Islamic law is unique in that it claims to be of divine rather than human origin. Secular law consists of texts that are
interpreted by lawyers and judges, subject to the influences of time and place, the pressures of interest-groups, public mood,
and other factors. Such laws change over time. This is not the case in Islamic law.
Islamic law is known as the Shari'ah (the ‘way’ or ‘the path to the water source’), the legal framework within which Muslim public and
private life and law, worship, and standards of morals are regulated. It guides Muslims as they strive to carry out God's will in every
aspect of life (including politics, economics, banking, business, contracts, sexuality, hygiene and social issues), and helps them to judge
what is right and wrong according to Islam. In this chapter you will read about the sources of this law, the way it is applied, the schools of
thought, and some details of Islamic jurisprudence.
Door knocker on a mosque in Seville, Spain.
The basis of Islamic law
The hadiths are a huge body of traditions, at first handed down by oral transmission, but their authenticity became endangered by pious
fabrications and inaccuracies. Following investigation by specialist scholars, they were arranged into categories - such as ‘sound’, ‘good’
or ‘weak’. The scholars known as Bukhari (d. 870) and Muslim (d. 875) produced critical collections that have ever since been regarded as
most trustworthy. The works of Abu Dawud (d. 999), Nasa'i (d. 915), Tirmidhi (d.892) and Ibn Majah (d.896) completed the ‘authentic
collections’, known together as the ‘Six Books’.
Islamic jurisprudence is based on three major sources. The first is the nass, the explicit textual rulings of Islam. They derive from two
sources - the ahkam (plural of hukm, meaning ‘command’), about 500 verses of the Qur'an that are specific commands and beyond dispute;
and the sunnah - the Prophet's practices, rulings and teachings derived from the hadiths. If there was no clear ruling on a particular matter in
the Qur'an, Muslims were commanded to obey the Prophet, and refer disputes either to him or those he set over them (Surah 4.59). From
the ahkam and sunnat are derived all the principles behind the law, and any inferred or implied meanings.
Some of the ahkam are particular and some are general, but they do not cover every eventuality-many modern-day issues simply did not
exist when the collections were made. Therefore, scholars have to infer the general principles and intentions behind the particular
commands to apply them appropriately.
Credo Reference Print
1 of 6