Traditional theory of Islamic jurisprudence recognizes four sources of sharia: the Quran, sunnah (authentic hadith), qiyas (analogical reasoning), and ijma (juridical consensus). Different legal schools—of which the most prominent are Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi'i, Hanbali and Jafari—developed methodologies for deriving sharia rulings from scriptural sources using a process known as ijtihad. Traditional jurisprudence distinguishes two principal branches of law, ʿibādāt (rituals) and muʿāmalāt (social relations), which together comprise a wide range of topics. Its rulings assign actions to one of five categories: mandatory, recommended, neutral, abhorred, and prohibited. Thus, some areas of sharia overlap with the Western notion of law while others correspond more broadly to living life in accordance with God’s will.
Historically, sharia was interpreted by independent jurists (muftis). Their legal opinions (fatwas) were taken into account by ruler-appointed judges who presided over qāḍī's courts, and by maẓālim courts, which were controlled by the ruler's council and administered criminal law. Ottoman rulers achieved additional control over the legal system by promulgating their own legal code (qanun) and turning muftis into state employees. Non-Muslim (dhimmi) communities had legal autonomy, except in cases of interconfessional disputes, which fell under jurisdiction of qadi's courts.
In the modern era, sharia-based criminal laws have been widely replaced by statutes inspired by European models. Judicial procedures and legal education in the Muslim world were likewise brought in line with European practice. While the constitutions of most Muslim-majority states contain references to sharia, its classical rules were largely retained only in personal status (family) laws. Legislative bodies which codified these laws sought to modernize them without abandoning their foundations in traditional jurisprudence. The Islamic revival of the late 20th century brought along calls by Islamist movements for full implementation of sharia, including reinstatement of hudud corporal punishments, such as stoning. In some cases, this resulted in traditionalist legal reform, while other countries witnessed juridical reinterpretation of sharia advocated by progressive reformers.
The role of sharia has become a contested topic around the world. Attempts to impose it on non-Muslims have caused intercommunal violence in Nigeria and may have contributed to the breakup of Sudan. Some Muslim-minority countries in Asia (such as Israel), Africa, and Europe recognize the use of sharia-based family laws for their Muslim populations. Some jurisdictions in North America have passed bans on use of sharia, framed as restrictions on religious or foreign laws. There are ongoing debates as to whether sharia is compatible with secular forms of government, human rights, freedom of thought, and women's rights.
The word sharīʿah is used by Arabic-speaking peoples of the Middle East to designate a prophetic religion in its totality. For example, sharīʿat Mūsā means law or religion of Moses and sharīʿatu-nā can mean "our religion" in reference to any monotheistic faith. Within Islamic discourse, šarīʿah refers to religious regulations governing the lives of Muslims. For many Muslims, the word merely means "justice," and they will consider any law that promotes justice and social welfare to conform to sharia.