Discriminatory religious influence on the law

Other Names:
Religious influence on the law

Where a state has had predominantly one religion or where national independence has been gained using religion as a motivating force, the laws of the country may be based on religious doctrine. This may preserve traditionalism and hinder progress. Also, even if other religions are not specifically discriminated against under the law, it may make the position in society of their adherents very difficult or isolated. They may effectively be barred from taking public office.


Most countries have some vestiges of law based on religious doctrine, but in many this has been modified over the years to meet the demands of social change. Countries where religion has a large influence on the law include Ireland (with many Roman Catholic doctrines built into the legal framework) and the UK (where the reigning monarch and anyone in line for the monarchy must be Protestant).

Sharia law, a set of religious laws which derives from the teachings of the Koran and from Sunna (the practice of the prophet Mohammed), is implemented to varying degrees in different Islamic countries. Sharia offers a relgious code for living governing all elements of life, in the same way that the Bible offers a moral system for Christians. It is adopted by most Muslims to a greater or lesser degree as a matter of personal conscience, but it can also be formally instituted as law by certain states and enforced by the courts. For example, many Islamic countries have adopted elements of sharia law governing areas such as inheritance, banking and contract law.

Within sharia law, there is a specific set of offences known as the Hadd offences. These are crimes punished by specific penalties: sexual offences carry a penalty of stoning to death or flogging while theft is punished with cutting off a hand. The penalties for Hadd offences are not universally adopted as law in Islamic countries. Some countries, such as Saudi Arabia, claim to live under pure sharia law and enforce the penalties for Hadd offences. In others, such as Pakistan, the penalties have not been enforced. The majority of Middle Eastern countries, including Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon and Syria, have not adopted Hadd offences as part of their state laws. Many Islamic countries will have adultery and the drinking of alcohol defined as criminal offences in law, but they are not defined as Hadd offences because they do not carry the Hadd penalty. They are often punishable by a prison term instead.

Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong Institutions
Problem Type:
D: Detailed problems
Date of last update
21.04.2022 – 09:13 CEST