Many Muslims across the globe embrace shariah law (Islamic and Koranic law) and believe that it should be adopted as “the law of the land,” according to a new report by The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Based on more than 38,000 face-to-face interviews with Muslims in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa, the survey offers in-depth research about the lives and views of Islamic adherents across the globe.
Of course, there are differences among believes based on both region and county. But perhaps the most intriguing elements observed are the findings that many of the Muslims who want shariah law in a number of countries also embrace harsh penalties such as stonings for adulterers and thieves’ hands being cut off.
IS SHARIAH THE OFFICIAL WORD OF GOD — OR MAN?
Pew notes that most Muslims see shariah law as “the revealed word of God rather than a body of law developed by men based on the word of God.” Overall, believers also seem to embrace the notion that shariah has only one, true meaning, although the level of this adherence varies in certain countries. On a base level, the more engaged one is in the Islamic faith, the more likely he or she is to say that shariah is the revealed word of God.
As for applicability, opinions differ about how Islamic law should be implemented. According to Pew, “Generally, supporters of sharia are most comfortable with its application in cases of family or property disputes.” Obviously, the challenge when it comes to shariah is determining whether it should also be integrated into the legal system.
When asked whether shariah is the revealed word of God, in 17 of the 23 nations where the question was asked, at least half of believers answered affirmatively. The proportions of those claiming that shariah came directly from God verses those who believe that it was developed by man from God’s word differ, depending on the country in which respondents were asked.
When it comes to understanding shariah, there are also a variety of opinions. Large proportions, depending on the country, believe that there is only one understanding — but this varies too. While majorities in Tajikistan, Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan maintain that there is one meaning (at least 55 percent in each country), in Albania, Kosovo and Uzbekistan, large proportions (at least 35 percent) seem to embrace the notion that there could be more than one way to interpret shariah.
SHOULD SHARIAH BE INTEGRATED INTO THE LEGAL SYSTEM?
Shariah may certainly have a place in the personal and family lives of many Muslims, but should it also be a part of the system that determines penalties for criminal activity? Pew investigated this phenomenon, once again finding stark differences depending on the nation in which the poll was conducted.
The research firm notes the intriguing regional differences. While only a minority of Muslims in Southern and Eastern Europe and Central Asia want shariah as a legal code, nations in South Asia, Southeast Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and North Africa are the most in favor of shariah as public law. Pew explains:
In South Asia, high percentages in all the countries surveyed support making sharia the official law, including nearly universal support among Muslims in Afghanistan (99%). More than eight-in-ten Muslims in Pakistan (84%) and Bangladesh (82%) also hold this view. The percentage of Muslims who say they favor making Islamic law the official law in their country is nearly as high across the Southeast Asian countries surveyed (86% in Malaysia, 77% in Thailand and 72% in Indonesia).
In sub-Saharan Africa, at least half of Muslims in most countries surveyed say they favor making sharia the official law of the land, including more than seven-in-ten in Niger (86%), Djibouti (82%), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (74%) and Nigeria (71%).
Support for sharia as the official law of the land also is widespread among Muslims in the Middle East-North Africa region – especially in Iraq (91%) and the Palestinian territories (89%). Only in Lebanon does opinion lean in the opposite direction: 29% of Lebanese Muslims favor making sharia the law of the land, while 66% oppose it.
The proportions can be viewed in the below table. More than half of twenty-five of the countries’ respondents stated that they want to see shariah become the law of the land:
The level of commitment to the faith, as Pew notes, impacts views on legality. Generally speaking, the more Muslims pray and engage in the faith, the more likely they are to support shariah becoming the law of the land. When it comes to whether shariah should apply to Muslims and non-Muslims, alike, in only a few countries majorities endorse this notion. Pew reports that this phenomenon exists most prominently in the Middle East and North Africa.
“The belief that sharia should extend to non-Muslims is most widespread in the Middle East and North Africa, where at least four-in-ten Muslims in all countries except Iraq (38 percent) and Morocco (29 percent) hold this opinion,” Pew explains. “Egyptian Muslims (74 percent) are the most likely to say it should apply to Muslims and non-Muslims alike, while 58 percent in Jordan hold this view.”
HOW SHOULD SHARIAH BE APPLIED?
Making shariah the law of the land obviously spawns some important questions. Among them: What, exactly, would this look like? Overall, there seems to be support for allowing religious judges to handle personal and family affairs. But there is also support — though among lower proportions — for severe punishment, such as cutting off the hands of those who steal and stoning individuals who commit adultery.
Here’s just a sample of what this looks like in Pew’s findings:
Among those who want sharia to be the law of the land, in 10 of 20 countries where there are adequate samples for analysis at least half say they support penalties such as whippings or cutting off the hands of thieves and robbers.17 In South Asia, Pakistani and Afghan Muslims clearly support hudud punishments [apostasy]. In both countries, more than eight-in-ten Muslims who favor making sharia the official law of the land also back these types of penalties for theft and robbery (88% in Pakistan and 81% in Afghanistan). By contrast, only half of Bangladeshis who favor sharia as the law of the land share this view.
In the Middle East and North Africa, many Muslims who support making sharia the official law also favor punishments like cutting off the hands of thieves. This includes at least seven-in-ten in the Palestinian territories (76%) and Egypt (70%), and at least half in Jordan (57%), Iraq (56%) and Lebanon (50%). Only in Tunisia do fewer than half (44%) of those who want Islamic law as the law of the land also back these types of criminal penalties. [...]
In 10 of 20 countries where there are adequate samples for analysis, at least half of Muslims who favor making sharia the law of the land also favor stoning unfaithful spouses.18
Some of the highest support for stoning is found in South Asia and the Middle East-North Africa region. In Pakistan (89%) and Afghanistan (85%), more than eight-in-ten Muslims who want Islamic law as their country’s official law say adulterers should be stoned, while nearly as many say the same in the Palestinian territories (84%) and Egypt (81%). A majority also support stoning as a penalty for the unfaithful in Jordan (67%), Iraq (58%). However, support is significantly lower in Lebanon (46%) and Tunisia (44%), where less than half of those who support sharia as the official law of the land believe that adulterers should be stoned.
Here’s are some of these findings, represented below:
As for apostasy, there wasn’t as much support among adherents surveyed. As for Muslims who believe that shariah should be the law of the land, at least half of those surveyed in six of the 20 countries report supporting executions for apostates (those individuals who convert away from Islam). In Egypt (86 percent), Jordan (82 percent) and Palestine (66 percent) agree with this notion. The full results are available here.
Read the entire shariah portion of the “The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society” report here. In addition to Muslim law, the study provides believers’ stances on politics and women’s rights, among other issues.
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