Sharia Law is Not What You Think It Is

In 39 countries in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, Pew held over 38,000 interviews with Muslims in over 80 languages. And what they found, overwhelming, is that Muslims in that area of the world want Sharia law to be the law of their country.

Before people start sweating about Muslims taking over the world, let me clarify that Sharia law is not the terrorist-fueling radicalism you think it is. Here’s some other things that it is not:

It is not a system designed to convert everyone to Islam: Vast numbers of Muslims, even in theocratic states, support religious freedom and strongly believe the right to practice your own religion is a benefit to society.

It is not meant to convert people to live culturally like Muslims: Sharia law only ever applies to Muslims.

It is not a way for radical Islamic groups to seize control of countries: In fact, over half of the Muslims surveyed are concerned about the growing power of religious extremist groups in their own country, well outside of sharia law. And the majority strongly reject attacks against civilians in the name of Islam.

It is not a primitive system of eye-for-an-eye justice: Muslims do not support severe punishments (like cutting off a hand to punish theft) as accurate interpretations of sharia law.

It is not the creation of a dictator: The same Muslims that support sharia law strongly favor democracy over authoritarian rule.

It is not a means to oppress women: Muslim women supporting sharia law also believe that they should be able to make religious decisions (like whether or not to wear the veil) themselves, and neither men nor women believe in honor killing outside of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Now that all those misconceptions are out of the way, we can address what sharia law really is. It is the "divine law" based on the teachings of Prophet Mohammad and the Qu'ran, mostly relating to behaviors in the domestic sphere such as clothing, food, hygiene, prayer, inheritance, and fasting.

This isn't to say that sharia law (like any other kind of rule) can't be twisted or misinterpreted for darker purposes; it can and it has been used to cause pain and suffering to thousands. But the takeaway here is that at its base level, Sharia law, as conceived by the Muslims polled here, can be a moderate, democratic system.

And while the West has been conditioned to wince or glower at the very word, the majority of Muslims are at peace with their modern-day Islam.

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Medha Chandorkar

As a junior at Georgetown University in Washington DC, I'm studying Government, Women's and Gender Studies, and Justice and Peace Studies. I'm interested in social justice issues, particularly women's rights in the developing world, and politics. Outside of school, I love dancing and reading, and I'm a huge TV / movie buff. In the future, I hope to become a lawyer but right now, I'm just focused on the moment.

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