CAIRO -- Libya's new leaders said they intend to make Islamic Sharia law the main source of legislation and will nullify any laws that contradict its tenets, giving the country a more Islamist character in the post-Moammar Gadhafi era.
Islamic law, or Sharia, is enshrined as the basis of the constitution in a number of Middle Eastern countries with Muslim majorities. Most Gulf nations' constitutions state that Sharia is a main source of legislation, while Egypt says it is "the source."
Using Sharia as the basis for legislation will place Libya alongside Arab nations such as Egypt and Iraq that ensure that no laws contradict the tenets of Islam, but don't necessarily implement all provisions of Sharia. Egyptian laws remain largely secular as Sharia does not cover all aspects of modern life.
However Libya is not headed down the same path as Saudi Arabia and Iran, which follow a stricter interpretation of Sharia – cutting off the hands of thieves, the heads of murderers and stoning adulterers to death. Those who drink alcohol are publicly flogged.
The role of Sharia law in Muslim society varies according to interpretations that often depend on political landscape, cultural norms, religious makeup.
Libya's transitional leader Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, speaking at a ceremony Sunday night to declare the country liberated from Gadhafi, said he intends to legalize polygamy, restricted under Gadhafi.
The one area where Islamic law is nearly universal is in personal status law – rules concerning marriage, divorce and inheritance. Sharia allows men to marry up to four women, without the approval of one another even without their knowledge. Men are also allowed to divorce their wives by proclamation.
Women have the right to ask for a divorce under any circumstances, without the man's approval, but in such a case the woman foregoes rights to alimony. Islamic law also stipulates that married daughters receive half the inheritance that sons receive and insists that women have the right to a dowry upon marriage.
Abdul-Jalil singled out banks charging interest as something that will be abolished in Libya to conform with Sharia laws that equate bank interest with usury.
Islamic banks around the world avoid charging interest on deposits but aim to reward investors in other ways. Islamic banks do not lend money to businesses engaged in activities that are considered immoral, such as casinos and distilleries.
Sharia gives guidelines for Islamic values that are based on the teachings of the Quran and Sunna, a compilation of the sayings and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad.
It does not necessarily mean the imposition of harsh punishments.