Shariah is the code of law for the Islamic way of life which Allah has revealed for mankind and commanded to follow. The word shariah means a clear straight path or example.
Shariah or Islamic law consists of the code of conduct for Muslims and is based on two main sources. The Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet. It aims towards the success and welfare of mankind both this life and life after death.
Shariah prescribes a complete set of laws for the guidance of mankind so that good may triumph and evil disappear from society. It provides a clear and straight path which leads to progress and fulfillment in life and the attainment of Allah’s pleasure.
The Quran is the main basis of the Shariah. It states the principles, while the Sunnah of the Prophet provides the details of their application. For example, the Quran says: establish salah, observe fasting, pay zakah, take decisions by consultation, do not earn or spend in wrong ways and so on but does not how to do these things. It is the Sunnah of the Prophet which gives us the details.
The Quran is the main book of guidance and the Prophet taught how to follow it. The Prophet not only told us how to follow guidance, he also practiced it himself.
The Shariah has rules of every aspect of life. It is complete and perfect, and guarantees us success, welfare and peace in this life on earth and life after death.
Man-made laws differ from Shariah in different ways:
- Men make laws when they feel the need; these laws start from a few and then grow in number over the years while Islamic law is complete, perfect and includes all aspect of human life.
- Man-made laws are not permanent; they can be changed according to the time and circumstances. for example, in a particular country at a particular time, drinking alcohol may be banned but this can change when pressure grows. The American government once banned alcoholic drink but removed the ban after a time because it could not be applied while the shariah is permanent for all people all the time. It does not change with time and conditions. For example , drinking wine, gambling and adultery are not allowed in Islamic law and no one can change this; it is a law that is valid for all time and all places.
- Man does not have knowledge of the future. Hence man made laws cannot stand the test of time while Allah is All knowing and All powerful; He is the most wise and His laws are the best and complete.
- Man is a created being. His laws are the creation of the created while Allah is the Creator and His laws are for man, His creation.
- Man made laws may be suitable for a particular nation or country and cannot be universal while Allah’s laws are for all nations, all countries and for all the time and they are universal.
- Men make laws to suit their own needs. Suppose, members of parliament want to decrees the rate of tax on the rich, they would do so even if the majority of people suffered and there was a high unemployment in the country while Allah is above all needs. He is not dependent on anything, so His laws are for the needs of the people and not for a few , selfish people.
Except the Quran and the Sunnah, the Shariah lawhas other sources: The Ijma‘ (consensus) Ijtihad (Individual discretion) and the Qiyas (Analogy on reasoning on the basis of similar circumstances). These must still be based on the Quran and Sunnah.
Ijma or consensus applies to a situation where no clear conclusion can be made from the Qur’an and Sunnah. In this situation the representatives of the people who are well versed on the Qur’an and the Sunnah will sit together and work out an agreed formula to solve the particular problem. Ijma was developed during the period of Khulafau Rashidun. The schools of thought, in theur interpretations of the probable meanings of the Quran and the Sunnah and in their rullings concerning issues not definitely dealt with in these sources, adopted certain general principles found in Quran legislation as a guide. These are some of the principles on which some of the schools of thought based their decisions:
- Toleration and the lifting of restrictions should be the aim of legislation.
- All things are fundamentally permissible unless specifically prohibited by the Islamic law.
- Eradication of mischief is the aim of administration.
- Necessity permits benefiting by things not otherwise permissible.
- Preventing mischief has priority over bringing out welfare.
- Commit the lesser of two evils.
- Mischief is not removed by mischief.
- One should suffer private damages to avert general disaster. Such general principles are the guides for the creation and interpretation of the Islamic law.
Ijtihad: in addition to the discretion employed in communal consultation concerning issues not specifically covered in the Qur’an or the Sunnah, there is the private discretion of the individual man in which decisions are reached by independent thinking. Private discretion is not bided by anyone accept the individual who uses it. Islam recognizes that the right of private discretion belongs to any individual who possesses the capacity for clear thinking and study, whether man or woman, ruler or subject, leading government or civil servant or private citizen. Just as they have the an equal right to engage in individual discretion, nor do they have equal responsibility for making mistakes. Islam is known of no one who is immune from committing except the Prophet insofar as revelation was concerned.
Qiyas means reference of analogy or a comparison of one thing with a similar one. It is applied in circumstances where guidance from the Quran, the Sunnah is not directly available. A solution to a problem is reached by a process of deduction from a comparison with similar situations.
The word Sunnah means a system or path of example. In Islam it refers to the practice of the Prophet, His life example. It is embodied in the Ahadith (Plural of Hadith) which are the Prophet’s sayings, actions, and the actions done with His approval. Ahadith has been carefully collected and compiled since the death of the Prophet. Six collections of Hadith are regarded as the most authentic. They are :
- Sahih Bukhar (collected and compiled by Muhammad bin Ismail, known as Iman Bukhar , born in 194 AH and died 256 AH).
- Sahih Muslim (collected and compiled by Imam Muslim, borne 202 AH and died 261 AH).
- Sunan Abu Dawud (collected and compiled by Abu Sulaiman ibn Ash’ath, known as Abu Dawud, born in 202 AH and died in 275 AH).
- Sunan Ibn Majah (collected and compiled by Muhammad bin Yazid, known as Ibn Majah, born 209 AH and died 273 AH).
- Jamia’At-Tirmidhi (Collected and compiled by Muhammad bin Isah, known as Tirmidh, born (not known) and died in 279 AH).
- Sunan An-Nasai (Collected and compiled by Ahmad bin Shuaib, born 215 AH and died 303 AH).
In addition to this, Muwatta of Imam Malik (born 93 AH, died in 179 AH), Mishkat Am Masabih of Abu Muhammad al Hussain Bin Masud (died 516 AH) and Musnad of Ahmad bin Hambal (born 164 AH and died 241 AH are also well known.
Fiqh is the science of Islamic law or Jurisprudence. It refers to the collection and compilation of Islamic laws based on the Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet. The word fiqh means knowledge and understanding.
The four schools of law: Some great Muslims devoted themselves to task of developing the science of understanding Islamic law and its Practice. The four best known compilers of Islamic law or shariah are:
- Abu Hanifah Nu’man bin Th’abit, known as Imam Abu Hanifah (born 80 AH and died 150 AH). He formed his system of law which was later elaborated by his disciples. Though he based his system in the Quran and Sunnah, yet he translated to common sense in his rulings on those not manifestly covered by the Quran and Sunnah.
- Malik bin Anas, Known as Imam Malik (born 93 AH and died 179 AH). He developed another system of law with much emphasis o tradition (hadith). The traditions upon which he based his decisions are collected in the Muwatta. He adopted the local Ijma. This book is mainly based on the Malik school of law.
- Muhammad bin Idris al-Shafii, known as Imam Shafi (born 150 AH died 240 AH). He based his school on a wider and more systematic use of tradition. He recognized the part to be played by common sense. Al-Shafii knew the Quran and the hadith very well and was very strong in debate. He knew the principles of law and proof. He followed the agreement of the community as a whole. He went further than Malik and Abu Hanifah who followed the consensus of opinion of Madina and Iraq respectively.
- Ahmad bin Hambal, known as Imam Hambal (born 164 AH and died 241 AH). He was primarily a student of tradition who clung to the strict ideas common in the early days of Islam. He formulated no code but gave his opinion on many questions and these were set order by his disciples. As a basis for his decision, he accepted traditions and legal opinions delivered by the companions of the Prophet. Faced with choice of decisions he took that which was closest to the Quran and Sunnah.
Islamic law divides human activities into:
(1) fard or wajib (duty or obligatory) __ performance of these actions are rewarded and their omission is punished.
(2) Man’dub (recommended actions ) __ the performance of which is rewarded but omission of which is not punished.
(3) Mubah (Silent) __ actions permitted by silence whereby there is no reward given if practiced and no punishment is given if not practiced.
(4) Makruh (Disliked) __actions disapproved but not punished.
(5) Haram (forbidden__ actions punishable by law.
The scholars and experts in Islamic law have made the Shariah easier to understand and practice, by the science of fiqh. Fiqh is the explanation of the Islamic laws based on the Quran and Sunnah.
Islamic law or the shariah embodies the Islamic Ideal life. Islam is the complete way of life and the Shariah is the means to arrive at the ideal life recommended by Islam. Shariah enables us to bring our life in line with the will of Allah and it is the process of achieving the goal of life.