What Muslims talk about when they talk about sharia

There’s a lot to chew on in Pew’s new survey of global Islam, which is based on more than 38,000 interviews with Muslims in 39 countries, but given that the term is often only vaguely understood in the United States, I was particularly interested in the section on attitudes toward sharia — Islamic law. The ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
PASCAL GUYOT/AFP/Getty Images
PASCAL GUYOT/AFP/Getty Images
PASCAL GUYOT/AFP/Getty Images

There's a lot to chew on in Pew's new survey of global Islam, which is based on more than 38,000 interviews with Muslims in 39 countries, but given that the term is often only vaguely understood in the United States, I was particularly interested in the section on attitudes toward sharia -- Islamic law. The survey found several regions where a majority of Muslims favored making sharia law official:

Not surprisingly, support for sharia is higher in countries where Islam is recognized as an official religion and where there are already Islamic courts for family disputes. 

There’s a lot to chew on in Pew’s new survey of global Islam, which is based on more than 38,000 interviews with Muslims in 39 countries, but given that the term is often only vaguely understood in the United States, I was particularly interested in the section on attitudes toward sharia — Islamic law. The survey found several regions where a majority of Muslims favored making sharia law official:

Not surprisingly, support for sharia is higher in countries where Islam is recognized as an official religion and where there are already Islamic courts for family disputes. 

A majority of sharia supporters, though a very narrow one in the Middle East, say sharia should only apply to Muslims:

But what exactly does that mean? The survey shows that even among sharia supporters, there are wide regional differences in beliefs about how it should be interpreted, with South Asians supporting a much harsher form of religious law than others. On the other side, Southeast Asian Muslims — a large majority of whom support sharia — seem to have a more moderate interpretation of it:

Among Muslims in general, there’s also pretty wide variation in beliefs about specific behaviors, abortion and drinking alcohol for instance:

All this is to say that there’s strong support for some form of official “sharia” among Muslims in many countries, but there seem to be different versions of what that would mean.

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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