Sharia law: is it brutal orjust misunderstood?

Briefing: Reports of two shocking judgments have put Sharia law in the dock again. So, what is it?


Two harsh court judgments made in Muslim countries – with a Saudi judge asking a hospital to paralyse a man and a Taliban tribunal ordering the execution of a pregnant widow for infidelity – are just the latest cases to bring Sharia law to worldattention.Amnesty International on Saturday urged the Saudi judge not to impose a punishment requested by the victim of an attack involving a meat cleaver. Left paralysed, the victim, seeking "an eye for an eye", had asked that his attacker be sentenced to paralysis – and the court is understood to have contacted hospitals asking if it was technically possible.Earlier this month, an equally shocking report emerged from Afghanistan. A 35-year-old woman, Bibi Sanubar, died after being shot three times in the head by a Taliban commander. She had earlier been lashed 200 times in public. Her crime was adultery – despite the fact that her husband was long dead.These latest reports come two years after the Archbishop of Canterbury provoked controversy by saying it was "inevitable" that Sharia law would one day be integrated into the UK.

WHAT IS SHARIA?The word derives from archaic Arabic, meaning "the clear path to the watering hole". As these words – which might be paraphrased as "the right way" - suggest, it is broader than just a legal system. Rather, Sharia is a set of precepts governing every aspect of a Muslim's life. Islam sees no separation between law and religion or between church and state. A judge in a Sharia court is also a religious leader and he may make pronouncements on any aspect of life as well as rulings in criminal cases and civil disputes.

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