In the question about drinking beer in Dubai it arose that the term "Muslim country" can be seen as one where the laws of the country are affected by the rules of the religion (like Dubai), whereas other countries may be secular countries with overwhelmingly Muslim populations (like Turkey).

So which of the countries that have high Muslim populations are not secular and have laws based on the religion?

(I know this is asking for a list but it's a small, definite, closed set so not "too broad" in the sense possible with many questions.)

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    Perhaps if you made it "how can I tell if a country is a Muslim country or a secular country where many Muslims live?" it would not really be a list/poll question any more Nov 10, 2011 at 19:21
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    Well to me it's not even certain that "Muslim country" has such a fixed meaning, which is why I included the terminology tag. Maybe I should ask a companion question on english.SE? In any case I'll monitor the feedback here and reword my question if it makes sense to me. I think it's really immune to the list/poll prohibition to a sensible interpretation of that rule if not a literal interpretation so let's se... Nov 10, 2011 at 19:25
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    @hippietrail “Muslim country” does not have a fixed meaning, any more than “Christian country” or “beer-drinking country” does. If you don't know what someone meant by “Muslim country”, ask them. Nov 10, 2011 at 21:49
  • Sometimes more than one person is using the term and you can't tell if they are using it in the same way. For example, the asker of a question and the answerers and commenters. And of course sometimes people use these terms not realizing they are fuzzy and might not even have thought they had to choose from among the various uses to know what they meant. Nov 10, 2011 at 21:51
  • Well to Muslim countries it does have a fixed meaning, the definition of "Muslim country" is: A religious state governed solely by Islamic law, no other law may contradict Islamic law nor rule beside it. A civil state adopting some parts of Islamic law (due to a substantial part of population being Muslims) is NOT a Muslim country and is usually seen by some Muslim countries as a non respectful loose society. So if just one little thing isn’t done exactly as Islamic law says then it's not a Muslim country it's a country with Muslims.
    – msk
    Nov 15, 2011 at 1:02

2 Answers 2


Countries following traditional Islamic Sharia law

(Full resolution)

Traditional Islamic law is known as Sharia. By and large, countries following it or having a dual system of civil law as well as Sharia is depicted in this map. As a traveller, this is something you need to watch out for as a country you're visiting may have laws not commonly found in civil law found in most other countries. What makes it tough to understand is the uneven interpretation each country has. For instance, playing card games in public is not allowed in Malaysia as it is considered a form of gambling (even if you aren't gambling), yet alcohol (which is prohibited by Islamic law) is sold openly. Most locals will be willing to point out to you if you commit a faux pas, but once you have been to a couple of Muslim countries you will get a hang of the basic rules in addition to traditional civil law that you need to be aware of.

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    This reminds me that I just learned that backgammon has been banned in Turkey for similar reasons. All games which use dice are considered gambling whether you are actually gambling or not! Nov 11, 2011 at 10:54
  • What's your source for this map? Nov 29, 2011 at 13:56
  • It's kinda not clear but the map source is the linked Wikipedia article on Sharia law. Nov 29, 2011 at 16:49

I can answer about the Middle East & North Africa only (the politically so-called "Arab World")

Egypt and Tunisia are not Muslim Countries since Islamic law is only one of the sources of legislation, not the only one, and used only in specific cases.

Muslim Countries are ones like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Kuwait...etc (religious states) whose law is only and fully based on Islamic law (Sharia) i.e. their law is the Islamic law, while in Egypt and others (civil states) the law is Egyptian law and when made the sources for making it were many such as French law and Islamic law, depending on what part of the law is being made (criminal, commercial, family law, personal affairs...etc) but every country has its own traditions, it's not just whether the law is Islamic or not since there are also different interpretations of Islamic law.

I would personally categorize them in three categories:

  1. Extremely conservative - Religious states (this is where you really need to be careful) which include: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Yemen, Iran, Iraq, Oman, Libya

  2. Moderate - usually civil states (you can still have fun in specified ways and certain parts) include: Jordan, UAE, Syria, Qatar, Sudan, Bahrain

  3. Open minded - civil states, usually secular, include: Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Egypt, Lebanon

But again every country has its own traditions. For example UAE and Qatar are religiously oriented but serve alcohol and are among the top countries for prostitution. however Egypt which is a civil state and serves alcohol among many things against Islamic law can be very conservative in some districts, example: you cant wear a short skirt in the poorer parts while in Sharm el Sheikh you can sit topless on some beaches.

Anyway in most of the countries I’ve mentioned foreigners are somewhat exempted from traditions applying to locals or at least they forgive you for being a foreigner, there isn’t a case where they will forbid you to do something or punish you legally (except in the extremely conservative) but if you're wearing something too sexy (as a woman) in a common poor district you will get people staring at you the whole time and probably hitting on you, which can be very annoying. While in other parts of the same city you can do all you can think of, the best thing is to have a guide from the country who is open-minded and well educated, not too common because you will get too much wrong information from them.

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