LARA BRADLEY SHARIA law should rule Ireland in the event of a Muslim majority, a senior Islamic cleric has said.
The legal system, derived from the Koran, is implemented in a number of Islamic countries to varying degrees, from beheadings in Saudi Arabia to the more liberal attitudes of Malaysia.
Secretary-General of the Irish Council of Imams Ali Selim said: "There is a clear misunderstanding of the term Sharia law. People get alerted to what will happen them when they hear this term and see it as a negative thing. But under Sharia law a Christian can live by Christian laws, a Jew by the laws of Judaism, and Muslims by Sharia law.
"If the majority in a country want something and vote for it, do you accept it or do you put it in the bin? If a majority want it then it should happen. If not, that is a dictatorship."
In Sharia law a set of offences known as Hadd are punishable by penalties such as stoning or flogging to death, or the chopping off of a hand. These offences include sex outside marriage, theft and drinking alcohol, but the majority of Islamic states do not adopt Hadd offences as part of their state law.
The recently formed Irish Council of Imams represents all 14 imams in the Republic of Ireland and has the authority to speak on behalf of the country's 40,000 Muslims.
While Mr Selim would like to see Sharia law in Ireland, and the Muslim community has grown dramatically in recent years, he admits the likelihood of forming a majority is extremely slim.
He said: "The reality is that the Muslim community in Ireland, or in any part of Europe, are minorities and the best they can wish for is to be able to integrate. The Irish do not make us feel like strangers and they do not find diversity threatening. They have been very welcoming to us and we are cooperating with them for the joint good."
Speaking of the violent outcry from Muslims around the world at Pope Benedict's remarks on Islam, Mr Selim said it was important the reaction was understood in the context of the environment in which it took place.
He said: "This violence happened in a very limited area and you must look at the political environment in those areas to understand it. In Ireland we were definitely shocked, but when we realised the Vatican was taking steps towards a withdrawal we decided not to express our views. If we had expressed our views it would have been in a civil manner and in a way harmonious to the society in which we live."