What is Sharia law? What does it mean for women in Afghanistan?

Published
Media caption, Watch the key moments from the Taliban's news conference

The Taliban say they will rule Afghanistan according to Sharia, or Islamic law.

The militant Islamist group have taken control after the departure of US and allied forces from the country.

What have the Taliban said?

In the first press briefing after taking power, a Taliban spokesman said issues such as the media and women's rights would be respected "within the framework of Islamic law", but the group has not yet provided any details of what that will mean in practice.

The Taliban have been known for their strict interpretation of Sharia, including punishments such as public executions of convicted murderers and adulterers.

What is Sharia?

Sharia is Islam's legal system.

It is derived from the Quran, Islam's holy book, as well as the Sunnah and Hadith - the deeds and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad.

Where an answer cannot be derived directly from these, religious scholars may give rulings as guidance on a particular topic or question.

Image source, Getty Images

In Arabic, Sharia literally means "the clear, well-trodden path to water".

Sharia acts as a code for living that all Muslims should adhere to, including prayers, fasting and donations to the poor.

It aims to help Muslims understand how they should lead every aspect of their lives according to God's wishes.

What does this mean in practice?

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption, Sharia law decrees that men and women should dress modestly, although countries vary in how they interpret this

Sharia can inform every aspect of daily life for a Muslim.

For example, a Muslim wondering what to do if their colleagues invite them to the pub after work may turn to a Sharia scholar for advice to ensure they act within the legal framework of their religion.

Other areas of daily life where Muslims may turn to Sharia for guidance include family law, finance and business.

How are rulings made?

Like any legal system, Sharia is complex and its practice is entirely reliant on the quality and training of experts.

Islamic jurists issue guidance and rulings. Guidance that is considered a formal legal ruling is called a fatwa.

Image source, Joshua Paul for the BBC
Image caption, Judge Nenney Shushaidah is one of Malaysia's first female Sharia high court judges

There are five different schools of Islamic law. There are four Sunni schools: Hanbali, Maliki, Shafi'i and Hanafi, and one Shia school, Jaafari.

The five schools differ in how literally they interpret the texts from which Sharia law is derived.

Interpretation of Islamic law is also nuanced according to local culture and customs, which means Sharia may look quite different in different places.

What are some of the tough punishments?

Islamic scholars says Sharia is mainly a code of ethical conduct and about worship and charity but a part of it deals with crime.

Sharia law divides offences into two general categories: "hadd" offences, which are serious crimes with set penalties, and "tazir" crimes, where the punishment is left to the discretion of the judge.

Hadd offences include theft, which under the strictest interpretations of Sharia, can be punishable by amputating the offender's hand.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption, An Indonesian woman is publicly caned in Aceh province after being caught with her boyfriend

There are many safeguards and a high burden of proof in the application of hadd penalties. But experts say that often doesn't happen in practice.

Some countries where Islamic law is applied adopt or enforce such punishments for hadd offences, and surveys have suggested attitudes of Muslims to harsh penalties for such offences vary widely.

Related Topics