Sharia means a “clear path.” It consists of a body of Islamic laws, about most of which there is no consensus among Muslims. In other words, there is no single book of Sharia. Among Sunnis themselves there are four schools of thought, with their own interpretations, mostly based on tradition. Shias have their own interpretations and legal doctrines, based on tradition as well as logical reasoning. These religious opinions are based on Quran, Hadiths (saying of Prophet Muhammad), Sunnah (Practice of Prophet Muhammad and his companions and their next two generations); and traditional law which was already in place in much of the Middle East during the time of Prophet Muhammad. Many controversial issues are not based on the above but case law and precedents.
From a theological point of view, there are essentially four types of Shariah laws that can have a bearing on state laws:
A) Hudood Laws: [Hudood means "Limits" (set by God)]. These are offences listed in the Quran, and they include adultery, defamation or false accusation of adultery, theft, and consumption of alcohol.
B). Qisas: Crimes demanding retribution: These are crimes against the life or body of another person, and they are: murder, manslaughter, rape, causing injury to another person.
C). Ta’azir: These are crimes against community such as fraud, blackmail, etc. Ta’azir laws are not based on Quran or Sunnah but are adopted by the state for the welfare of its citizens.
D). Family laws relating to marriage, divorce and wills.
Conceptually, Qisas and Ta’azir laws of a Muslim state are no different than what you would find in a non-Muslim state. Murder, robbery, fraud are crimes everywhere, even though punishments for these crimes may vary from country to country. One may object to Hudood crimes but even so, adultery and drinking are not exactly considered good things in any society. As you already know, DUI laws exist in almost every state. Adultery is cheating and leads to abusive relationships and broken hearts, and that is why Islam prohibits it. Once you enter into a relationship, you have a right to expect fidelity from your mate. Countless evils and sorrows will not exist if there is no adultery.
Now the question is, why not have the same laws but remove the religious element? To answer this question, one can just as easily ask, what’s wrong with religion? Christian Church has ill-treated its adherents in the past, and that’s why there’s a strong bias against religion in Western culture. That has not been the case with Islam where there is no “Church” and the concept of ‘ijma’ (consensus) can put constraints on religious extremism, at least as far as overall society is concerned. So the prejudice that you find in the West against religion does not exist in Muslim countries. Secondly, man-made laws are all temporal. Some laws have to appeal not only to one’s civic sense but also to something much deeper. Where and when national laws break down, Divine laws, which exist not on paper but are etched on hearts and minds, must continue to provide constraints and stability.
Hudood laws are extremely limited in scope, and the idea is that whatever is not restricted is permitted. According to Abu Daud, one of the compilers of Hadith books, these four Sayings of the Prophet contain the summary of Islamic law.
1. Actions will be judged according to intentions.
2. The proof of a Muslim’s sincerity is that he pays no heed to that which is not his business.
3. No man is a true believer unless he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.
4. That which is lawful is clear, and that which is unlawful likewise, but there are certain doubtful things between the two from which it is well to abstain.
Now we come to the issue of democracy. What is democracy, anyway? Democracy is defined as ” (a government by the people; especially : rule of the majority (b) : a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.” That’s what democracy is all about–nothing more, nothing less.
Now, lately, some atheists have tried to redefine democracy by suggesting that it must exclude all elements from the government which can remotely be associated with religion. That has the automatic effect of banning religion from public discourse, forcing people of faith to ‘sneak in’ their religious traditions by avoiding references to organized religion and by using ‘secular’ terms such as “family values.” But if people are afraid to express their fundamental religious beliefs while advocating public policy, how can they claim to be living in a free society?
Muslims, by and large, do favor democracy. Even the most fundamentalist parties in countries such as Algeria, Pakistan, Indonesia etc. have always championed the cause of democracy. But unlike Western nations, which neither have religion nor unadulterated secularism, most Muslims want democracy which respects their religious values without curtailing religious freedoms of those who are not Muslim.
Nobody has ever said that as soon as an Islamic government comes into power–democratically or otherwise–Shariah laws come into effect. In a democracy, whether in the US or in a Muslim country, each piece of legislation has to be debated and voted in. For example, Pakistan has tried for years to do away with interest in banking, but the legislative bill has failed every single time. Pakistani religious parties have also been calling for the restoration of 1973 Constitution, which pays only lip service to Islam and is not exactly Shariah-based. Similarly, the Iranian ‘Majlis’ has passed laws that seem to override Shariah laws, such as raising the marriageable age to 13; most shariah laws only require puberty. I would add that Iranian Mullahs have done more for women’s literacy than 5000 years of ‘secular’ rule! And some Indonesian Islamic parties played a key role in getting Indonesia’s ex-President Megawati Sukarnoputri elected. So the political picture in Islamic countries is far more complex than what most Americans can possibly comprehend, or acknowledge.
Muslims are not interested in imposing Sharia on any non-Muslim country.