Islamic law, or shariah, comes from Muslim scholars' interpretations of their holy book, the Quran. Although different schools of Islamic thought have different interpretations of shariah, they share several basic principles, including respect for life and community. Because faith in Islam is supposed to touch every aspect of a Muslim's life, shariah law has commands and restrictions for Muslims regarding a wide variety of issues.
Islamic law forbids all sex outside heterosexual marriage. In the past, Muslims addressed the challenges that this restriction caused by marrying youths as soon as they reached puberty. However, today most Muslims agree that adolescents are not mature enough for marriage. Different groups have proposed a variety of solutions, including allowing temporary marriages to allow young Muslims lawful sexual intimacy before they are old enough for permanent marriage. However, many Muslims consider temporary marriage to be unacceptable and, for the most part, preach abstinence until marriage at adulthood.
In theory, slavery is legal under Islamic law, but all Muslim countries forbid it today. When Islam began, slavery was an established institution, and many Muslims -- including Muhammad, their prophet -- were slave owners. However, Islamic law placed many restrictions on the practice. Among other rules, slaves could own property, including other slaves. They could not be mistreated or overworked and women could not be forced into prostitution. If their owners did not honor these rules, slaves were permitted to go to court and receive their freedom.
Within Islam, all food is either haram (forbidden) or halal (allowed.) All fruits, vegetables, grains and seafood are halal, as is meat that has been executed humanely with proper prayers said at the animal's death. Pork, alcohol and any food that has been sacrificed to idols is haram. However, these rules have some leeway: If Muslims eat food without realizing that it is haram, they are not held accountable. Similarly, if Muslims are starving, they may eat anything that is available.
According to shariah law, Muslims cannot lend money at interest. This rule has caused challenges for many modern Muslims, because it forbids them from keeping their money in most banks. In response, many banking institutions allow Muslims to set up special accounts that are held separately and do not earn interest. However, some Muslims do not believe that this compromise goes far enough and prefer to use Islamic banks that don't lend at interest at all.
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