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I understand that Sharia is the religious law of Islam. Is the term “Sharia Law” redundant? I hear and read it all the time.

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Welcome to EL&U. I am sure you made some efforts to answer your own question: can you share what you found? Dictionaries you checked, etc.? It helps to write answers if we know where to start from. – MετάEd Jan 10 '13 at 23:33

Yes, it's a pleonasm.

Some pleonasms are considered irritating or clumsy by some people, "cacophony of sound", "ATM machine".

Some are idiomatic, "safe haven".

Some are idiomatic in some dialects, such as "I'm after writing down an example of Hiberno-English" in Hiberno-English.

And some are the result of borrowings from other languages. Place names are common examples ("Walla Walla River" means "river river" and "Bredon Hill" means "hill hill hill"), and "Sharia Law" would be another example. As such, it's probably best to use it when you want to be understood by an averagely informed audience.

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I understand the reasoning of those who say that this is redundant, like "ATM machine". But I don't think it really is. "Sharia" is being used as an adjective to describe a type of law.

Like: In my part of the U.S. there is a chain of grocery stores called "Kroger's". To the best of my knowlege, the only business they operate is grocery stores. So is it redundant to say, "I went to Kroger's grocery store"? You could argue that, "I went to Kroger's" is sufficient, as Kroger's identifies a kind of grocery store -- it can't be anything else.

But the reader doesn't necessarily know who or what Kroger is. To someone from another country, "Kroger's" might be any kind of store, or a zoo, or my friend Bob Kroger's house, or many other possibilities. Depending on the context, the reader may not even realize that it's a place. (I once read that the best selling postcard of all time was one showing a young couple sitting on a park bench, and the caption reads: "He: Do you like Kipling? She: I don't know, you naughty boy. I've never kipled." If he had asked, "Do you like Kipling's books?" there would have been no ambiguity. And no joke.)

I don't think it's redundant to supply additional information to identify something that may be unfamiliar to the reader. I can think of many examples where we do this. If I write, "Sally, Fred's wife, drives a blue car", you could say that it's redundant to give both her name and to identify her as "Fred's wife", either of these things by itself would identify who I am talking about, unless Fred has more than one wife or there is more than one Sally to whom I might be referring. But even if neither of those things is true, the reader may not know that Fred and Sally are married, or they may know that Fred is married but not know the name of his wife, etc.

If you want to carry it to an extreme, almost every statement is redundant if you assume that the reader already knows everything that you have to say.

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So in "It's law law", the first law is an adjective and not redundant? – Jon Hanna Jan 11 '13 at 1:58
@JonHanna "law law" is obviously redundant because both words are the same. "Sally, Fred's wife ..." are two different ways to identify the same person, but are not redundant because the reader may not know that both identify the same person. "Sally, who is named Sally ..." is redundant because it's the same way to identify a person, stated twice. Likewise, writing "the Rio Grande river ..." may seem redundant to someone who speaks Spanish because you're saying "river" twice. But to someone who does not speak Spanish it is not redundant. ... – Jay Jan 11 '13 at 15:38
... (Well, I could argue that "Rio Grande river" is not redundant even to someone who does speak Spanish. Perhaps we need to distinguish "Rio Grande" the river from "Rio Grande" the town in Ohio.) – Jay Jan 11 '13 at 15:39
So, it's a redundancy that's necessary because some who don't know the language borrowed from require the extra information? – Jon Hanna Jan 11 '13 at 16:03
In a word: Yes. Just like it is not redundant to say "the Stackexchange web forum". You could say, As opposed to what, the Stackexchange microwave oven? Anyone familiar with Stackexchange knows it's a web forum. But if my readers are not necessarily familiar with Stackexchange, I have to tell them what it is. Yes, if a reader knows what Sharia is, than it's not necessary to tell them. But if you start with the assumption that your readers already know everything you have to say, why are you bothering to write anything? – Jay Jan 11 '13 at 18:01

Sharia is indeed law. But not everyone knows that, so "Sharia Law" is a hint for those.

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Sharia is described as a moral code and as law, so I suppose that the use of the additional word "law" might occur to distinguish the more legalistic aspects, to use parallel phrasing when discussing different types of law, or simply to jog the memories of half-aware Western readers. In any event, you should not capitalize the word "law" in this context, since it's not part of the name.

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The word for law used in Arabic is Qaanun, and it does not have a religious context necessarily (although it might have religious roots, I'm not sure). Thus Shari3a is, as @Iucounu notes, a moral and legal code - but it is not "law" per se. Note that the linked-to article mentions Qaanun Islaami, Islamic Law, as a synonym for Sharia'.

So, yeah, it's a pleonasm...

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