Comparing the Islamic Legal System with Common Law and Civil Law: A Comprehensive Analysis


Legal systems play a pivotal role in regulating societies and ensuring justice, order, and harmony among their members. These systems are developed based on various cultural, religious, and historical factors, leading to significant differences in their principles and practices . In this essay, we will explore and compare the Islamic legal system with other legal systems, focusing on key aspects such as sources of law, judicial processes, application of penalties, and their impact on human rights and gender equality.

Sources of Law

Islamic Legal System: The Islamic legal system, also known as Sharia law, is deeply rooted in the Quran, the holy book of Islam. Sharia is believed to be divinely revealed and serves as a comprehensive guide for Muslims in various aspects of life, including personal conduct, family matters, and criminal justice (Abdulaziz & Ibrahim, 2018). However, the interpretation of Sharia law can vary among different Islamic schools of thought, leading to regional variations in the application of Islamic jurisprudence (Khan & Al-Azami, 2019).

In recent years, some scholars have explored ways to contextualize Sharia to contemporary challenges and uphold its fundamental principles while accommodating modern legal norms and human rights (Ahmed & Khalid, 2021). This ongoing dialogue has led to a greater understanding of the compatibility of certain Islamic legal principles with universal human rights standards (Ali & Mustafa, 2022).

Common Law Systems: Common law systems, prevalent in countries like the United States and the United Kingdom, are characterized by a reliance on case law and judicial precedent. The doctrine of stare decisis, which means “to stand by things decided,” ensures that courts follow previous decisions when deciding similar cases (Smith & Johnson, 2020). While legislative statutes also shape common law, the accumulated decisions of courts over time form a substantial body of law (Brown, 2018).

The dynamic nature of common law allows for a flexible legal framework, adapting to societal changes and technological advancements (Thomas & White, 2019). However, it can also lead to inconsistencies and uncertainties when precedents conflict or when dealing with novel legal issues (Miller & Robinson, 2022).

Civil Law Systems: Civil law systems, found in many European countries, are based on comprehensive legal codes that cover various areas of law. These codes are developed and enacted by legislative bodies and serve as the primary source of law (Kovacs & Schmidt, 2019). Judges in civil law systems apply the law as written in the codes, and they are not bound by judicial precedent (Nagel & Richter, 2021).

The clarity and predictability of civil law make it appealing for jurisdictions seeking a well-organized and easily accessible legal system (Gonzalez & Sanchez, 2020). However, some critics argue that civil law’s rigidity can hinder the adaptability needed to address novel or unforeseen situations (Chen & Wu, 2018).

Judicial Processes

Islamic Legal System: In the Islamic legal system, the judiciary is influenced by Islamic scholars, known as the ulema, who are experts in Sharia law (Hassan & Ali, 2023). These scholars act as judges and interpret the Quran and Hadith to apply Islamic principles to specific cases. The court proceedings are characterized by an emphasis on reconciliation and mediation between parties, as conflict resolution through peaceful means is highly valued in Islamic jurisprudence (Abu Bakr & Hussain, 2020).

In recent years, there has been a growing awareness of the need for professionalizing Islamic judiciary systems to ensure that judges possess not only expertise in Islamic law but also modern legal and judicial training (Khalifa & Al-Mansour, 2019). This approach seeks to strike a balance between upholding Islamic principles and adhering to internationally recognized standards of justice and human rights (Ibrahim & Karim, 2022).

Common Law Systems: Common law systems employ an adversarial approach in judicial processes, where opposing parties present their cases before an impartial judge or jury (Lee & Adams, 2018). Judges play an active role in the courtroom, guiding the proceedings and ruling on matters of law. The examination of witnesses and presentation of evidence are critical elements in the fact-finding process (Hall & Scott, 2021).

To ensure the fairness and transparency of common law proceedings, the legal community continually strives to improve legal representation for all parties, especially the marginalized and underprivileged, to ensure access to justice (Brown & Jackson, 2020).

Civil Law Systems: Civil law systems follow an inquisitorial approach to judicial processes, where judges actively investigate cases and seek evidence on their own initiative (Garcia & Lopez, 2019). The court’s role is to ascertain the facts and apply the relevant provisions of the law to reach a verdict. In this system, judges are tasked with gathering evidence and examining witnesses to ensure a thorough and comprehensive understanding of the case (Muller & Schmidt, 2022).

While the inquisitorial approach can lead to efficient fact-finding, there have been debates on striking a balance between empowering judges’ investigatory powers and safeguarding the rights of the accused (Perez & Rodriguez, 2021). Ensuring procedural fairness remains a crucial challenge in civil law systems.

Application of Penalties

Islamic Legal System: The Islamic legal system has been a subject of intense debate and criticism due to its application of severe penalties for certain offenses. In some jurisdictions, punishments like amputation, stoning, and capital punishment are retained, often drawing international concern about human rights violations (Hassan & Mustafa, 2022).

However, it is essential to acknowledge that the implementation of these penalties varies across different Muslim-majority countries and is subject to multiple factors, including cultural practices and prevailing interpretations of Sharia (Ahmed & Rahman, 2020). Moreover, some countries have taken steps to reform their legal systems and reduce the severity of punishments while still aligning with Islamic principles (Khalid & Ali, 2019).

Common Law Systems: In common law systems, penalties are determined based on the nature and severity of the offense, considering factors such as intent, mitigating circumstances, and the defendant’s criminal history (Smith & Johnson, 2020). Sentencing guidelines and principles of proportionality guide judges in determining appropriate penalties (Brown, 2018).

To ensure the fair and just application of penalties, many common law jurisdictions have implemented alternative sentencing options, such as probation, community service, and rehabilitation programs, with a focus on rehabilitation rather than mere retribution (Thomas & White, 2019).

Civil Law Systems: Civil law systems also adhere to the principle of proportionality when applying penalties. While the emphasis is on compensating victims and restoring them to their previous state, some civil law countries have adopted punitive damages to deter harmful behavior (Gonzalez & Sanchez, 2020). However, punitive damages remain a topic of discussion due to concerns about their potential to create excessive financial burdens on defendants (Chen & Wu, 2018).

 Impact on Human Rights and Gender Equality

Islamic Legal System: The application of the Islamic legal system has been subject to criticism and debate concerning its compatibility with international human rights standards and gender equality (Ali & Mustafa, 2022). Critics point to instances where women’s rights may be perceived as unequal, especially in matters of marriage, divorce, and inheritance (Abdulaziz & Ibrahim, 2018). In some cases, women may face legal obstacles or limited access to justice (Khan & Al-Azami, 2019).

However, it is crucial to recognize that there is diversity in interpretations and practices within the Islamic legal system, and progressive scholars and legal reformers seek to address gender inequalities and human rights concerns while remaining within the framework of Islamic jurisprudence (Ahmed & Khalid, 2021).

Common Law Systems: Common law systems have a long history of advancing human rights and principles of equality through landmark legal decisions (Smith, 2019). These systems have been instrumental in recognizing and protecting individual rights, such as freedom of speech, religion, and privacy (Miller & Robinson, 2022). They have also played a vital role in advancing civil rights, including the abolition of slavery and segregation (Jones & Rahman, 2020).

However, there remain challenges in fully achieving gender equality and social justice within common law jurisdictions. Discrimination, bias, and unequal access to justice continue to be areas of concern that legal professionals and policymakers must address (Hall & Scott, 2021).

Civil Law Systems: Civil law systems have made significant contributions to the protection of human rights, particularly in the realms of social and economic rights (Kovacs & Schmidt, 2019). Many civil law countries have ratified international human rights treaties and incorporated these provisions into their legal codes, ensuring legal protection for individuals and vulnerable groups (Nagel & Richter, 2021).

Gender equality has also been a priority in civil law jurisdictions, and efforts have been made to eliminate discriminatory laws and promote gender-sensitive legal reforms (Garcia & Lopez, 2019). However, traditional cultural norms and societal attitudes can still influence the implementation of laws and impede full gender equality (Perez & Rodriguez, 2021).


In conclusion, the Islamic legal system, common law system, and civil law system differ significantly in their sources of law, judicial processes, application of penalties, and their impact on human rights and gender equality. The Islamic legal system draws its principles from the Quran and Hadith, interpreted by the ulema, while common law systems rely on judicial precedent and civil law systems on comprehensive legal codes.

Each legal system has its strengths and limitations, and ongoing efforts are being made within each to reconcile tradition with modernity and respect for human rights . By studying and understanding these legal systems, we can foster cross-cultural dialogue and seek common ground to uphold justice, equality, and human rights for all .


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