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Commentary :: Human Rights
What is the Shariah?
10 May 2004
Examples of Shariah Law
What is the Shariah?

To whom it may concern:

Islam is often in the news these days. News articles that relate to Islam sometimes refer to the Shariah. What is the Shariah? The Shariah is the Islamic Sacred Law which was developed hundreds of years ago by Islamic jurists using the Koran and hadith (remembrances about what the Prophet Muhammad said and did during the time he was alive) as guideposts. The Shariah outlines a complete way of life in a legal framework which tells you how to do everything from how to pray to how to go to the bathroom. What does the Shariah law actually state? Here are some examples of Shariah law:

1. Offensive, military jihad against non-Muslims is a communal, religious obligation;
2. A person who is ignorant about Islamic legal opinion must follow the legal opinion of a scholar;
3. The penalty for a Muslim apostate (someone who no longer believes in or no longer follows the tenets of Islam) is death;
4. When slaughtering animals for food, a knife must be used to cut the windpipe and gullet;
5. A woman is only eligible to receive half the inheritance of a man;
6. Marriage may be forced on virgins by their father or father’s father;
7. A non-Arab man may not marry an Arab woman;
8. A woman must seek permission from her husband to leave the house;
9. A Muslim man cannot marry a woman who is a Zoroastrian, an idol worshipper, an apostate from Islam or a woman with one parent who is Jewish or Christian, with the other being Zoroastrian; a Muslim woman cannot marry anyone but a Muslim;
10. A free Muslim man may marry up to four women;
11. Retaliation is obligatory in most cases when someone is deliberately murdered except when a Muslim kills a non-Muslim, a Jew or a Christian kills a Muslim apostate or a father or mother kill their offspring;
12. Non-Muslim subjects (Ahl al-Dhimma) of a Muslim state are subject to a series of discriminatory laws – “dhimmitude”;
13. The penalty for fornication or sodomy is being stoned to death;
14. The penalty for an initial theft is amputation of the right hand. Subsequent thefts are penalized by further amputations of feet and hand;
15. A non-Muslim cannot testify against a Muslim in court; a person who is “without respectability” cannot give legal testimony; a woman’s legal testimony is only given half the legal weight of a man’s (and is only acceptable in cases involving property); to legally prove fornication or sodomy requires 4 male witnesses who actually saw the act;
16. The establishment and continuation of the Islamic Caliphate (by force, if necessary) is a communal obligation;
17. Sodomites and Lesbians must be killed;
18. Laughing too much is forbidden;
19. Musical instruments are unlawful;
20. Creating pictures of animate life is forbidden;
21. Female circumcision, which includes the excision of the clitoris, is obligatory;
22. Slavery is permitted;
23. People may be bribed to convert to Islam;
24. Beating a rebellious wife is permissible; and,
25. Lying is permissible in a time of war (or jihad).

In order to demonstrate to you that the above examples of Shariah law are real and valid, I will excerpt below the relevant legal clauses relating to each of the above numbered headings. First, I will repeat the heading. Then, I will excerpt the relevant legal clauses.

However, to start with, I must explain from which authority I will be excerpting these legal clauses. I will be excerpting them from a book entitled in English as the “Reliance of the Traveller: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law”. In Arabic it is referred to as the Umdat al-Salik and was authored by Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri (d. 1368 A.D.). The English translation was edited and translated by Nuh Ha Mim Keller. The book is published by Amana Publications, Beltsville, Maryland, U.S.A.. I will be excerpting from the revised 1994 edition. The book is available for sale at It is also available at

The book is self-described as follows:

This work is the first translation of a standard Islamic legal reference in a European language to be certified by al-Azhar, the Muslim world’s oldest institution of higher learning. It presents an explanative interpretation of ‘Umdat as-salik, a classic Sunni manual of Sacred Law by Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri (d. 769/1368) that comprises the legal work of Imam Nawawi, the great thirteenth-century Shaf’I hadith scholar and jurisprudent. Ibn Naquib’s famous handbook carefully summarizes the conclusions of Nawawi’s legal encyclopedia al-Majmu’ on all aspects of practicing Islam, from prayer, marriage, jihad, and inheritance to the other facets of Islamic life. [from the rear cover of the book – letter writer’s note]

On the Amana Publications website, the book is described as follows:
'Umdat al-Salik wa 'Uddat al-Nasik (Reliance of the Traveller and tools of the Worshipper) is a classic manual of fiqh. It represents the fiqh rulings according to the Shafi'I school of jurisprudence. The appendices form an integral part of the book and present original texts and translations from classic works by prominent scholars such as al-Ghazali, Ibn Qudamah, al-Nawawi, al-Qurturbi, al-Dhahabi, Ibn Hajar and other, on topics of Islamic law, faith, spirituality, Qur'anic exegesis and Hadith sciences. It has also biographical notes about every person mentioned (391 biographies), bibliography of each work cited (136 works), and a detailed subject index (95 pages). Of the 136 works drawn upon in its commentary and appendices, 134 are in the original Arabic. The sections and paragraphs have been numbered to facilitate cross-reference.
"There is no doubt that this translation is a valuable and important work, whether as a textbook for teaching Islamic jurisprudence to English speakers, or as a legal reference for use by scholars, educated laymen, and students in this language."
Dr. Taha Jabir al-'Alwani, International Institute of Islamic Thought
(Herndon, VA; December 1990)
"...We certify that this translation corresponds to the Arabic original and conforms to the practice and faith of the orthodox Sunni community (Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Jama'a)."
al-Azhar, the Muslim world's most prestigious institution of higher Islamic learning (Cairo; February, 1991)
"This translation is a remarkable piece of work that will prove to be indispensable to the English-speaking Muslims and to any Western student of Islam ..."
Dr. A. Kevin Reinhart, Middle Eastern Studies Association Bulletin (27.2, 1993)
"This is a truly magnificent piece of work that will prove to be indispensable to the English-speaking Muslims and to any Western student of Islam ..."
Dr. Farhat J. Ziadeh, Journal of the American Oriental Society, JAOS (115.1, 1995)
"...We have here in English an authoritative compendium of Muslim Law. All this makes it a valuable resource and reference, which anyone interested in Islam will want to have in his/her library."
Dr. John A. Williams, The Muslim World (85.1-2, 1995)
This is an impressive piece of work...We recommend it to all English-speaking Muslims, and to anyone who is interested in Islamic Law."
Dr. Mokrane Guezzou, Muslim World Books Review, MWBR (15.3, 1995)

The reference for the above descriptions is:

However, there may be someone who is reading this who is thinking that perhaps this legal reference is not truly representative of Islamic Sacred Law and the writer is providing us with incorrect and misleading information. To anticipate such a reaction here are the first few paragraphs from the introduction to the book (pp. vii-viii):

The four Sunni schools of Islamic law, Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’I, and Hanbali, are identical in approximately 75 percent of their legal conclusions, while the remaining questions, variances within a single family of explainers of the Holy Koran and prophetic sunna, are traceable to methodological differences in understanding or authentication of the primary textual evidence, differing viewpoints sometimes reflected in even a single school. The present volume, “Umdat al-salik [The reliance of the traveler], represents one of the finest and most reliable short works in Shafi’i jurisprudence, a school with perhaps fewer scholarly differences on rulings than others because its main resource is the recension of Imam Nawawi, the great thirteenth-century Shafi’i hadith scholar and jurisprudent who upgraded the work of previous generations in terms of the authenticity and application of hadith evidence. The author of Umdat al-salik, Ibn Naqib, closely follows the order and conclusions of Nawawi’s encyclopedic al-Majmu: sharh al-Muhadhdhab [The compendium: an exegesis of the “The rarefication”] with its addendum, al-Takmila [The completion], by Ibn Naquib’s own sheikh, Taqi al-Din Subki. The present volume is virtually an index of the conclusions of the Majmu, and readers interested in evidence from Koran and hadith for the rulings of the present volume can find them there, or, Allah willing, in a forthcoming sister-work to be called The Guidance of the Traveller.

In an age when some Muslims are calling for an end to the four schools of jurisprudence in order to make way for a single school exclusively taken, it is claimed, from the texts of the Koran and hadith, it might be wondered: why offer Muslims a book from a particular school at all? The answer, in part, is that each school does not merely comprise the work of a single Imam, but rather represents a large collectivity of scholars whose research in Sacred Law and its ancillary disciplines has been characterized by considerable division of labor and specialization over a very long period of time. Among the specialists in the field of hadith, for example, who were Shafi’is are such scholars as Bukhari, Muslim, Tirmidhi, Nasa’i, Ibn Majah, Abu Dawud, Ibn Kathir, Dhahabi, and Nawawi; while the school has also had many Koranic exegetes, scholars of the sciences of Arabic and legal specialists, most of whom were actively involved in contributing to the school’s jurisprudence. The result of this division of labor has been a body of legal texts that are arguably superior in evidence, detail, range, and in sheer usefulness to virtually any recent attempt to present Islam as a unified system of human life. For most nontraditional works seen up to the present have been one-man efforts, while the classic texts have been checked and refined by a large number of scholars, and the difference is manifest. At the same time, it is fairly safe to say that there is no single work from any of the schools that has everything, and an impartial student of jurisprudence must surely feel that the research of the schools should not only be learned and transmitted, but also sorted out and recast into a form accessible and suited to Muslim needs today.

Regarding this needs for relevance, it will be noticed that the basic text Umdat al-salik is by no means the only thing in the present work. Three introductory sections in the form of a “user’s guide to the Sacred Law” precede the basic text, personal ethics and character (akhlaq) to Islamic spirituality and tenets of faith, while a final biographical section tells readers who the figures mentioned throughout the book’s legal texts are. Though these separate parts cover a considerable range of topics within the Islamic ethic, the aim in gathering them has been to achieve a unitary reference work that is eclectic in neither subject matter nor scholarly sources.

As for subject matter, the emphasis of the book is on the path we now travel, to paradise or hell, and it is this that unites the work and determines the relative importance of the questions treated; why, for example, a legal discussion from Nawawi’s Kitab al adhkar [The book of the remembrances of Allah] on unlawful slander (ghiba) must be given equal weight to a section on the sunnas of ablution (wudu) from Umdat al-salik, and so on.

As for the sources, the authors translated are, with few exceptions, well-known scholars of the Shafi’i school of jurisprudence and Ash’ari school of tenets of faith, as appears in their biographies. The many who were Sufis were of the strictest observance of the Sacred Law. While such affiliations, and indeed much of what can be termed traditional Sunni Islam, have not been spared the criticism of certain post-caliphal Muslim writers and theorists, the authors of the present volume and their positions do represent the orthodox Muslim intellectual and spiritual heritage that has been the strength of the Community for over a thousand years, and the means through which Allah has preserved His religion, in its purest and fullest sense, to the present day. (letter writer’s emphasis)

Thus, as you can see, the legal texts which I will be quoting are truly representative of orthodox Sunni Muslim legal thinking and do not misrepresent the Sunni Muslim legal point of view in any way. Accordingly, please find excerpted below the legal texts associated with the headings outlined above including all relevant page references. The following symbols within the excerpts mean as follows: A: comment by Sheikh ‘Abd al-Wakil Durubi; N: comment by Sheikh Nuh ‘Ali Salman; n: remark by the translator; and, O: excerpt from the commentary by Sheikh ‘Umar Barakat.

1. Offensive, military jihad against non-Muslims is a communal, religious obligation

pp. 599-603


(O: Jihad means to war against non-Muslims, and is etymologically derived from the word mujahada, signifying warfare to establish the religion. And it is the lesser jihad. As for the greater jihad, it is spiritual warfare against the lower self (nafs), which is why the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said as he was returning from jihad,

“We have returned from the lesser jihad to the greater jihad.”
The scriptural basis for jihad, prior to scholarly consensus is such Koranic verses as:

(1) “Fighting is prescribed for you” (Koran 2:216);

(2) “Slay them wherever you find them” (Koran 4:89);

(3) “Fight the idolaters utterly” (Koran 9:36);

and such hadiths as the one related by Bukhari and Muslim that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said:

“I have been commanded to fight people until they testify that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, and perform the prayer, and pay zakat. If they say it, they have saved their blood and possessions from me, except for the rights of Islam over them. And their final reckoning is with Allah”;

and the hadith reported by Muslim,

“To go forth in the morning or evening to fight in the path of Allah is better than the whole world and everything in it.”

Details concerning jihad are found in the accounts of the military expeditions of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), including his own martial forays and those on which he dispatched others. The former consist of the ones he personally attended, some twenty-seven (others say twenty-nine) of them. He fought in eight of them, and killed only one person with his noble hand, Ubayy ibn Khalaf, at the battle of Uhud. On the latter expeditions he sent others to fight, himself remaining at Medina, and these were forty-seven in number.)


09.1 Jihad is a communal obligation. When enough people perform it to successfully accomplish it, it is no longer obligatory upon others (O: the evidence for which is the Prophet’s saying (Allah bless him and give him peace),

“He who provides the equipment for a soldier in jihad has himself performed jihad,”

and Allah Most High having said:

“Those of the believers who are unhurt but sit behind are not equal to those who fight in Allah’s path with their property and lives. Allah has preferred those who fight with their property and lives a whole degree above those who sit behind. And to each, Allah has promised great good” (Koran 4:95)

If none of those concerned perform jihad, and it does not happen at all, then everyone who is aware that it is obligatory is guilty of sin, if there was a possibility of having performed it. In the time of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) jihad was a communal obligation after his emigration (hijra) to Medina. As for subsequent times, there are two possible states in respect to non-Muslims.

The first is when they are in their own countries, in which case jihad is a communal obligation, and this is what our author is speaking of when he says, “Jihad is a communal obligation,” meaning upon the Muslims each year.

The second state is when non-Muslims invade a Muslim country or near to one, in which case jihad is personally obligatory upon the inhabitants of that country, who must repel the non-Muslims with whatever they can.

0.9.2 Jihad is personally obligatory upon all those present in the battle lines (A: and to flee is an enormity) (O: provided one is able to fight. If unable, because of illness or the death of one’s mount when not able to fight on foot, or because one no longer has a weapon, then one may leave. One may also leave if the opposing non-Muslim army is more than twice the size of the Muslim force).

0.9.3 Jihad is also (O: personally) obligatory for everyone (O: able to perform it, male or female, old or young) when the enemy has surrounded the Muslims (O: on every side, having entered our territory, even if the land consists of ruins, wilderness, or mountains, for the non-Muslim forces entering Muslim lands is a weighty matter that cannot be ignored, but must be met with effort and struggle to repel them by every possible means. All of which is if conditions permit gathering (A: the above mentioned) people, provisioning them, and readying them for war, then whoever is found by a non-Muslim and knows he will be killed if captured is obliged to defend himself in whatever way is possible. But if not certain that he will be killed, meaning that he might or might not be, as when he might merely be taken captive, and he knows he will be killed if he does not surrender, then he may either surrender or fight. A woman too has a choice between fighting or surrendering if she is certain that she will not be subjected to an indecent act if captured. If uncertain that she will be safe from such an act, she is obliged to fight, and surrender is not permissible.


Those called upon (O: to perform jihad when it is a communal obligation) are every able-bodied man who has reached puberty and is sane.



0.9.8 The caliph makes war upon Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians (N: provided he has first invited them to enter Islam in faith and practice, and if they will not, then invited them to enter the social order of Islam by paying the non-Muslim poll tax (jizya) – which is the significance of their paying it, not the money itself – while remaining in their ancestral religions) (O: and the war continues) until they become Muslim or else pay the non-Muslim poll tax (O: in accordance with the word of Allah Most High,

“Fight those who do not believe in Allah and the Last Day and who forbid not what Allah and His messenger have forbidden – who do not practice the religion of truth, being of those who have been given the Book – until they pay the poll tax out of hand and are humbled” (Koran 9:29),

the time and place for which is before the final descent of Jesus (upon whom be peace). After his final coming, nothing but Islam will be accepted from them, for taking the poll tax is only effective until Jesus’ descent (upon him and our Prophet be peace), which is the divinely revealed law of Muhammad. The coming of Jesus does not entail a separate divinely revealed law, for he will rule by the law of Muhammad. As for the Prophet’s saying (Allah bless him and give him peace),

“I am the last, there will be no prophet after me.”

this does not contradict the final coming of Jesus (upon whom be peace), since he will not rule according to the Evangel, but as a follower of our Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace)).

0.9.9 The caliph fights all other peoples until they become Muslim (O: because they are not a people with a Book, nor honored as such, and are not permitted to settle with paying the poll tax (jizya)) (n: though according to the Hanafi school, people of all other religions, even idol worshippers, are permitted to live under the protection of the Islamic state if they either become Muslim or agree to pay the poll tax, the sole exceptions to which are apostates from Islam and idol worshippers who are Arabs, neither of whom has any choice but becoming Muslim (al-Hidaya sharh Bidaya al-mubtadi (y21), 6.48-49)).

2. A person who is ignorant about Islamic legal opinion must follow the legal opinion of a scholar

p. 20


b5.1 (Muhammad Sa’id Buti:) Because scholars accept the evidence from Koran, sunna and reason as complete and intersubstantiative that the ordinary person or learned one not at the level of textual dedication and ijtihad is not entitled but to follow a qualified mujtahid who has a comprehensive grasp of the evidence – they say that a formal legal opinion (fatwa) from a mujtahid is in relation to the ordinary person just as a proof from the Koran and sunna is in relation to the mujtahid. For the Koran, just as it obligates the scholar thoroughly versed in it to hold to its evidences and proofs, also obligates (n: in the verse quoted above at b2.1) the uninformed person to adhere to the formal legal opinion of the scholar and his ijtihad (ibid., 73).

3. The penalty for a Muslim apostate (someone who no longer believes in or no longer follows the tenets of Islam) is death

pp. 595-598


(O: Leaving Islam is the ugliest form of unbelief (kufr) and the worst. It may come about through sarcasm, as when someone is told, “Trim your nails, it is sunna,” and he replies, “I would not do it even if it were,” as opposed to when some circumstance exists which exonerates him of having committed apostasy, such as when his tongue runs away with him, or when he is quoting someone, or says it out of fear.)

o8.1 When a person who has reached puberty and is sane voluntarily apostatizes from Islam, he deserves to be killed.

o8.2 In such a case, it is obligatory for the caliph (A: or his representative) to ask him to repent and return to Islam. If he does, it is accepted from him, but if he refuses, he is immediately killed.

o8.3 If he is a freeman, no one besides the caliph or his representatives may kill him. If someone else kills him, the killer is disciplined (def: o17) (O: for arrogating the caliph’s prerogative and encroaching upon his rights, as this is one of his duties).

o8.4 There is no indemnity for killing an apostate (O: or any expiation, since it is killing someone who deserves to die).

o8.5 If he apostatizes from Islam and returns several times, it (O: i.e. his return to Islam, which occurs when he states the two Testifications of Faith (def: o8.7(12))) is accepted from him, though he is disciplined (o17).

o8.6 (A: If a spouse in a consummated marriage apostatizes from Islam, the couple are separated for a waiting period consisting of three intervals between menstruations. If the spouse returns to Islam before the waiting period ends, the marriage is not annulled but is considered to have continued the whole time (dis: m7.4).)


o8.7 (O: Among the things that entail apostasy from Islam (may Allah protect us from them) are:

(1) to prostrate to an idol, whether sarcastically, out of mere contrariness, or in actual conviction, like that of someone who believes the creator to be something that has originated in time. Like idols in this respect are the sun or moon, and like prostration is bowing to other than Allah, if one intends reverence towards it like the reverence due to Allah;

(2) to intend to commit unbelief, even if in the future. And like this intention is hesitating whether to do so or not: one thereby immediately commits unbelief;

(3) to speak words that imply unbelief such as “Allah is the third of three,” or “I am Allah” – unless one’s tongue has run away with one, or one is quoting another, or is one of the friends of Allah Most High (wali, def: w33) in a spiritually intoxicated state of oblivion (A: a friend of Allah or not, someone totally oblivious is as if insane, and is not held legally responsible (dis: k13.1 (O:))), for these latter do not entail unbelief;

(4) to revile Allah or his messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace);

(5) to deny the existence of Allah, His beginningless eternality, His endless eternality, or to deny any of His attributes which the consensus of Muslims ascribes to Him (dis: v1);

(6) to be sarcastic about Allah’s name, His command, His interdiction, His promise, or His threat;

(7) to deny any verse of the Koran or anything which by scholarly consensus (def: b7) belongs to it, or to add a verse that does not belong to it;

(8) to mockingly say, “I don’t know what faith is”;

(9) to reply to someone who says, “There is no power or strength save through Allah”: “Your saying ‘There’s no power or strength, etc.’ won’t save you from hunger”;

(10) for a tyrant, after an oppressed person says, “This is through the decree of Allah,” to reply, “I act without the decree of Allah”’;

(11) to say that a Muslim is an unbeliever (kafir) (dis: w47) in words that are uninterpretable as merely meaning he is an ingrate towards Allah for divinely given blessings (n: in Arabic, also “kafir”);

(12) when someone asks to be taught the Testification of Faith (Ar. Shahada, the words, “La ilaha ill Allahu Muhammadun rasulu Llah” (There is no god but Allah, Muhammad is the messenger of Allah)), and a Muslim refuses to teach him it;

(13) to describe a Muslim or someone who wants to become a Muslim in terms of unbelief (kufr);

(14) to deny the obligatory character of something which by the consensus of Muslims (ijma’, def: b7) is part of Islam, when it is well known as such, like the prayer (salat) or even one rak’a from one of the five obligatory prayers, if there is no excuse (def: u2.4);

(15) to hold that any of Allah’s messengers or prophets are liars, or to deny their being sent;

(n: ‘Ala’ al-Din ‘Abidin adds the following:

(16) to revile the religion of Islam;

(17) to believe that things in themselves or by their own nature have any causal influence independent of the will of Allah;

(18) to deny the existence of angels or jinn (def: w22), or the heavens;

(19) to be sarcastic about any ruling of the Sacred Law;

(20) to deny that Allah intended the Prophet’s message (Allah bless him and give him peace) to be the religion followed by the entire world (dis: w4.3-4) (al-Hadiyya al-‘Ala’iyya (y4), 423-24).)

There are others, for the subject is nearly limitless. May Allah Most High save us and all Muslims from it.)

p. 109, f1.3

f1.3 Someone raised among Muslims who denies the obligatoriness of the prayer, zakat, fasting Ramadan, the pilgrimage, or the unlawfulness of wine and adultery, or denies something else upon which there is scholarly concensus (ijima’, def: b7) and which is necessarily known as being of the religion (N: necessarily known meaning things that any Muslim would know about if asked) thereby becomes an unbeliever (kafir) and is executed for his unbelief. (O: if he does not admit he is mistaken and acknowledge the obligatoriness or unlawfulness of that which is there is scholarly consensus upon. As for if he denies the obligatoriness of something there is not consensus upon, then he is not adjudged an unbeliever).

4. When slaughtering animals for food, a knife must be used to cut the windpipe and gullet

p. 364-365

j17.4 The necessary condition for slaughtering any animal which is within one’s capacity to slaughter (O: domesticated or wild) is to cut both the windpipe and the gullet (O: windpipe meaning the channel of breath, and gullet meaning the channel of food and drink which lies beneath the windpipe. ….

The slaughterer should cut swiftly and not take his time such that he has to cut two or more times.

5. A woman is only eligible to receive half the inheritance of a man

p. 477-478

L6.3 (N: A summary of X’s husband’s share:
- ½ if there is no inheriting descendant
- ¼ if there is an inheriting descendant.
- The husband’s share is not eliminated by anyone.)

L6.4 (N: A summary of X’s wife’s share:

- ¼ if there is no inheriting descendant
- 1/8 if there is an inheriting descendant
- The wife’s share is not eliminated by anyone.)

6. Marriage may be forced on virgins by their father or father’s father

p. 522, m3.13


m3.13 Guardians are of two types, those who may compel their female charges to marry someone, and those who may not.

(1) The only guardians who may compel their charge to marry are a virgin bride’s father or father’s father, compel meaning to marry her to a suitable match (def: m4) without her consent.

(2) Those who may not compel her are not entitled to marry her to someone unless she accepts and gives her permission.

Whenever the bride is a virgin, the father or father’s father may marry her to someone without her permission, though it is recommended to ask her permission if she has reached puberty. A virgin’s silence is considered as permission.

7. A non-Arab man may not marry an Arab woman

p. 523, m4.2

m4.2 The following are not suitable matches for one another:

(1) a non-Arab man for an Arab woman (O: because of the hadith that the prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said,

“Allah has chosen the Arabs above others”)

8. A woman must seek permission from her husband to leave the house

p. 538


m10.3 (A: A husband may permit his wife to leave the house for a lesson in Sacred Law, for invocation of Allah (dhikr), to see her female friends, or to go to any place in the town. A woman may not leave the city without her husband or a member of her unmarriageable kin (def: m6.2) accompanying her, unless the journey is obligatory, like the hajj. It is unlawful for her to travel otherwise, and unlawful for her husband to allow her to.) (n: In the Hanafi school, it is not unlawful for her to travel beyond city limits without a husband or member of her unmarriageable kin unless the distance to her intended destination exceeds ca. 77 km./48 mi. (al-Lubab fi sharh al-Kitab (y88), 1.105).)

m10.4 The husband may forbid his wife to leave the home (O: because of the hadith related by Bayhaqu that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said,

“It is not permissible for a woman who believes in Allah and the Last Day to allow someone into her husband’s house if he is opposed, or to go out if he is averse”).

But if one of her relatives dies, it is preferable to let her leave to visit them.

9. A Muslim man cannot marry a woman who is a Zoroastrian, an idol worshipper, an apostate from Islam or a woman with one parent who is Jewish or Christian, with the other being Zoroastrian; a Muslim woman cannot marry anyone but a Muslim

p. 529

m6.7 It is unlawful for a Muslim man to marry:

(1) a Zoroastrian woman;

(2) an idol worshipper;

(3) an apostate from Islam (murtadd, def: o8);

(4) or a woman with one parent who is Jewish or Christian, while the other is Zoroastrian.

(5) (N: It is not lawful or valid for a Muslim man to be married to any woman who is not either a Muslim, Christian, or Jew; nor is it lawful or valid for a Muslim woman to be married to anyone besides a Muslim.)

10. A free Muslim man may marry up to four women

p. 530

m6.10 It is unlawful for a free man to marry more than four women.

11. Retaliation is obligatory in most cases when someone is deliberately murdered except when a Muslim kills a non-Muslim, a Jew or Christian kills a Muslim apostate, or a father or mother kill their offspring

pp. 582-584

o1.1 Retaliation is obligatory (A: if the person entitled wishes to take it (dis: o3.8)) against anyone who kills a human being purely intentionally and without right. ….

o1.2 The following are not subject to retaliation:

(2) a Muslim for killing a non-Muslim;

(3) a Jewish or Christian subject of the Islamic state for killing an apostate from Islam (O: because a subject of the state is under its protection, while killing an apostate from Islam is without consequences);

(4) a father or mother (or their fathers or mothers) for killing their offspring, or offspring’s offspring.

12. Non-Muslim subjects (Ahl al-Dhimma) of a Muslim state are subject to a series of discriminatory laws – “dhimmitude”

pp. 607-609


o11.1 A formal agreement of protection is made with citizens who are:

(1) Jews;
(2) Christians;
(3) Zoroastrians;
(4) Samarians and Sabians, if their religions do not respectively contradict the fundamental bases of Judaism and Christianity;
(5) and those who adhere to the religion of Abraham or one of the other prophets (upon whom be blessings and peace).

o11.2 Such an agreement may not be effected with those who are idol worshippers (dis: o9.9 (n:)), or those who do not have a Sacred Book or something that could have been a Book.

(A: Something that could have been a book refers to those like the Zoroastrians, who have remnants resembling an ancient Book. As for the pseudoscriptures of cults that have appeared since Islam (n: such as the Sikhs, Baha’is, Mormons, Qadianis, etc.), they neither are nor could be a Book, since the Koran is the final revelation (dis: w4).)

o11.3 Such an agreement is only valid when the subject peoples:

(a) follow the rules of Islam (A: those mentioned below (o11.5) and those involving public behavior and dress, though in acts of worship and their private lives, the subject communities have their own laws, judges, and courts, enforcing the rules of their own religion among themselves);
(b) and pay the non-Muslim poll tax (jizya).


o11.4 The minimum non-Muslim poll tax is one dinar (n: 4.235 grams of gold) per person (A: per year). The maximum is whatever both sides agree upon.

It is collected with leniency and politeness, as are all debts, and is not levied on women, children, or the insane.

o11.5 Such non-Muslim subjects are obliged to comply with Islamic rules that pertain to the safety and indemnity of life, reputation, and property. In addition, they:

(1) are penalized for committing adultery or theft, though not for drunkenness;
(2) are distinguished from Muslims in dress, wearing a wide cloth belt (zunnar);
(3) are not greeted with “as-Salamu alaykum”;
(4) must keep to the side of the street;
(5) may not build higher than or as high as the Muslims’ buildings, though if they acquire a tall house, it is not razed;
(6) are forbidden to openly display wine or pork, (A: to ring church bells or display crosses,) recite the Torah or Evangel aloud, or make public display of their funerals and feastdays;
(7) and are forbidden to build new churches.

o11.6 They are forbidden to reside in the Hijaz, meaning the area and towns around Mecca, Medina, and Yamama, for more than three days (when the caliph allows them to enter there for something they need).

o11.7 A non-Muslim may not enter the Meccan Sacred Precinct (Haram) under any circumstances, or enter any other mosque without permission (A: nor may Muslims enter churches without their permission).

o11.8 It is obligatory for the caliph (def: o25) to protect those of them who are in Muslim lands just as he would Muslims, and to seek the release of those of them who are captured.

o11.9 If non-Muslim subjects of the Islamic state refuse to conform to the rules of Islam, or to pay the non-Muslim poll tax, then their agreement with the state has been violated (dis: o11.11) (A: though if only one of them disobeys, it concerns him alone).

o11.10 The agreement is also violated (A: with respect to the offender alone) if the state has stipulated that any of the following things break it, and one of the subjects does so anyway, though if the state has not stipulated that these break the agreement, then they do not; namely, if one of the subject people:

(1) commits adultery with a Muslim woman or marries her;
(2) conceals spies of hostile forces;
(3) leads a Muslim away from Islam;
(4) kills a Muslim;
(5) or mentions something impermissible about Allah, the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), or Islam.

o11.11 When a subject’s agreement with the state has been violated, the caliph chooses between the four alternatives mentioned above in connection with prisoners of war (o9.14).

13. The penalty for fornication or sodomy is being stoned to death

p. 610


o12.1 The legal penalty is obligatorily imposed upon anyone who fornicates or commits sodomy (A: provided it is legally established (def: n11.2(O))) when they:

(a) have reached puberty;

(b) are sane;

(c) and commit the act voluntarily;

no matter whether the person is a Muslim, non-Muslim subject of the Islamic state, or someone who has left Islam.

o12.2 If the offender is someone with the capacity to remain chaste, then he or she is stoned to death (def: o12.6), someone with the capacity to remain chaste meaning anyone who has had sexual intercourse (A: at least once) with their spouse in a valid marriage, and is free, of age, and sane. A person is not considered to have the capacity to remain chaste if he or she is has only had intercourse in a marriage that is invalid, or is prepubescent at the time of marital intercourse, or is someone insane at the time of marital intercourse who subsequently regains their sanity prior to committing adultery.

If the offender is not someone with the capacity to remain chaste, then the penalty consists of being scourged (def: o12.5) one hundred stripes and banished to a distance of at least 81 km./50 mi. for one year.

14. The penalty for an initial theft is amputation of the right hand. Subsequent thefts are penalized by further amputations of feet and hand


o14.1 A person’s right hand is amputated, whether he is a Muslim, non-Muslim subject of the Islamic state, or someone who has left Islam, when he:

(a) has reached puberty;

(b) is sane;

(c) is acting voluntarily;

(d) and steals at least a quarter of a dinar (n: 1.058 grams of gold) or goods worth that much (A: at the market prices current) at the time of the theft;

(e) from a place meeting the security requirements normal (A: in that locality and time) for safeguarding similar articles (def: o14.3);

(f) provided there is no possible confusion (dis: o14.2(3)) as to whether he took it by way of theft or for some other reason.

If a person steals a second time, his left foot is amputated; if a third time, then his left hand; and if he steals again, then his right foot. If he steals a fifth time, he is disciplined (def: o17). If he does not have a right hand (N: at the first offense), then his left foot is amputated. If he has a right hand but loses it after the theft (O: by an act of God) but before he has been punished for it, then nothing is amputated. After amputation, the limb is cauterized with hot oil (A: which in previous times was the means to stop the bleeding and save the criminal’s life).

15. A non-Muslim cannot testify against a Muslim in court; a person who is “without respectability” cannot give legal testimony; a woman’s legal testimony is only given half the legal weight of a man’s (and is only acceptable in cases involving property); to legally prove fornication or sodomy requires 4 male witnesses who actually saw the act

p. 635


o24.2 Legal testimony is only acceptable from a witness who:

(e) is religious (O: meaning upright (o24.4) (A: and Muslim), for Allah Most High says,

“Let those of rectitude among you testify” (Koran 65:2),

and unbelief is the vilest form of corruption, as goes without saying).

o24.3 Nor is testimony acceptable from someone who:

(3) … is without respectability (def: o24.2(f)), such as a street-sweeper, bathhouse attendant, and the like.

o24.7 The testimony of the following is legally acceptable when it concerns cases involving property, or transactions dealing with property, such as sales:

(1) two men;

(2) two women and a man;

(3) or a male witness together with the oath of the plaintiff.

o24.8 If testimony does not concern property, such as marriage or prescribed legal penalties, then only two male witnesses may testify (A: though the Hanafi school holds that two women and a man may testify for marriage).

o24.9 If testimony concerns fornication or sodomy, then it requires four male witnesses (O: who testify, in the case of fornication, that they have seen the offender insert the head of his penis into her vagina).

16. The establishment and continuation of the Islamic Caliphate (by force, if necessary) is a communal obligation

pp. 638-639


o25.1 (Mawardi:) The reason the office of supreme leadership has been established in Sacred Law is to fulfill the caliphal successorship to prophethood in preserving the religion and managing this-worldly affairs. The investiture of someone from the Islamic Community (Umma) able to fulfill the duties of the caliphate is obligatory by scholarly consensus (def: b7), though scholars differ as to whether its obligatory character is established through reason or through Revealed Law.

pp. 642-644


o25.4 The caliphate may be legally effected … (1) by an oath of fealty … (2) … by the caliph appointing a successor … (3) through seizure of power by an individual possessing the qualifications of a caliph (H: meaning by force …) [letter writer’s emphasis]

17. Sodomites and Lesbians must be killed

pp. 664-665


p17.1 In more than one place in the Holy Koran, Allah recounts to us the story of Lot’s people, and how he destroyed them for their wicked practice. There is consensus among both Muslims and the followers of all other religions that sodomy is an enormity. It is even viler and uglier than adultery.

p17.2 Allah Most High says:

“Do you approach the males of humanity, leaving the wives Allah has created for you? But you are a people who transgress” (Koran 26:165-66).

p17.3 The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said:

(1) “Kill the one who sodomizes and the one who lets it be done to him.”

(2) “May Allah curse him who does what Lot’s people did.”

(3) “Lesbianism by women is adultery between them.”

18. Laughing too much is forbidden

p. 755-756

r19.0 JOKING

r19.2 Excessive joking is blameworthy and forbidden, since it eliminates one’s dignity and reserve, and creates resentment in certain situations and people. It also causes immoderate laughter, which kills the heart. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said to his companions,

“Avoid excessive laughter, for too much laughter kills the heart.”

19. Musical instruments are unlawful

pp. 774-775


r40.1 (Ibn Hajar Haytami:) As for the condemnation of musical instruments, flutes, strings and the like by the Truthful and Trustworthy (Allah bless him and give him peace), who

“does not speak from personal caprice: it is nothing besides a revelation inspired” (Koran 53:3-4),

let those who refuse to obey him beware lest calamity strike them, or a painful torment. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said:

(1) “Allah Mighty and Majestic sent me as a guidance and mercy to believers and commanded me to do away with musical instruments, flutes, strings, crucifixes, and the affair of the pre-Islamic period of ignorance.”

(2) “On the Day of Resurrection, Allah will pour molten lead into the ears of whoever sits listening to a songstress.”

(3) “Song makes hypocrisy grow in the heart as water does herbage.”

(4) “This community will experience the swallowing up of some people by the earth, metamorphosis of some into animals, and being rained upon with stones.” Someone asked, “When will this be, O Messenger of Allah?” and he said, “When songstresses and musical instruments appear and wine is held to be lawful.”

(5) “There will be peoples of my Community who will hold fornication, silk, wine, and musical instruments to be lawful ….”

All of this is explicit and compelling textual evidence that musical instruments of all types are unlawful (Kaff al-ra’a’ ‘an muharramat al-lahw wa al-sama’ (y49), 2.269-70).

20. Creating pictures of animate life is forbidden




w50.1 (‘Abd al-Ghaffar ‘Uyun al-Sud:) One should realize that the prohibition of picture making is extremely severe, that it is counted among the enormities, and the threats against doing it are very emphatic. Bukhari and Muslim relate that a man came to Ibn ‘Abbas (Allah be well pleased with him and his father) and said, “My livelihood comes solely from my hands, and I make these pictures. Can you give me a legal opinion about them?” Ibn ‘Abbas told him, “Come closer,” and the man did. “Closer,” he said, and the man did, until he put his hand on the man’s head and said: “Shall I tell you what I heard from the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace)? I heard the Messenger of Allah say,

“`Every maker of pictures will go to the fire, where a being will be set upon him to torment him in hell for every picture he made.’

“So if you must, draw trees and things without animate life in them.”

21. Female circumcision, which includes the excision of the clitoris, is obligatory


Since I began to study the Shariah, a deliberate mistranslation of the text in the Reliance of the Traveller (the book from which I am excerpting the legal clauses in this letter) regarding female circumcision has been brought to my attention. The mistranslation was brought to my attention through my reading the witness statement of Mark Durie, Senior Associate with the title of Associate Professor in the Department of Linguistics and Applied Linguistics of the University of Melbourne, Victoria, who makes this statement for the respondents, Catch the Fire Ministries Inc, and Pastors Daniel Nalliah and Daniel Scott, who are the subject of a complaint brought by the Islamic Council of Victoria Inc. in the State of Victoria, Australia.

If you wish to learn more about the case, Mr. Durie’s witness statement is available online at: Also, more information about the case is available online at:

The information regarding the mistranslation is on page 50 of the witness statement. As Mr. Durie states, the Arabic at e4.3, p. 59 is mistranslated as follows:

This is translated by Nuh Hah Mim Keller as follows:
“Circumcision is obligatory (O: for both men and women. For men it consists of removing the prepuce from the penis, and for women, removing the prepuce (Ar. Bazr) of the clitoris (n: not the clitoris itself, as some mistakenly assert). (A: Hanbalis hold that circumcision of women is not obligatory but sunna, while Hanafis consider it a mere courtesy to the husband.)”

However what the Arabic actually says is:
“Circumcision is obligatory (for every male and female) by cutting off the piece of skin on the glans of the penis of the male, but circumcision of the female is by cutting out the clitoris (this is called HufaaD).”

This deceptive translation obscures the Shafi’i law, given by ‘Umdat al-Salik, that circumcision of girls by excision of the clitoris is mandatory.

The above quotation can be found on page 50, Witness Statement of Mark John Durie,

22. Slavery is permitted


Although slavery is the subject of elaborate legal prescriptions in Shariah law, the translator of the Reliance of the Traveller, Nuh Ha Mim Keller, declined to translate the Shariah law sections pertaining to slavery because “… the issue is no longer current ….” (p.459) Of course, people in the Sudan and other Muslim countries might disagree with Mr. Keller’s assertion. If you are interested in finding out what the Shariah law is regarding slavery, there are many books which forthrightly discuss the legal prescriptions, one original and esteemed translated source being the The Distinguished Jurist’s Primer, Volume 2 by Ibn Rushd (known as the philosopher, Averroes in the West). It is available at

However, the Koran is unambiguous on the matter of slavery:

33:50 - "Prophet, We have made lawful to you the wives to whom you have granted dowries and the slave girls whom Allah has given you as booty."

23:1 – “Blessed are the believers, who are humble in their prayers; who avoid profane talk, and give alms to the destitute; who restrain their carnal desires (except with their wives and slave-girls, for these are lawful to them) ….”

24:31 - “Believers, turn to Allah in repentance, that you may prosper. Take in marriage those among you who are single and those of your male and female slaves who are honest.”

24:33 – “You shall not force your slave-girls into prostitution in order that you may make money, if they wish to preserve their chastity.”

4: 24 – “You are also forbidden to take in marriage married women, except captives whom you own as slaves.”

4:92 – “It is unlawful for a believer to kill another believer except by accident. He that accidentally kills a believer must free one Muslim slave and pay blood-money to the family of the victim, unless they choose to give it away in alms.”

23. People may be bribed to convert to Islam

p.270, h.8.14


h.8.14 The fourth category is those whose hearts are to be reconciled. If they are non-Muslims, they are not given Zakat [letter writer’s note: Zakat is a kind of tithe that all Muslims are required to pay], but if Muslims, then they may be given it (O: so that their certainty may increase, or if they are recent converts to Islam and are alienated from their kin).

Those to be reconciled include:

(1) the chief personages of a people (O: with weak Islamic intentions) whose Islam may be expected to improve, or whose peers may be expected to enter Islam;
(2) or the heads of a people who collect zakat for us from Muslims living near them who refuse to pay it, or who fight an enemy for us at considerable expense and trouble to themselves.

24. Beating a rebellious wife is permissible

p. 540, m10.12


m10.12 When a husband notices signs of rebelliousness in his wife (nushuz, dis: p42) (O: whether in words, as when she answers him coldly when she used to do so politely, or he asks her to come to bed and she refuses, contrary to her usual habit; or whether in acts, as when he finds her averse to him when she was previously kind and cheerful), he warns her in words (O: without keeping from her or hitting her, for it may be that she has an excuse. The warning could be to tell her, “Fear Allah concerning the rights you owe to me,” or it could be to explain that rebelliousness nullifies his obligation to support her and give her a turn amongst other wives, or it could be to inform her, “Your obeying me [def: (3) below] is religiously obligatory”). If she commits rebelliousness, he keeps from sleeping (O: and having sex) with her without words, and may hit her, but not in a way that injures her, meaning he may not (A: bruise her,), break bones, wound her, or cause blood to flow. (O: It is unlawful to strike another’s face.) He may hit her whether she is rebellious only once or whether more than once, though a weaker opinion holds that he may not hit her unless there is repeated rebelliousness.

25. Lying is permissible in a time of war (or jihad)

pp. 744-745


R8.2 The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said,

“He who settles disagreements between people to bring about good or says something commendable is not a liar.”

This much is related by both Bukhar and Muslim, with Muslim’s version recording that Umm Kulthum added,

“I did not hear him permit untruth in anything people say, except for three things: war, settling disagreements, and a man talking with his wife or she with him (A: in smoothing over differences).”

This is an explicit statement that lying is sometimes permissible for a given interest, scholars having established criteria defining what types of it are lawful. The best analysis of it I have seen is by Imam Abu Hamid Ghazali, who says, “Speaking is a means to achieve objectives. If a praiseworthy aim is attainable through both telling the truth and lying, it is unlawful to accomplish through lying because there is no need for it. When it is possible to achieve such an aim by lying but not telling the truth, it is permissible to lie if attaining the goal is permissible (N: i.e. when the purpose of lying is to circumvent someone who is preventing one from doing something permissible), and obligatory to lie if the goal is obligatory. … Whether the purpose is war, settling a disagreement, or gaining the sympathy of a victim legally entitled to retaliate against one so that he will forbear to do so; it is not unlawful to lie when any of these aims can only be attained through lying. But it is religiously more precautionary in all such cases to employ words that give a misleading impression, meaning to intend by one’s words something that is literally true, in respect to which one is not lying, while the outward purport of the words deceives the hearer, though even if one does not have such an intention and merely lies without intending anything else, it is not unlawful in the above circumstances.”

I hope that you have found these examples of Shariah law to be instructive and educational.

Yours sincerely,


This work is in the public domain


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Sometimes the truth hurts....But it sets us free.