Sharia Controversy

January 3, 2012 • Volume 6, Issue 1
Is there a place for Islamic law in Western countries?
By Sarah Glazer

Introduction

Demonstrators from the right-wing English Defence League protest the use of Islamic law, or Sharia, in Manchester (Getty Images/Christopher Furlong)
Demonstrators from the right-wing English Defence League protest the use of Islamic law, or Sharia, in Manchester, England, on Oct. 10, 2009. Muslim religious councils that base their decisions on Sharia have proliferated in Britain since the 1980s, raising concerns that a parallel legal system based on non-Western values is developing in England. (Getty Images/Christopher Furlong)

To Westerners, the Arabic word Sharia often conjures up images of amputations for Muslim thieves and stonings of adulterous women. But the term actually encompasses all Islamic religious precepts — including how to pray — and its interpretation differs from region to region. Only a few Muslim countries, including Saudi Arabia and Iran, carry out such harsh Sharia penalties today. And, some Muslim countries, such as Tunisia and Morocco, have passed progressive laws giving women equality with men — in the name of Sharia. In recent years, imams at English mosques have been adjudicating hundreds of requests from Muslim women seeking religious divorces. Critics say these Sharia tribunals constitute a parallel legal system that discriminates against women. But researchers say they mainly free women to remarry in keeping with their faith. After recent electoral gains by Islamist parties in Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia, human-rights advocates worry that new governments may reject progressive interpretations of Sharia for the harsher, Saudi- or Iranian-style versions.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Religion and Politics
Jan. 01, 2016  Religious Freedom
Nov. 07, 2014  Religion and Law
Oct. 19, 2012  Understanding Mormonism
Jan. 03, 2012  Sharia Controversy
Jan. 15, 2010  Government and Religion
Feb. 2009  Religious Fundamentalism
Dec. 07, 2007  Protestants Today
Jan. 19, 2007  Future of the Catholic Church
Jul. 30, 2004  Religion and Politics
Nov. 21, 1997  Religious Persecution
Sep. 08, 1995  Catholic Church in the U.S.
Nov. 25, 1994  Religion in America
Oct. 14, 1994  Religion and Politics
Sep. 12, 1986  Getting Religion in Politics
Dec. 14, 1984  Balancing Church and State
Aug. 27, 1976  Politics and Religion
Sep. 09, 1959  Religion in Politics
Jul. 24, 1942  Churches and War
Aug. 15, 1928  American Churches in National Politics
Apr. 09, 1927  The Religious Issue in American Politics
Aug. 01, 1926  The Religious Conflict in Mexico
BROWSE RELATED TOPICS:
Global Issues
Islam