Sharia, Islamic law derived from the teachings of the Quran and the ways of Mohammed, is a source of law for many Muslim nations. Sharia is largely a personal code of conduct, but its tenets govern every aspect of Muslim life from financial to political to legal. Experts say Muslims in many countries want sharia to have some role in governance. Meanwhile, Islamist movements call for supplanting secular law and governance entirely with sharia, a particularly difficult issue in nations, such as Pakistan and Somalia, riven by political turmoil, conflict, and areas of lawlessness.
While some experts say sharia has the potential to overcome tribal conflict and to quiet chaotic regions, sharia is prone to abuses and manipulation in volatile regions where Islamic militants are active. Many Islamist movements, which have made sharia a cornerstone of their identity along with avowed anti-Americanism, are gaining ground through elections and, in other cases, violence, presenting a security policy dilemma to the United States. Some experts say U.S. policy solutions must take care to engage, rather than alienate, politicized Islam, including learning to differentiate between different types of radical elements within Islamist movements.
Sharia for Peace and Justice
Sharia in the Muslim world is often associated with good governance. A 2008 Gallup poll of Muslims in Turkey, Iran, and Egypt found sharia is "perceived to promote the rule of law and justice." Most Muslim-majority countries have political systems and legal codes derived from Western models. However, many of these countries have majority populations that are economically or politically depressed. John L. Esposito, a professor of religion and international affairs at Georgetown University, writes in his book,What Everyone Needs to Know about Islam, that many Muslim nations suffer from "overcrowded cities lacking social support systems,...