Shariah law gains prominence

Islamic financial institutions - such as the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal - and the Shariah law they ascribe to, are gaining more importance within international commerce


Shariah law is a code or concept that is important to adherents of Islam. Considered to be the laws of God that determine what is right in terms of both personal conduct and the way that businesses and governments operate, the underlying purpose is to ensure that all actions taken by the follower of the path are in line with the teachings of the faith. As Muslims of different types have migrated into Western countries and as natives of those countries have found value in Islam, the influence of Shariah law as a moral compass for making decisions in business as well as in lawmaking has become more prominent.

In some cases, the influence of Shariah law on a community is somewhat subtle. Just as all people apply their moral standards to their decisions about what is good for the community, Muslims do the same. This has led to situations in which businesses owned by Muslims operate with ethical codes of conduct that are in keeping with the faith. The example set by those business owners sometimes spills into the local community, especially as they gain a reputation for being honest and forthcoming with their clients.

In some nations that have either a Muslim majority or have a significant Muslim population, Shariah law may not only serve as the basis for the personal conduct of the business owner, but may also have some role in settling legal disputes. While this is more common in traditionally Muslim states, the trend is also developing in other nations. For example, the United Kingdom is home to the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal, which serves as a means of settling disputes among the faithful, effectively preventing the need to go through the courts.

One of the examples of how a business deal may be structured differently under Shariah law can be seen in the extension of mortgages and other types of loans. With Shariah law denouncing the practice of charging interest, this can lead to a situation in which banking policies and procedures, under the terms of Islamic finance, are very different from the model that is more common in the West. Those same types of transactions may also be impacted by not granting loans to finance acquisitions of goods that are considered forbidden under Islamic law. While different, these approaches are quite successful, prompting a number of worldwide banks to either adopt some of portions of the law or even create entire divisions that comply with the specific requirements of Islamic Finance.

Proponents of Shariah law are found in a number of Western nations, with writers and both appointed and elected officials in local, state and national governments expressing some degree of support, usually in terms of providing a means of implementing the law in communities with a large Muslim population. The recent embrace of Libya’s new leaders of Shariah law as the basis for new laws in that country have drawn responses from leaders in Western nations, ranging from cautiously optimistic to concern about how Shariah will be interpreted and what impact that interpretation will have on the rights of Muslim and non-Muslim residents.