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Sharia, as defined by its Wikipedia article, is the moral code and religious law of Islam.

Views on the compatibility of Sharia with democracy differ. From the same article:

Legal scholar L. Ali Khan argues that "constitutional orders founded on the principles of sharia are fully compatible with democracy, provided that religious minorities are protected and the incumbent Islamic leadership remains committed to the right to recall".

but

the European Court of Human Rights determined that "sharia is incompatible with the fundamental principles of democracy".

The question of whether any dictatorships have been elected democratically is an old one. My question is — has sharia ever anywhere been introduced in a democratic process?

  • Worth mentioning that there are many schools of thought within Sharia. And many schools of jurisprudence too; I think it is developed by precedent and case law, much as Common Law is. – TRiG Jan 28 '13 at 23:55
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    The answer is in the Wikipedia article you linked to: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sharia#Contemporary_practice - If that's not what you mean, please clarify the question. – yannis Jan 29 '13 at 4:11
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    Are you asking merely about "democratic process" - meaning that everyone has a vote - or about modern understanding of democratic country which includes things like Universal Declaration of Human Rights (that aren't strictly speaking necessarily implied by mere "democracy") – user4012 Jan 29 '13 at 15:47
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    Just because people vote on something doesn't mean it's a democratic process - see the elections in the USSR for a good example. – JonathanReez Aug 22 '17 at 8:35
  • @JonathanReez Correct. – gerrit Aug 22 '17 at 9:44
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I don't pretend that the examples that follow are exhaustive, and I'll gladly complement this answer with input from other answers or comments.

Egypt, 2012

Mohamed Morsi won what is considered the first democratic presidential election of the country in 2012. He is a leader of the Muslim Brothers (and of its political branch, the Freedom and Justice Party) and often refers to sharia. His first major move as President was:

Morsi sought to influence the drafting of a new constitution of Egypt, favoring a constitution that protects civil rights and enshrines Islamic law.

In November 2012 this project of a new constitution was revealed and heavily criticized, but more so because it concentrated powers in the hands of the President than because of its references to sharia.

The Constitution was adopted by referendum on 15 and 22 december 2012. It gained 64% of the votes, but with a poor turnout of 33%.

Article 2, makes "the principles of Islamic law the main source of legislation,[12]" a statement defining the relationship between Islam and Egyptian law, essentially unchanged from Egypt's old constitution.[13] At the urging of Islamists, another article was added to the constitution strengthening the relationship, defining the "principles of Shariah" in the terms of Muslim Sunni jurisprudence[10] i.e. "evidence, rules, jurisprudence and sources" accepted by Sunni Islam.[14] Liberals fear "Islamic punishments for things like theft, adultery, and blasphemy are not far behind".[12]

In July 2013, a military coup ended Morsi's Presidency. A new Constitution was adopted in January 2014, also by referendum. It doesn't seem to enforce sharia:

Under the [new] constitution, there is a guarantee of equality between the sexes and an absolute freedom of belief, but Islam is the state religion

Algeria, 1991

Algeria held multipartite legislative elections in 1991. The country was no paragon of democracy at the time, but the elections themselves were a democratic process.

Islamic Salvation Front got a huge advance after the first round, but a military coup stopped the election process at that point (leading to 10 years of civil war). Islamic Salvation Front's program included the establishment of an Islamic khalifate, so I assume that, once elected, they would have introduced sharia.

Nigeria, 1999

We can debate how effective a democracy Nigeria is at the federal level, and at the state level it is probably not a great one, especially in the North of the country. The institution of sharia in 9+3 states should probably not count as "introduced by democratic means", yet it happened in a merely democratic country.

Sharia in the world

This map documents countries in which sharia plays a role as per today. A good base for further research: has its introduction come from a democratic process in any of them ?

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    An example worth noting, because it is not a country you typically think of as Islamic, is Israel, where there are sharia (and other religious) courts. 972mag.com/why-israel-imposes-sharia-law/5824 From what I understand having these courts were a condition of the British for handing over the Palestinian territories to the newly formed Israeli state after WW2, so whether they were formed through a democratic process is debatable, and according to the linked article there are other reasons too, but Israel is generally considered a democratic state, so... – eirikdaude Aug 22 '17 at 8:39
  • @eirikdaude : I considered Israel but didn't mention it because of the reason you mentioned: sharia rule on personnal matter for muslim citizens is an inheritance of the un-democratic British Imperial rule. The same applies for India. – Evargalo Aug 22 '17 at 8:42
  • You could add the most recently adopted constitutions of Iraq following the Iraq War, and of Afghanistan as two more examples. Other examples would be the constitutions of Pakistan and Bangladesh respectively. Most predominantly Muslim countries make Sharia the overriding law of the land with an effect, at least theoretically, comparable to the United States Constitution in the United States in terms of supremacy of legal authorities. – ohwilleke Aug 24 '17 at 5:29
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There are two different ways of looking at this.

First, whether Sharia as a theological concept has anything to do with social structure and governance, and are the overall high level concepts compatible with democratic socisal and governing structure. A good answer should cover that, but I don't think I can do this topic justice and therefore will concentrate on the second approach.


A second approach is to see whether specific precepts of Sharia are in conflict with either overall democratic principles, or with what are generally considered a basic required set of human rights required in a modern democratic society (even if those rights aren't really explicitly implied by a mere concept of democratic political organization per se). Here, we can easily see a couple of immediate conflicts:

  • A full blown correct implementation of Sharia is incompatible with one of the main tenets of modern "democratic ways" - namely, a human right known as "freedom of religion".

    Laws prohibiting religious conversion run contrary to Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states:

    "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

    In contrast, Sharia has a concept known as "apostasy".

    Apostasy in Islam (Arabic: ردة‎ riddah, literally means: "relapse" or "regress" but usually translates to "apostasy", or ارتداد irtidād) is commonly defined in Islam as the rejection in word or deed of one's former religion (apostasy) by a person who was previously a follower of Islam. Islamic scholarship differs on its punishment, ranging from execution – based on an interpretation of certain hadiths – to no punishment at all as long as they "do not work against the Muslim society or nation." The majority of Muslim scholars hold to the traditional view that apostasy is punishable by death or imprisonment until repentance, at least for adult men of sound mind.

    (I'm aware that there are some dissent to the idea in Islamic jurisprudence, but to quote Wiki again, "these minority opinions have not found broad acceptance among the majority of Islamic scholars").

    As a random recent example, recently a family in Egypt was sentenced to 15 years in jail for attempting to change their names on documents back to their Christian names. A significantly better list of examples from many countries can be found on Wikipedia.

    However, again I'd like to caveat this with the fact that the answer does NOT contain any proof that "democratic ways" - as the OP put it - in some way includes as a necessary requirement to follow Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and thus can be succeptible to critique on that basis barring clarification from OP.

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  • As a side note, this is not unique to Sharia, although it is expressed in Sharia to an unusually strong degree. Jewish religious law is also at large scale not fully compatible with democracy if implemented 100% according with historical tradition - the major difference is that vast portions of that law have been nullified by a lack of the Temple; and that a very small minority of both everyday Jews and mainline religious authorities subscribe to the more bronze-age ideas... – user4012 Jan 29 '13 at 15:32
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    ... as an example, 84% of Egyptian Muslims believe those who leave Islam should be punished by death. I seriously doubt there are more than a handful of individuals in Israel who believe in ANY (never mind capital) punishment for violation of Deuteronomy 13:6-11. – user4012 Jan 29 '13 at 15:33
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    Both those comments should probably be in the body of the answer – JNK Jan 29 '13 at 21:16
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    It seems this answer does not answer the question. – Anixx Aug 4 '13 at 17:45

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