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What is Sharia Law?

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Sharia is the legal code of the Islamic religion. Under Sharia, suspects are judged not by their peers but by scholars trained in Islamic law. Acts widely considered crimes, such as murder or thievery, are judged under Sharia, as are transgressions like improper dress or behavior or violating dietary restrictions.

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Sharia law has drawn attention in the worldwide press due to the harsh punishments for transgressions that may not even be considered crimes in the West. For example, in 2015 a blogger in Saudi Arabia was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment, 1,000 lashes and a massive fine for propagating liberal thought and insulting Islam. He also faced a death sentence for apostasy but was not convicted on that charge.

Sharia law also concerns itself with more mundane matters. For instance, Sharia law dictates tight regulations on the slaughter of animals, ensuring that the resulting meat is prepared according to Islamic dietary rules. Similarly, Islamic law forbids the collection of interest, so Sharia-friendly financial institutions need a separate set of regulations in order to function in Western society. Many international banks have developed Islamic banking divisions, and corporations and governments that do business in the Muslim world may issue special bonds, called "sukuk," that comply with Sharia financial law.

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