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Common, Civil, And Sharia Laws Explored And Compared

If you are considering a new life abroad or already enjoying the benefits of an expat lifestyle, chances are you know there is a loophole in every law. As much as the law is a hard nut to crack, it is a must to know the rules to use them to your advantage. While many just comply and never question the law governing them, others prefer to study and make the most of it. Without going any further, the tax system is, in reality, an incentive system, so if employed correctly, you can keep most of your money in your pockets. Better there than in the hands of greedy rulers, of course.

As an expat myself, I have helped other expats secure their new lives abroad thanks to my legal knowledge. My mission is to make the complex look simpler, especially regarding matters like the law. Remember, I've got you covered if you do not have time or motivation to learn everything about a specific. Feel free to contact me, and I will study your case thoroughly to secure your new life abroad.

In this article, I will briefly cover the three main law categories (Civil, Common, and Sharia), compare them, and get you to see the big picture. Regardless of where you want to start your new life, you will come across one of these three at some point, so it is a good idea to learn the basics. Keep reading to find out more.


Portugal is one of the countries that apply Civil Law

Portugal is one of the countries that apply Civil Law


Firstly, it is crucial to know where each law originates. That way, you can understand better what rules you must respect as well as the culture of the territory at hand.



Civil Law, also known as continental or Romano-Germanic, is present in around 60% of the world and on each continent. A famous jurist, John Salmond, defined it as “the law of the State or the law of the land, the law of lawyers and the law of courts.” The term itself is rooted in the ancient Roman “jus civile,” which means citizen’s law. A more updated definition would be “a set of rules that regulate the civil or private rights of citizens and not the public at large.” Therefore, it is a codified system.

The former Byzantine Emperor Justinian I is believed to be the precursor of modern-day Civil Law. His Code of Justinian, or “Corpus Juris Civilis,” is a collection of his fundamental works in jurisprudence consisting of four parts called Codex, Digesta, Institutions, and Noveallae. This Body of Civil Law regulated many aspects of society, including religion, heresy, and paganism. Of course, the Law has evolved significantly throughout the centuries. This system tends to be based on parliament-approved regulations.

This Law can be found in multiple European countries and also territories colonized by European powers such as the Dutch, French, German, Portuguese, and Spanish Empires. Consequently, many Central or Latin American countries follow a civil law structure. Some Asian countries such as China, Japan, Indonesia, and Thailand adopted it too.


Related content: The Basics Of How To Get A Second Passport Or A Second Residency


London is the birthplace of Common Law

London is the birthplace of Common Law


Common Law, also known as Case Law or Anglo-American Law, is present in the Anglo-Saxon world but can also be found in other territories. For example, even though the British Empire never invaded Monaco, this state offers Trusts. This legal system was born in the early Middle Ages, in the King’s Court at Westminster near London. The Anglo-Saxons mimicked a body of rules similar to those that the Germanic peoples of northern Europe had. After the norman conquest of 1066, England created its common law.

This system is generally uncodified, so there is no fixed set of legal rules and statutes. Despite some scattered statutes, it is based on judicial decisions made in similar instances. This evidence is called “precedents,” which courts have maintained over time through yearbooks and reports. The precedents act as a reference that the presiding judge will employ to decide each case. Judges can be regarded as law-shapers.

This Law can be found in multiple countries, such as the UK, Canada, Australia, India, New Zealand, and the US. Former British colonies and overseas territories such as Singapore, the Cook Islands, and Hong Kong also practice this law.


You can find Sharia Law in Qatar

You can find Sharia Law in Qatar


Sharia Law is the religious law of Islam. The literal meaning of Sharia in Arabic is “the correct path.” Another definition is a “vast road leading to an uninterrupted water source.” Muslims consider Sharia a moral code of conduct that comprises all Muslim duties. By extension, this law not only regulates the individual’s interactions with their fellow citizens and the State but also regulates the individual’s consciousness and relationship with God (Allah).

Whereas Sharia is the divine law, the term “Fiqh” is the Islamic jurisprudence. Each Islamic Law is based on the Quran, which is the Holy book of Muslims, and the Sunnah, which are the teachings, sayings, and practices of the Prophet Muhammad. Muslims believe Muhammad incarnates the divine law, so he is a role model. When a Muslim wants to answer a question, he must go first to the Quran. If the Book does not solve it, he must go to the Sunnah. And if this does not answer the question either, Muslim Scholars are the last resort. The Sharia Law covers diverse aspects such as banking, transactions, divorce, marriage, and spiritual practices such as prayer, pilgrimage, charity, and fasting.

This Law can be found in most Arab countries and countries with a sizeable Muslim population. Some examples are Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, the UAE, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Iran, etc. Indonesia and Malaysia follow, respectively, Civil and Common Laws. However, they have particular regions where the Sharia prevails. A good example is Aceh, a province of Indonesia. It must be noted that no Muslim country implements the whole Sharia Law, and there is no single form of Sharia.


Dubai, UAE

Dubai, UAE


If you have read until this point, chances are you already have an idea of the differences and similarities between these legal systems. However, I will comment on these a bit so you can further grasp them. Civil and Common Laws are historically and geographically related, and you can find multiple articles and essays that compare them. However, Sharia Law is a whole different system, and it deserves a separate analysis which I made in a previous article.

Whereas Civil Law is based on codified statutes, Common Law is based on case law in the form of published judicial opinions. Sharia is codified as it is based on Islamic texts. Understanding the roles of a lawyer and a judge in each system is crucial, especially when comparing Civil and Common Laws.

In Civil Law countries, judges act as investigators, so they charge crimes, examine what the witnesses declare, and apply legal dispositions. A lawyer defends their client’s interest in civil proceedings. On the other hand, in Common Law countries, lawyers make presentations to the judge and examine witnesses. The judge is a referee with great flexibility to devise a remedy appropriate to the situation at hand. In this system, lawyers have an active role in legal proceedings, and, by extension, the in-court presentations involve an attempt to defend their clients through persuasion and the use of points of law and fact. Sharia Courts have a judge that acts independently, but in reality, they are appointed by the ruler. For example, in the UAE, the Supreme Court consists of at most five judges appointed by decree.

As for finance and banking, Civil and Common Laws permit interest, whereas Sharia strictly prohibits it. In fact, usury (in Arabic, “riba”) is one of the major sins mentioned in the Quran (e.g. 2:275, among other verses). This implies that any interest charged on deposits or loans, even at a low-interest rate, is not permitted.

As for penalties, it simply varies from country to country. For example, even though stealing is, in principle, prohibited anywhere, and most people consider it evil, the legal consequences are different in each territory. Whereas a robber can go to jail or be ordered to pay a fine in Civil and Common law countries, Sharia is way stricter, as the criminal would get his left hand cut.


Jakarta City, Indonesia

Jakarta City, Indonesia


As much as globalization has influenced the world, customs, traditions, and laws vary from place to place. As an expat, knowing the law of the land where you want to secure your new life is crucial. Civil and Common Law systems dominate most of the world, but if you're going to move to Middle-Eastern countries such as Qatar and the UAE to pay little to no taxes, it is a good idea to know the basics of Sharia Law to avoid any trouble and misunderstandings.

You can count on me if you plan to move abroad to reduce your tax bill. I have lived overseas for over 20 years in countries like the UAE. Your situation is unique, so it must be studied carefully to know the best options for you. Feel free to contact me, and I will carefully design a plan according to your needs and secure your new life abroad.


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I help my clients to move offshore for freedom, privacy and autonomy by focusing on the immigration, legal, and tax issues that you will face when becoming an expat. If you would like to work one-on-one with me on getting out of your home country (or setting up a Plan-B location), then read this important letter and fill in an application form to become a Private Client. My fees are not cheap; however, I can assure you that when you work with a professional firm like ours, the results will be worth it.



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Mikkel Thorup

Written by Mikkel Thorup

Mikkel Thorup is the world’s most sought-after expat consultant. He focuses on helping high-net-worth private clients to legally mitigate tax liabilities, obtain a second residency and citizenship, and assemble a portfolio of foreign investments including international real estate, timber plantations, agricultural land and other hard-money tangible assets. Mikkel is the Founder and CEO at Expat Money™, a private consulting firm started in 2017. He hosts the popular weekly podcast, the Expat Money Show, and wrote the definitive #1-Best Selling book Expat Secrets - How To Pay Zero Taxes, Live Overseas And Make Giant Piles Of Money, and his second book: Expats Guide On Moving To Mexico.

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