Perhaps reflecting this history, more than half of Tunisian Muslims (56%) want sharia to be the official law of the land, but a minority (42%) says religious courts should oversee family and property law.
Turkey’s evolution in the early 20th century included sweeping legal reforms resulting in a secular constitution and legal framework.
When comparing Muslim attitudes toward sharia as official law and its specific application in the domestic sphere, three countries are particularly instructive: Lebanon, Tunisia and Turkey.
The policies of modern Turkey’s founding father, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, for example, emphasized the creation of a secular government; other countries in these two regions experienced decades of secularization under communist rule.
By contrast, governments in many of the countries surveyed in South Asia and the Middle East-North Africa region have officially embraced Islam.
Majorities in such countries say sharia should be enshrined as official law, including at least nine-in-ten Muslims in Afghanistan (99%) and Iraq (91%).
By comparison, in countries where Islam is not legally favored, roughly a third or fewer Muslims say sharia should be the law of the land.
Moreover, Muslims are not equally comfortable with all aspects of sharia: While most favor using religious law in family and property disputes, fewer support the application of severe punishments – such as whippings or cutting off hands – in criminal cases.
The survey also shows that Muslims differ widely in how they interpret certain aspects of sharia, including whether divorce and family planning are morally acceptable.
In Russia, for example, Muslims who say they pray several times a day are 37 percentage points more likely to support making sharia official law than Muslims who say they pray less frequently.
Similarly, in Lebanon, the Palestinian territories and Tunisia, Muslims who say they pray several times a day are at least 25 percentage points more supportive of enshrining sharia as official law than are less observant Muslims.
The Islamic jurisprudence that comes out of the human exercise of codifying and interpreting these principles is known as fiqh.