It’s a complicated legal code formalised
in the first few centuries after the death of Muhammad. At the core of Islam is a total devotion and
submission of one’s life to god. The literal translation of Sharia is the path
leading to the watering place. In a desert society, I don’t think you need
to try hard to imagine the significance there. Sharia is the way of making sure that law
reflects god’s desires for a proper Muslim society. In application, it’s a system of duties for
Muslims to follow their religious beliefs. So it functions at various levels. There is Sharia the literal legal code of
a few Muslim majority countries, namely Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and to a lesser extent
Oman, Indonesia, and Jordan. There is also a personal Sharia law which
is sort of the rules for what makes a good Muslim. There’s an entire field of Muslim jurisprudence
trying to sort through canonical text and a truly massive pile of critical explanation
and interpretation of that text which religious scholars call exegesis. Because Islamic law was for so long tied to
theology, the theological debate in Islam is way more complicated and nuanced than I
hazard to say any other religion. To understand the ethical Muslim life and
why it is the way it is requires decades of study and mastery of classical Arabic. Even if you do these things there is a massive
field of differences in thought, opinion and interpretation. Muslim scholars call this process of attempting
to work out and interpret text fiqh, or understanding. The ‘discovery’ of God’s law was considered
completed in the 9th century, and formulated into a series of legal manuals written by
a large number of jurists. Throughout the middle ages, they elaborated
and systematised these manuals, and produced a massive amount of commentaries, interpretations
and literature. There are many many layers to all this stuff. It differs from the western legal codes in
two fundamental ways. The first is the scope of its coverage. Shaira not only covers the role of the state,
but has commentaries on one’s relationship with God, their neighbours, and their own
conscience. This includes the formalised rules for the
Muslim rituals like times for prayers and the regulations for pilgrimage and fasting. It also discusses ethics, differing from the
western law by giving advice on not just what one must do, but what someone ought to do. There are extensive commentaries on what actions
are worthy of praise or blame. However, in these ethical rulings, there are
no prescribed punishments or rewards. So it’s both a legal code and a code of
behaviour. The second difference is that Sharia is seen
as the expression of the will of God. Muslims believe that communication with god
stopped after the death of Muhammad and that there is, therefore, no more divine revelation
left to gain. Hence why they considered the discovery of
the legal code complete, and why that core is so rigid. And this is a real problem when it comes to
modern-day Islamic jurisprudence. Social advancement and new issues don’t
exist in the supposedly complete legal code, and so adaptation to modern society is one
of the central debates in Islamic legal scholarship. A million interpretations range from the violent
fundamentalism of ISIS to the more open to interpretation and reexamination position
most Muslims follow. Islamic law is as old as the first Muslim
communities. Muhammad established the first rules himself
when he ruled over the city of Medina in 622 CE. The Muslim holy book, the Qur’an has a few
standards of conduct but is in no way a comprehensive body of law. During Muhammad’s life, judges interpreted
and expanded on general statements from the Qur’an in an ad hoc fashion. This continued until the rise of the Umayyad
dynasty in 661. The Umayyads had a vast military empire, and
empires don’t function on haphazard legal systems. The empire or caliphate created an organised
judiciary of qadis, or judges all over. Their job was to develop a corpus of fiscal
and administrative law for the Umayyad Caliphate. As the Umayyads took land from the Romans
and Sassanids, they mixed in aspects of Roman and Persian law into their structure. The empire encouraged judges to follow the
Qur’an when relevant, but it became a relatively secular legal code. In the 8th century, religious scholars began
to challenge the Umayyad legal system. They thought it was doing a poor job at reflecting
Islamic ethics. When the Abbasid dynasty came to power over
the Umayyads in the mid-8th century, they pledged to take these scholar’s desires
to heart, and make a truly Islamic society and state. They wanted to reform the work done so far,
and then use Quranic principles to accept, reject, or modify the law that existed before. One of the key figures in this process was
al-Shāfiʿī. He wanted to eliminate schisms and make a
more extensive unified law by developing a grand theory of what sources the law could
come from. He believed that the knowledge of Sharia could
only come through divine revelation, which means that it can only come from the Quran
itself, or traditions believed divinely inspired called the Sunnah. These traditions came from accounts of the
prophet’s life by his contemporaries called the hadiths. These hadiths are where the most weirdness
and contention comes from. They’re not all created equal. Some are from sources very close to Muhammad,
and some are hearsay from a friend of a friend. Those less reliable ones for the record tend
to be where the really nasty stuff that fuels terrorism comes from, such as the 72 virgins
thing. It was this process that spurred the collection,
classification, and ranking of these hadiths. The schools that came out of this process
would keep a record of official hadiths. However, some western researchers suspect
that a significant part of the Sunnah is the results of later jurists who ascribed views
to Muhammad to have more authority. al-Shāfiʿī believed that these sources
could form a legal code. When something was not explicitly mentioned
in these sources, scholars and judges were to try to apply principles from the closest
parallel cases they could find in the Quran or the Sunnah. This is the basis for the classical roots
of Islamic jurisprudence that has been crystallised since the 10th century. If you have an legal or ethical issue, here’s
how you find an answer according to al-Shāfiʿī. First, find a solution in either the Qur’an
or the Sunnah. If nothing answers your question explicitly,
draw an analogy, or if that doesn’t seem available, attempt to rule either for equity
or in the public interest. This is also only the interpretation of one
scholar. Either way, any conclusions not made directly
through canon have less authority. If all the qualified scholars agree on the
outcome, however, it is yaqin or the pure expression of God’s law. Scholars call this Ijma or consensus. Around the 10th century, this era of speculation
called Ijtihad ended. Jurists after this are called imitators and
are bound to the doctrine of taqlid. This means they have to follow the doctrine
as the manuals say. However, Ijtihad has a new life in modern
times as a way to reform the ancient religion. Shiites still grow and develop their legal
code in this manner. That being said, the code was surprisingly
pluralistic for the 10th century. Different schools have equal authority, and
they go by the statement by Muhammad that “difference of opinion among my community
is a sign of the bounty of God.” There are also significant differences in
Sharia depending on the sect. Shi’ite Muslims and the lesser known Ibadi
Muslims have substantial differences from both Sunnis and each other in their interpretations
of sharia. The Shi’ite law puts more emphasis on individual
rulers and imams they believe to be divinely inspired than their Sunni brethren. Different schools of Islamic legal codes perform
differently in the Middle-East, India, Northwest and central Africa, Eastern Africa, the southern
Arabian peninsula, Malaysia, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Zanzibar, and Algeria. Even with all the claims to authority though,
Shaira has never been the exclusive law of the land. Sharia can be divided into two categories,
what someone owes to god, and what someone owes to other people. The latter is what we call the legal part
of Sharia, and covers many areas. Penal laws are pretty old testament. Crimes from murder to assault are punished
by retaliation. The perpetrator is subjected to the exact
same treatment they did to their victim. They consider these acts an injustice to the
victim or the family. Instead of violence or execution for these
crimes, the victim’s family is able to ask for a diyah or blood money. There are set punishments for six key crimes. These are the ones that Islamophobes will
point to most often, and it makes sense. These are quite harsh penalties. Death for those that leave the church or apostasy,
and for highway robbery. Quick aside on this though, only three countries,
Sudan, Saudi Arabia, and Iran have acted on the death penalty for apostasy since 1985,
and only in four cases. Amputation is prescribed for theft, death
by stoning for extramarital sex relations where the offender is married, 100 lashes
if they aren’t, and 80 for unproven accusations of unchastity or taking any intoxicant. Yech, now I can tell why Muslim Majority countries
not called Saudi Arabia and Iran have stopped following these, and why many Muslims fought
and died against ISIS to prevent this practice from coming back. They also have some pretty dry laws about
trade, commerce, land ownership, and inheritance. One thing that sticks out is that there is
a ban on charging interest, and so an entire industry of Islamic banking has risen around
the world to help Muslims get mortgages but still comply with their religious codes. They also can’t gamble. They have family law, which covers the rules
of divorce, marriage, adoption, etcetera. This law also includes succession in detail. If you think about how weird and obtuse the
statutes about passing titles down can be, then you know why I’m just going to skip
the discussion here on… the system of inheritance by male agnate relatives. Lastly, Sharia has a dense system of procedure
and evidence. What counts as admissible evidence, how much
testimony is necessary (and it’s a lot), and so on. It’s the detailed rules and procedures for
running a Sharia court. So in the 19th century, western civilisation
through colonisation and trade brought some pretty significant changes to Islamic law. For criminal law and commerce, Muslim society
began to feel the traditional sharia systems were just too far out of touch with the needs
of the time. Not only was the procedure of sharia old,
but so was its substance. Since the 19th century, most Muslim countries
dropped the criminal and civil law parts of sharia and put in new legal systems based
on European models and secular tribunals. The only nation practising Sharia in its entirety
today is the Arabian peninsula. The only things people use Sharia courts for
anymore are family law, succession, and some forms of endowments. And not even in these realms does Sharia work
the way it used to. In the middle east, Shari’a family law has
been replaced with some more modern code. Sharia courts now have no legal authority. They’re just places where people go to decide
what the proper Islamic thing to do is, and they can choose to follow or not follow that
as they desire. Even these courts have reformed and changed
in response to modern social needs. And if Muslims ever practice sharia courts
outside of Saudi Arabia, it’s this modern version. And it’s not just Muslims, Jews have a similar
religious court. Places where you can have judges steeped in
knowledge of Islamic law and ethics to work out disputes, not dole out executions. Saudi Arabia’s extreme legal code and cruel
practices are due to their school of law being an extremely strict code and a fundamentalist
government. It’s called Hanbali and named after a man
named Ibn-Hanbal. It’s its own thing altogether. So then why all the scare? Well, if your only exposure to Islam is watching
Saudi Arabia or radical fundamentalists on TV, you probably have a very skewed concept
of Islam and the Islamic world. It’s religion, with wild claims and retrograde
laws just like every other religion. And just like every other religion, their
followers with a few exceptions adapt, change, reform, and remove what parts don’t work
anymore. So if you don’t know what Sharia is, and
all your information about it comes from reactionaries trying to exploit fear of a nonspecific other
for clicks and watch time, then yeah you’re going to be terrified. Maybe, just maybe, ask a Muslim? If you liked this video be sure to smash that
subscribe button and click the bell notification icon to make sure you know when streams are
live, and new videos are up. It is my birthday so if you want to give me
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Patreon.com/StepBackHistory. I want to thank, all of these great patrons
for helping make this channel get this far, especially Don and Kerry Johnson. We just passed a stretch goal, so expect the
long-promised history of the swastika in the next month or so. The theme is by 12 Tone and come back soon
for more Step Back.

100 comments

  1. Watch this series on demystifying Islam: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M8pxIM4sW3Q&list=PLnpoOo7lhNnEBeLyIOvevX25R4ZMJJU10

  2. Great channel, I have an idea for a video (or series of videos) analyzing different pacific societies from the past like Yap, Tonga, the Maori, etc.

  3. You did a really great job of making theocracy sound totally innocuous!
    But sarcasm aside, your content seems high quality and I’ll subscribe.

  4. In my opinion, this is the main problem with Islam. This religion is tied with goverment, and if history has taught us something is that govevement and religion make a bad mix. Most christians don't mind having a secular goverment, that is the reason only countries with a christian background had allowed gay marriages. But muslims wouldn't tolerate a secular goverment in their countries. This hinders social progress and hurts minorities.

  5. Wait–this description seems very sunni-focused. What about countries like modern Iran? You didn't mention them on the list of countries with sharia law. I must admit that I know little about their actual government system….

  6. Happy birthday!
    I liked your video. However, I would suggest to not play with the closeups. It's not bad to have closeups, but they're meant to convey some kind of information, like emphasis, or a humoristic tone. But I felt your closeups were random.
    Nevertheless, good job summarizing this complex topic. And happy birthday again!!

  7. Hey man, excellent video. Really enjoyed sitting through this one and learning about this stuff.

    That being said, and I hate to critique you on this, but maybe put on a more cleaner and less wrinkly shirt? It just seems so out of place and i can't help but get distracted at it. Hope you don't take this too hard!

    you da best

  8. Two words mate, Sharia Law is two words. I hope your birthday was less complicated than trying to understand Sharia. Enjoy yourself!

  9. +Step Back History
    u do give decent understanding BUT
    alot of DETAIL isnt True….u assume alot about Y Muslims dont practice xyz in Shariah. but mostly ok on explanations.

  10. I've been watching your videos for awhile and when I saw this pop up I thought, 'finally, someone who will explain this to me with as little bias as possible.' I still intensely disagree with those who are trying to bring Sharia law into Canada and America but it's always good to learn more about these things.

  11. Im form Saudi Arabia and yes the law was somewhat extreme but now with Mohammad bin Salman in charge its becoming more fitting for the age

  12. Happy birthday!
    Also I agree. Talk to a real life muslim. They’re pretty knowledgeable about their religion. A girl I know, who is a Syrian refugee, said that yeah isis is not following sharia law. So yes. Please stop listening to incendiary newscasters and have some empathy

  13. Fun fact, Greece is the only country in Europe who has sharia law (legally and approved by the state) at one of its regions.

  14. more nuanced then Hinduism…I doubt it the first vedas are 3400 years old just to show how far our WRITTEN religious texts go back, practiced is even further.

  15. american fundamentalist Christians try to push equally poisonous crap.
    I like to speak about christian sharia X3
    Also if Christians and right wingers want to protect against sharia then just go hard and strong on secular legal principles and public policy and the problem is solved.

  16. In Sharia it is the case that there is no penalty upon anyone who kills an apostate. So there is no need for the state to have the death penalty on the books for anyone who leaves Islam, it is sufficient for them to look the other way and not punish anyone for killing an apostate. This is how it works. The fact that "only three states" have officially enacted the death penalty for apostasy is irrelevant and misleading. Apostates get murdered all the time (along with those who "dishonour" the family, killed by their own family members) and there is no penalty against the perpetrators under Sharia. This is one example of many things you say which are misleading or erroneous. There is a hierarchy of rights in Sharia, with muslim men at the top and muslim women second, and then all the other scum or kaffir, which do not have the same rights as muslims. For example, if a muslim woman is raped she needs four males as witnesses (or eight women, as a muslim man's testimony is worth twice that of a muslim woman) in order to prove it, otherwise it is assumed she has fornicated and the penalty is death by stoning, under SHARIA. A non-muslim (ie Kaffir) cannot testify against a muslim in a court of law under sharia; there is only a fine under most circumstances if a muslim kills a kaffir, but there is a mandatory death penalty for any kaffir who kills a muslim, no matter what. This is all very clear in islamic jurisprudence and anybody who says it is wrong is also subject to death penalty, which explains why it persists to this day and can never be altered.

    The fact that you even use the term "Islamophobe" shows that you are just another useful idiot from the Left and an enabler to Islamists. I think Christopher Hitchens defined "Islamophobia" best, calling it a term "invented by fascists to be used by cowards to manipulate morons."

    In this case, you are the middle-man.

  17. Uhm the book wasnt written til 50 years after his death and even then it was argued about what was to go in this of course is after the bloodbath of the first calphate ….. Some one needs to take a course on theological history

  18. In the U.K. we have Sharia councils and they are not welcome here yet the government lets them carry on. You should always follow the law of the land not your own religious law.

  19. You are very good at leaving out vital details while telling a complicated story. The history you tell is irrelevant. Entire civilizations have been destroyed with the implementation of sharia. You present a benign sharia that is no threat. To the contrary, sharia will destroy western culture if it is allowed to take hold. Here is a different perspective from someone who has studied Islam and sharia exclusively for decades……….https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C9sYgqRtZGg&t=6s

  20. "Sharia law… is something Muslim and scary, and apparently rural cities in the United States really need to ban it."

    Does that mean you're suggesting that U.S. law should incorporate Sharia and/or that the U.S. should allow a parallel legal system to exist?

  21. Great video, Being a Muslim, I just want to add that when he says traditions of the prophet it does not mean that proven saying of Prophet Muhammad, (PBUH) many Muslims nowadays believe that sunnah had been mixed with alot of jurisprudence in the later centuries and strangely most harsh punishments are based on those later additions. Islam as belief in its core is mostly spiritual and self-governance and only deals with social and legal issues to clarify conflicts. It does have harsh punishment but only for actions that are considered ' mischief ' spreading in the land. so if you are dude who just leaves islam its fine but if you start spreading unture and dishonest stuff about Islam you are a apostate who could be killed, if you think about it , its a big difference. another example can be any other type of mischeif which create unrest in society and tries to distract muslims from God.

  22. Even if it was, there's no reason to be worried about it, because it wouldn't hold any actual power in the states. Anyone who carried out a sentence handed down by it that was a crime under US law would be arrested and prosecuted just like any other crime.

  23. All i have to say is the middle east has the resources to be as modern as small-middle sized european nations. Yet they choose not to. When given a democratic choice, which is rare in and of itself, they vote for the dictator who takes power over them anyway! And this happens outside of JUST Iran/ Arabian peninsula states. We can see from looking at kuwait and the UAE and Qatar just how well these nations COULD treat their people with the sheer amount of useful resources they've had and now even if they changed over the next five years the western world is more oil independant than ever, as well as trying to stop its addiction to oil (at least the populace if not the bought out governments…)

  24. I didn't even watch the video. I just needed to read the title to know where the comment section is heading…

  25. Firstly sharia is not diverse. All 4 sunni schools agree on the terrible stuff like killing apostates. And secondly, "family law" is a little misleading if you don't mention child marriages and polygamy. And beating women… you made it look as if the family law was ok. And also you didn't mention at all the rules for non-Muslims who live in Islamic state.

  26. We already have a law here. It works fine for us. I don’t want to allow men to rape and beat their wives. I don’t want to have a woman’s testimony be half that of a man’s. Stoning, lashes and cutting off hands all have no place in a modern, compassionate society.

  27. Happy Birthday 
        — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eTliMiRTPrE  
      —– https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QMIFeD7bbUI&list=PLutdSTmJ7bAJQaNrfGlijtvLsDcERufni&index=4  —    ——       Should America Fear Sharia?   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WSbs92t9IzA

  28. I have read a ton of moslem stuff from Tabari to Qutb, quran to hadith, all four schools of law, etc. All have one thing in common with one another and with this video, that being a completely invented wonderfulness designed to disguise how backward 7th Century arabic tribesman were; and by proxy how ridiculously absurd islam is.

  29. You are the first non-muslim guy who explain Sharia law in the most accurate way. I think that take from you lot of effort. Respect from a Muslim!

  30. "ask a Muslim", yeah sure, then ill go ask a Jehovah witness and a Scientologist too, after all they wouldn't try to mislead me in any way, why would they?

  31. Hey, I just want to say I appreciate your videos for taking an objective view and trying to explain it rationally. I just want to add, which you did cover a bit, there are different Muslim interpretations of Shariah, with five major ones: 4 Sunni and 1 Shia. Generally speaking, the Quran teaches "no coercion in religion," and that it is of God's will that people are guided: so, Muslims don't generally (except for extreme cases like the ones you'd see on Fox news) believe one should be executed for leaving the faith, as they can't be forced and it's of God's will that they be guided to the faith. Furthermore, most of the interpretations are very flexible in modern interpretations, and it is mostly a personal code. Note that pure Shariah has actually never been fully enforced, and many Muslims believe only divinely appointed leaders can fully enforce it (properly).

  32. A phobia of Islam is an irrational fear of Islam. And yet you stated that our primary fear is reasonable. Espescially in consideration of the rise of islam oriented terror attacks primarily originating from repressive countries and/or destabilized countries.

  33. Well, common law is most definitely garbage when really crap president has been set and no one is brave enough to set a new one (it's far more widespread a problem than I used to believe). But religious laws are always worse lol Really don't care which religion it is. It never ends well.

  34. it was scary when real superstitious people created the gods, now it's a ridiculously outdated bad idea now that we know why heaven and the gods aren't even real or possible

  35. thanks for giving a lot of information on this. Very insightful.

    I just question your tone of defensiveness for some of that pretty grotesque stuff. Especially when you don't do the same for say the old testament of the bible, which canonically can be better understood – without modern reinterpretations of the text. (you literally described the more savage things as "pretty old testament")

  36. Some people seem to get it wrong

    Islam- Barbaric, theocratic, authoritarian

    Muslims- Usually not, but a minority are

  37. not bad but also there is issues left un answered but i guess for those western .. this video is a good start

  38. Regarding some of the punishments, they can be uplifted depending on the situation. So for instance the thief getting their hand cut off, in times of famine that law would not apply.

  39. Thank you for this video. As an atheist raised in a Islamic country (but not religious household), it helped me link names and concepts I had heard of but never made sense. Most important, it made me realise how much I should learn about the Islamic tradition the same way I know about the Catholic one, in order to criticize it fairly. Thank you for your work

  40. I mean if you're gonna blame modern sharia on a group of people blame it on the right wingers who keep religious opression alive in the middle east.

  41. The abrahamic religions are so thoroughly debunked that if they weren't so dangerous it would be laughable that anyone believed in them.

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