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The Role of Islamic Law in Modern Legal Systems in the Arab Region

Leen Budustour


  • Islamic law, or Sharia, is a foundational component of legal systems in the Arab world, evolving through interpretation and application by Islamic scholars and jurists based on the Quran and Sunnah.
  • Challenges to incorporating Islamic law include secularism, diverse interpretations, and compatibility with international human rights standards, while opportunities include legal pluralism, alternative dispute resolution, and ethical finance.
  • Despite challenges, Arab nations have attempted to integrate Islamic law into contemporary legal systems, resulting in hybrid legal systems that combine Islamic law with other legal traditions.
  • The degree of incorporation of Islamic law into contemporary legal systems varies among Arab nations due to political, social, and cultural factors.
The Role of Islamic Law in Modern Legal Systems in the Arab Region
Jasmin Merdan via Getty Images


For centuries, Islamic law, or sharia, has been a fundamental component of legal systems in the Arab world. Through interpretation and application by Islamic scholars and jurists, Islamic law has evolved over time based on the teachings of the Quran and the Sunnah.Nowadays, many Arab nations continue to incorporate Islamic law into their legal systems, either as the major source of law or as a supplement to the contemporary legal system. In terms of human rights and gender equality, the incorporation of Islamic law into modern legal systems brings both possibilities and obstacles. As a result, analyzing the influence of Islamic law on current legal systems in the Arab world is critical for comprehending the legal landscape as well as the region's larger social and cultural background.

This article seeks to provide an outline of Islamic law's evolution, essential ideas and concepts, and incorporation into current legal systems throughout the Arab world. It will also look at the many ways of interpreting and applying Islamic law, as well as the obstacles and potential of implementing Islamic law into modern legal systems. Ultimately, the purpose of this article is to contribute to a greater understanding of Islamic law's role in current legal systems in the Arab world, as well as its consequences for legal practice, human rights, and social and cultural values.

Overview of Islamic Law

Islamic law entails the regulation of religious, social, political, and economic aspects of life for Muslims, derived from both the Quran (the holy book of Islam), and the Sunnah (the teachings and practices of the Prophet Muhammad). Although Islamic law is considered an immutable, divine law, its interpretation and application have resulted in the development of several philosophies among Sunni and ShiaMuslims.

With the primary objective of ensuring justice, morality, and fairness in society, sharia encompasses a broad range of topics, including family and inheritance law, criminal law, contracts, and property rights. In addition to prescribing specific punishments for certain offenses, known as hudud, sharia also incorporates the principles of tazir (discretionary punishments) and qisas (retaliation or restitution) for crimes that do not fall within the hudud category. According to Islamic law, individual responsibility, spiritual growth, and social harmony are emphasized in an integrated, value-based approach.

Islamic Law in the Arab Region

Islamic law has played a significant role in shaping the legal systems of Arab countries. While sharia is a shared source of law throughout the region, its application and impact on legal systems varies greatly among countries, depending on factors such as historical, political, and social situations.In some Arab nations, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran,Islamic law is the basic foundation of the legal system, with rigid compliance to traditional interpretations of the Quran and Sunnah. These nations have sharia-compliant constitutions and rely on Islamic courts and experts to interpret and apply the law. In contrast, other Arab countries, such as Egypt,Jordan, and Morocco, have adopted mixed legal systems that blend elements of Islamic law with secular legal principles, often influenced by European civil law traditions. In these countries, sharia usually controls issues relating to personal status, such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, and child custody, while secular laws control other facets of public and private life.

The place of Islamic law in contemporary legal systems has become a topic of heated controversy throughout the Arab world in recent years. To address modern issues and respect human rights norms, some supporters contend that classical Islamic principles need to be reinterpreted and reformulated. Others, on the other hand, stress the need for upholding the original Shariah teachings in order to preserve cultural authenticity and religious identity.

The Relationship Between Islamic Law and Modern Legal Systems

Islamic law (sharia) and contemporary legal systems have a complicated and diverse connection since it involves the interaction of moral precepts, cultural practices, and changing social norms. This relationship may be examined from a number of angles, such as how sharia has been incorporated into modern legal systems, how interpretation and reform have been carried out, and how the continuous discussions about human rights and secularism have affected these discussions:

1. Integration of Sharia in contemporary legal systems: Depending on the historical, political, and social settings of each country, there are several ways that Islamic law has been implemented into contemporary legal systems. Several Muslim-majority nations, like Saudi Arabia and Iran, have created legal systems that are mainly based on sharia. Others, like Egypt, Jordan, and Morocco, have hybrid legal systems that include aspects of Islamic law with secular legal norms and are frequently inspired by European civil law traditions.In these states, secular laws govern various facets of public and private life, while sharia often controls issues pertaining to personal status, such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, and child custody.

2. Reinterpretation and reform: In order to handle modern difficulties, it is becoming more and more important to reinterpret and adapt basic Islamic concepts. This method, known as ijtihad (independent reasoning), enables the development of fresh judgments depending on shifting social and cultural contexts.Some current Islamic scholars support a more adaptable and dynamic interpretation of sharia, emphasizing the significance of taking into account the goals and spirit of the law (maqasid al-sharia) while implementing it in contemporary situations.

3. Human rights and secularism: Due to various ongoing discussions about human rights, gender equality, and the place of religion in public life, the link between Islamic law and modern legal systems is becoming increasingly complex. Opponents contend that some elements of traditional Islamic law, such as the use of corporal punishment, gender inequity, and limitations on the exercise of one's religion, may not be compatible with modern human rights norms. In response, some scholars advocate reinterpreting Islamic teachings in light of contemporary human rights standards, while others insist that strict devotion to the original teachings is required to preserve ethnic authenticity and religious identity.

Application of Islamic Law in Modern Legal Systems

The way Islamic law is applied in contemporary legal systems differs from one nation to the next, based on the legal system, the cultural setting, and the degree to which Islamic law has influenced the nation's legislation. Many instances of how Islamic law is applied in contemporary legal systems throughout diverse nations include the following:

1. Personal Status Law: Islamic law has a significant impact on personal status law, which regulates issues like marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance, in many Muslim-majority nations. For instance, the personal status legislation of Egypt is mostly dependent on Islamic legal concepts and also contains parts of civil law. Further, Islamic law also serves as a foundation for Moroccan family law, known as the Mudawana.

2. Criminal Law: Aspects of Islamic criminal law, such as hudud penalties for certain offenses including theft, adultery, and apostasy, are applied in several nations, including Saudi Arabia and Iran. Islamic criminal law may be curtailed or integrated with secular criminal law in other nations.

3. Banking and Finance: Islamic law has prompted the growth of Islamic finance, which consists of financial services and goods that uphold Islamic values such as forbidding interest (riba) and speculative activities (gharar). As the Islamic financial sector has expanded, nations like Malaysia, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates have created institutions and legal frameworks to assist it.

4. Dispute Resolution: In several nations, Islamic law is utilized in alternative dispute resolution processes like arbitration and mediation. In order to accomplish this, it is necessary to apply Islamic legal principles to settle disagreements involving, issues such as business deals, family issues, and property rights.

5. Constitutional Law: Islamic law is included in the constitutions of certain Muslim-majority nations, either as the main source of legislation or as a guiding principle. For instance, the constitutions of Egypt, Pakistan, and Afghanistan provide that all legislation passed by the government must be in accordance with Islamic values.

The application of Islamic law is not always or uniformly applied in contemporary legal systems. Instead, it is frequently the topic of continuing discussions, reinterpretations, and reform initiatives as nations struggle to apply Islamic legal concepts to modern social and political situations.

Challenges and Opportunities for the Role of Islamic Law in Modern Legal Systems

Interest in the place of Islamic law in contemporary legal systems has grown during the past few years, particularly in nations with substantial Muslim populations. The following are a few of the challenges and opportunities for integrating Islamic law into contemporary legal systems:


1. Secularism and Pluralism: One of the main challenges in incorporating Islamic law into modern legal systems is the secular and pluralistic nature of these systems. It might be challenging to adapt a legal system that is firmly based on religious beliefs since many nations are dedicated to the separation of religion and state.

2. Interpretation of Islamic Law: Islamic law is founded on how religious scriptures are interpreted, which can result in disagreements among academics and jurists. Establishing a single body of law that is relevant in all legal systems might be difficult due to the range of interpretations that exist.

3. Compatibility with International Human Rights Standards: Another challenge is the compatibility of certain aspects of Islamic law with international human rights standards. For instance, when considered through the prism of contemporary human rights norms, problems pertaining to gender equality, religious freedom, and criminal sanctions can be divisive.


1. Legal Pluralism: Islamic law may be incorporated into contemporary legal systems, notwithstanding the difficulties. The idea of legal pluralism, which acknowledges the presence of many legal systems within a single jurisdiction, is one such option. Islamic law can be accommodated alongside secular laws within a framework of legal pluralism, enabling the peaceful coexistence of several legal systems.

2. Alternative Dispute Resolution: Islamic law offers a number of methods for resolving disputes, including arbitration and mediation. These techniques offer effective and culturally considerate ways to resolve disputes and can be incorporated into contemporary legal systems as alternative dispute resolution procedures.

3. Ethical Finance and Banking: Islamic finance, which is founded on the tenets of sharia law, has grown significantly in recent years. Islamic finance, which encourages moral and socially acceptable financial practices like interest-free lending and risk sharing, may sometimes be incorporated into modern legal systems due to its advantages.

Islamic law presents a number of issues for modern legal systems, including secularism, a range of interpretations, and conformity with international human rights norms. Alternative conflict resolution, ethical finance, and legal diversity are additional areas of opportunity. Modern legal systems may make room for a more inclusive and peaceful coexistence of many legal traditions by acknowledging and resolving these difficulties and opportunities.


The Arab world has a long and rich heritage of Islamic law. However, integrating Islamic law into contemporary legal systems presents a number of difficulties, including balancing the secular and pluralistic nature of these systems with the ethical foundations of Islam, addressing the diversity of interpretation among scholars and jurists, and ensuring compliance with global human rights norms.

Notwithstanding these difficulties, several Arab nations have attempted to integrate elements of Islamic law into their legal frameworks while simultaneously modifying them to reflect contemporary social, economic, and political circumstances. Due to this, hybrid legal systems have emerged that combine Islamic law with other legal systems, such as common law and civil law. In the Arab world, the degree to which Islamic law is incorporated into contemporary legal systems differs from nation to nation due to a complex interaction of political, social, and cultural elements.