The lexical meaning of the Arabic word ‘shariah’ is ‘plain way’. It is the plain way to sustenance. The technical meaning of the word is ‘Divine Law’. Shariah is a synonym to Islam. Shariah is Islam. It is not just a set of punishments; rather it encompasses our whole way of life. We eat and pray according to shariah.
“Then We put you, [O Muhammad], on an ordained way concerning the matter [of religion]; so follow it and do not follow the inclinations of those who do not know.” (45:18)
The shariah is a Divine System from the Creator, our Creator. If we believe He exists, what are His rights over us? We surrender only to the Creator. He is most ‘qualified’ to legislate for His creation. He has the right to legislate for His creation. Just as the manufacturer of the computer or phone you are reading this on has the most knowledge and right over the computer or phone in question, Allah (SWT) has more right over us, a Divine Right. Not believing in a/the Creator does not mean He does not exist, and this is the response to atheists. The onus is on them to disprove His existence, as the signs of His existence are many and obvious.
There are some differences in the shariah on the same issues, despite it being a Divine System, as Allah (SWT) allowed for some difference of opinion. This encourages people to think and ponder, and to test them to see how they deal with differences of opinions amongst themselves. This whole life is a test. With this being a Divine system, it is not biased in favour of or against anyone. It is against those who reject the command of Allah (SWT) of course, because they go against what they are supposed to do and to believe. But anyone can repent at any time and return to Him and they will have a fresh start. Everyone is equal in the sight of Allah (SWT), the only difference is through taqwa (piety).
The shariah caters for both lives; the life before death and the life after death. It is the only system that does so. Christianity holds the premise that if you are good then you will go to paradise. But what is good? There is no system, no proof and no authenticity to tell us what is good, unlike Islam, where the shariah and the fitrah (innate belief) come together giving us understanding of good from both an external Divine source, and from an internal moral compass.
Many Muslims and non-Muslims alike have the misunderstanding that the shariah is just a set of barbaric punishments. This is wrong, as mentioned; it is a whole way of life. When it comes to punishment itself, shariah punishment is often only applied if the person culpable asks for it to be applied. Why would they ask for its application? Because as Muslims we know that punishment in this life is easier to bear than punishment in the next life, something non-Muslims do not believe in and/or understand. There are also instances where people avoid what Allah (SWT) has told them to avoid, despite there being no punishment for that sin in this life. For example, why do people avoid riba (interest/usury) in this life, even though there is no punishment for it in this life? They do so because of fear of punishment in the next life. The shariah caters for both lives. It is also a comprehensive way of life. Shariah is not just about religion. It is a universal law, applicable to all persons, at all times, in all areas of the world. There is no other system even similar to it.
This life is a test and we must be patient. Real success is to be found in the next life, the life after death, the Hereafter. The shariah helps us strike a balance in all that we do. There are legal things widespread in this country which Islam does not allow, for example, mixed swimming lessons for children after puberty. There are things which Islam allows but the legal system in this country may not incorporate, for example, divorce law. The Jewish ruling on this has been incorporated into the UK legal system, whereby both parties must receive a religious divorce before being granted a legal divorce, and as Muslims we should ask for certain aspects of our shariah law to be incorporated into the UK legal system, not as a parallel system whereby we govern ourselves under shariah law whilst the rest of the UK is governed by the current system, nor as a system to govern everyone in the country by.
The shariah helps us to strike a balance between individuals and communities, and between materialism and spiritualism. We have a duty to ourselves and a duty to our neighbours and a duty to our communities as a whole. We also have the need to fulfil our material desires, and the shariah allows for that in moderation. We also have the need to fulfil our spiritual desires, and again, the shariah allows for that in moderation. We do not lead the life that the rich and famous lead, as this will not benefit us in the life after death. Nor do we lead monastic celibate lives, as this will not help us in benefiting others. The shariah is a complete way of life, it is Islam, and it is all things in moderation.
We ask Allah (SWT) to increase our understanding and guide those who have misunderstood to the correct understanding, aameen.
Notes taken at a lecture delivered by Sheikh Haitham al-Haddad at University of Westminster 2014