What Are the Most Misunderstood Aspects of Sharia Law?

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What are the most misunderstood aspects of Sharia law? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Answer by Dalia Mogahed, Director of Research, Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU), on Quora.

I think the most misunderstood aspects of Sharia are that it is a hardened set of unchanging rules, and bizarrely that Muslims in America are trying to force it upon others in the US.

In reality, the word Sharia is derived from the word for "path". Linguistically it means the "path to water". In the religious context, it means the "path to God." It is a set of timeless principles, enshrined in the Quran and the Prophet's example, that provide ethical guidance. Scholars (men and women) derive law from these principles, through a process called "ijtihad" (no, not jihad) and these derived laws are scholarly opinions, not "edicts." These are called "fiqh", which literally means "an understanding." Here, Muslim history is filled with diversity, contradictory opinions, schools of thought, and differing opinions by the same scholar over time and geography! This built-in flexibility of Islam's legal framework is meant to keep it relevant in different contexts. The best analogy I have to explain the difference between Sharia and Fiqh is that of the compass and the map. Sharia is the compass in that it provides timeless principles, a Muslim's "True North." Fiqh, the map, however changes with time and place but should not contradict the compass. Fiqh is a rich and diverse body of scholarship, not a codebook of rules. They are legal "opinions", and by definition, inherently fallible since they are a human beings "understanding" of God's will, and can be and often are debated.

These principles guide Muslim life. The idea that anyone wants to replace the Constitution with sharia is pure fantasy and deliberate fear mongering for the purpose of fanning the fire of Islamophobia for political gain. Read about the man and motives behind the anti-Sharia movement here: David Yerushalmi, the Man Behind the Anti-Shariah Movement.

Not only do these laws produce anti-Muslim hysteria when they are proposed, but they restrict the rights of Muslim Americans if passed and are being challenged in state level supreme courts on constitutional grounds. The other issue is that the law makers pushing these "laws" also push proposed laws that restrict the rights of other people, including voter suppression and anti-labor laws.

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