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What Is Shariah?

FILE - Islamic Taliban militia, trying to enforce a rigid interpretation of Shariah law, use a whip to force locals to attend the Friday prayer at the Pole-Kheshti mosque in central Kabul, Nov. 8, 1996.

When the Taliban gained control of most of Afghanistan in 1996, they enforced a strict version of Shariah, or Islamic law. Their interpretation of the Islamic system of governance barred women from working and permitted public executions.

Now that the Taliban are once again in control of the country, Afghans fear the return of their brutal rule, which the Taliban says is derived from Shariah. In an exclusive interview Wednesday with Reuters, senior Taliban commander Waheedullah Hashimi explained that Afghanistan will not have a democratic system.

"We will not discuss what type of political system should we apply in Afghanistan because it is clear. It is Sharia law and that is it," he told the news agency.

Here is a look at the Islamic legal system.

What is Shariah?

In Arabic, Shariah means "a path to water," or some say, "a path to be followed."

Shariah is the legal practice derived from the teachings of the Quran, Islam's holy book, and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, or Sunnah.

It serves as an ordained code for fair, moral and righteous living for Muslims and provides guidance on a variety of aspects of life.

How is Shariah practiced?

Countries that employ Shariah have varying levels of the practice incorporated into their legal systems. Some nations use Shariah as their national law, but most countries have mixed legal systems that combine traditional Islamic jurisprudence and a constitution.

In its 2004 constitution, elements of Shariah were integrated into Afghanistan's government.

When the Taliban controlled the country from 1996 to 2001, they imposed an extreme version of the law that included brutal punishments such as stonings and dismemberment — actions that were condemned by human rights groups around the world.

Like the Christian faith, Islam has multiple sects, such as Sunni and Shi'ite, which divide further into sub-sects. There are differences in how each sect interprets Shariah or Islamic jurisprudence.

Do Muslims support Shariah?

Some surveys suggest that support for this style of discipline varies greatly in Muslim countries. Tariq Ramadan, a professor of contemporary Islamic studies at Oxford University, has suggested a moratorium on corporal punishment in Islamic nations that follow strict Shariah.

How will women be treated now in Afghanistan under the Taliban?

In 1996, the Taliban were particularly restrictive toward Afghan women, who were primarily confined to their homes and unable to leave their residences without a male chaperone and were subjected to public beatings if they disobeyed.

The Taliban recently said they would be more moderate with respect to women's rights. According to the BBC, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid stated that women will be allowed to participate in society if they live according to Shariah, and "we will be happy, and they will be happy."