Introduction to Shariah

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(part 1 of 2) Description:  The lessons cover the basics of  Shariah  and  fiqh  that are necessary to understand the inner workings of Isla...

(part 1 of 2)

Description: The lessons cover the basics of Shariah and fiqh that are necessary to understand the inner workings of Islamic rules and regulations.
Objectives:
·       To learn the definition of Shariah.
·       To appreciate the scope of Shariah.
·       To learn six unique features of Shariah:
·       To learn about the sources of Shariah.
Arabic Terms:
·       Fiqh – Islamic jurisprudence.
·       Istihsan - juristic preference.
·       Jihad - a struggle, to exert effort in a certain matter, and may refer to a legitimate war.
·       Maslahah mursalah - public interest. 
·       Shirk – a word that implies ascribing partners to Allah, or ascribing divine attributes to other than Allah, or believing that the source of power, harm and blessings comes from another besides Allah.
·       Qiyas – analogy.
·       Shariah – Islamic Law.
·       Sunnah – The word Sunnah generally refers to whatever was reported that the Prophet said, did, or approved of.
·       Urf  - custom.
·       Zakah – obligatory charity.

What is Shariah

IntroToShariah1.jpgShariah” is a misunderstood word second to ‘Jihad’ and is usually translated as ‘Islamic Law.’ An incomplete translation leads to much confusion.  Therefore, we must first understand the meaning of the term.
In essence, “Shariah” refers to what Allah has legislated for His slaves,[1]  whether it be beliefs, practice, worship, or morals.  It is the totality of Allah’s commands.[2]  Another author defines ‘Shariah’ to be the ‘commands, prohibitions, guidance and principles that God has addressed to mankind pertaining to their conduct in this world and salvation in the next.’[3]
Shariah includes the following[4]:
1.     Creed: including the oneness of Allah, rejection of shirk, belief in Angels, Divine Scriptures, Prophets, and the Last Day.
2.     Ethics: being true, trustworthy, keeping promises, and rejection of immorality like lying, breaking promises, etc.
3.     Religious Practices: matters related to worship and dealings with fellow human beings including specific crimes and their punishment.
In short, Shariah guides all aspects of Muslim life, including daily prayers, marriage, divorce, family obligations, and financial dealings. 

Unique Features of Shariah

1.     Shariah comes from Allah.  It is Allah’s revelation to His Prophet Muhammad, either directly in the form of the Quran or indirectly in the form of Sunnah.  This in turn means:
a.     The principles of Shariah are free of injustice and are not subject to human discretions.  An example is the equality of human beings regardless of their color, gender, or language.  They are only ‘distinguished’ from each other based on their good works!
b.     Shariah is to be upheld by all believers, whether they are rulers or the ruled because it is from Allah.  An example is the prohibition of drugs and alcohol; it is forbidden upon all without exception.
c.     Shariah promises the doer of good works great rewards in this life and in the next, and warns the sinner of a grave punishment in this life and the next.  The recompense of the life to come is tied to living by and applying Shariah in one’s daily life in matters like ablution, prayer, and zakah.
2.     Shariah is timeless and universally applicable.  We believe that Shairah is suitable and applicable for all times and places.
3.     Shariah is comprehensive.  It includes matters of belief, Islamic ethics, and rules governing speech and action.  The rules governing speech and action are called “fiqh” or Islamic jurisprudence and can be further subdivided into the following categories:
a.     Worship like prayer and fasting.  It governs a person’s relation to his Lord.
b.     Human relationships that include personal, civil law, financial law, law of war and peace, and criminal law.
4.     Shariah is humane.  It brings ease and removes hardship which is a natural consequence of its comprehensiveness and perfection.  Allah says,
“…Allah desires ease for you and does not desire hardship for you…”(Quran 2:185)
Therefore, Shariah eases an obligatory duty when performing it causes an excessive hardship and it temporarily allows a prohibited action when there is a dire need for it[5]
“…But whoever is forced [by necessity], neither desiring [it] nor transgressing [its limit], there is no sin upon him.  Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.” (Quran 2:173)
An example of a hardship that would ease an obligatory duty is if one falls ill or is travelling, they can break their fast.
5.     Shariah is based on justice.  What is meant is not only a judge applying the law fairly to everyone, but the law itself being just.  That is a natural consequence of its divine source. True justice should establish an equilibrium by way of fulfilling rights and obligations and by eliminating excess and disparity in all spheres of life.  The standard of justice in the Quran is referred to in some fifty passages.  People are urged to be just to others at all levels, whether personal or public, in words or in conduct, in dealing with friends or enemies, Muslim or non-Muslim, all must be treated with justice.  Allah says in the Quran,
“We sent Our messengers with evidences and revealed the Book and the balance through them so as to establish justice among people…” (Quran 57:25)
6.     Shariah promotes moderation.  Allah says in the Quran,
“And thus We have made you a nation that is moderate in nature (free from excesses and shortcomings)...” (Quran 2:143)
The rules of Shariah are the middle path between the extremes.  An example is Islamic finance which is between socialism and free capitalist economy.

Sources of Shariah

The primary source of Shariah is Allah’s revelation.[6]
“Indeed We have sent revelation to you (O Muhammad) just as We had sent revelation to Noah and the prophets after him...” (Quran 4:163)
Allah’s revelation to Prophet Muhammad is of two types:
a.     Allah’s Word, the Quran.  It’s meaning and words both are from Allah.
b.     The Sunnah, whose meaning is from Allah, but the words are from Prophet Muhammad.  Some of the Sunnah are decisions made by the Prophet that Allah confirmed, and some Sunnah are the Prophet’s understanding of the Quran.  Sunnahmeans the teachings of Prophet Muhammad contained in his words and actions that have been passed down to us.
Some of the secondary sources of Shariah are qiyas (analogy), istihsan (juristic preference), maslahah mursalah (public interest) and urf (custom).


Footnotes:
[1] Al-Madkhal li-Dirasa al-Sharia al-Islamia by Abd al-Karim Zaidan p.38
[2] The Schools of Islamic Jurisprudence: A Comparative Study by Mohammad Hamidullah Khan, p.  5
[3] Shariah Law: An Introduction by Mohammad Hashim Kamali, p.  14
[4] Al-Madkhal ila al-Shariah wa Fiqh al-Islami by Dr.  Umar al-Ashqar, p.18.  Also see Al-Madkhal li Dirasa Shariah al-Islamiyya by Nasr Farid Wasil, p.  15-16.
[5] A dire need is a need that reaches a “life and death” situation; such as starving to death and finding nothing to eat but something that is prohibited.
[6] Al-Madkhal ila al-Shariah wa Fiqh al-Islami by Dr.  Umar al-Ashqar, p.107-108.

Introduction to Shariah (part 2 of 2)

Description: The lessons cover the basics of Shariah and fiqh that are necessary to understand the workings of Islamic rules and regulations.
Objectives:
·       To learn the definition of fiqh and its relationship to Shariah.
·       To compare and contrast Shariah and fiqh.
·       To learn about the “five” rulings of fiqh.
·       To understand the six stages of the evolution of fiqh.
·       To appreciate the general and specific qualifications of a Muslim jurist (faqih).
·       To learn about the major seats of learning in the Muslim world.
·       To learn about the major fiqh councils in the West.
Arabic Terms:
·       Faqih (pl.  fuqaha) – Muslim jurist (jurists).
·       Fiqh - Islamic jurisprudence.
·       Hadith -  (plural – ahadith) is a piece of information or a story.  In Islam it is a narrative record of the sayings and actions of Prophet Muhammad.
·       Haram - Forbidden.
·       Makruh - disliked.
·       Maslahah mursalah – public interest.
·       Mubah - permissible.
·       Mustahab - recommended.
·       Qiyas – analogy.
·       Shariah - Islamic Law.
·       Sunnah - The word Sunnah has several meanings depending on the area of study however the meaning is generally accepted to be, whatever was reported that the Prophet said, did, or approved of.
·       Wajib - obligatory.
IntroToShariah2.jpgShariah is the confirmed rules that Allah has legislated in the Quran, Sunnah, and other sources which branch out of them. 
Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), on the other hand, is defined as knowledge of the practical rules of Shariahwhich are derived from the detailed evidence in the sources.[1]
Therefore, Shariah is the goal, fiqh is the path.  Fiqhis contained in specialized books and encyclopedias.  It is a compilation of rules and regulations.
Fiqh includes practical religious matters that are well-known in Islam.  These consist of rules conveyed in a clear text.  Two examples would be the duty to pray five daily prayers and the prohibition of alcohol.  They are definite and clear.  Fiqh also includes many practical details of religious matters that are speculative.  Does bleeding invalidate ablution?  In ablution, is it required to wipe the entire head or only part of it? Answers to such detailed questions can be found in books of fiqh.

What is the Relationship Between Shariah and Fiqh? [2]

1.     Shariah is the actual rules revealed by Allah.  There is no contradiction or conflict between them.  It is binding on all Muslims.  As for fiqh, it is derived by the scholars of Islam known as fuqaha (jurists) from the texts of Shariah or other methods such as qiyas and maslahah mursalah.  These deduced rules may or may not agree with the Shariah.  In other words, when a scholar is correct in his understanding, Shariahand fiqh are in agreement.  When a scholar makes a mistake, Shariah and fiqhseparate.  Shariah does not exist in a vacuum.  It is found within fiqh.[3]
2.     Shariah is complete, fiqh is not.  Shariah is mostly general principles and maxims from which guidance for all aspects of our daily life is deduced.  Fiqh, on the other hand, is the opinion of scholars in many cases.  For the most part Shariah provides guidelines which are elaborated in fiqh.
3.     Shariah is general and addresses all human beings unlike fiqh.
4.     Shariah is binding whereas parts of fiqh are not binding.  Fiqh provides relevant answers to its contemporary society for a specific place.  Shariah is time and place independent.  Shariah mostly provides general directives whereas detailed solutions to particular and unprecedented issues are developed in fiqh.
5.     Shariah is perfect whereas fiqh is not.  Shariah does not contain errors since it is considered divine revelation, but fiqh can sometimes be wrong as it is a human endeavor and a product of reasoning.

Rules of Fiqh

Rules of fiqh are categorized on a scale of five values:
1.     Wajib (obligatory): what is required upon a Muslim, like the five daily prayers.
2.     Mustahab (recommended): what a Muslim is encouraged to do, like fasting on Mondays and Thursdays.
3.     Mubah (permissible): what is left up to a Muslim to do or leave, like picking a certain food or drink.
4.     Makruh (disliked): what is better to leave for a Muslim, like praying while food is being served.
5.     Haram (forbidden): what a Muslim is prohibited from, like adultery and theft.

The Stages of the Evolution of Fiqh

Fiqh was developed over the course of time across different geographical areas of the Muslim world.  It’s evolution over a span of 1400 years can be classified into six stages[4]:
1.     Foundation: era of Prophet Muhammad, may Allah praise him, 609 - 632 CE.
2.     Establishment: era of the Righteous Caliphs, 632 - 661 CE.
3.     Building: era of Umayyad dynasty, 661 CE - 8th century.
4.     Flowering: era of rise and decline of Abbasid dynasty, 8th century - middle of 10thcentury.
5.     Consolidation: from decline of Abbasid dynasty to murder of last Abbasid Caliph, 960 CE - middle of 13th century.
6.     Stagnation & Decline: from sacking of Baghdad to the present, 1258 CE - now.

Qualifications of a Faqih (Muslim Jurist)

The three basic qualifications of an Islamic scholar who specializes in fiqh are:
1.     Knowledge of Islam from its sources: Quran, Sunnah, consensus, and juristic analogy (qiyas).
2.     Understanding the prevailing circumstances of society to be able to cope with contemporary issues properly.
3.     Piety and good intention.
More specifically, a fiqh specialist scholar (faqih) has knowledge of:
·       Arabic language and its sciences. 
·       verses of legislation in the Quran and their explanation. 
·       ahadith of legislation and their interpretation.
·       can differentiate between authentic and weak ahadith.
·       knows what verses and ahadith are abrogated and which continue to be operational.
·       can distinguish between the general and the specific, the unrestricted and the restricted, the different degrees of clarity of wordings.   
·       knows the opinions of scholars on the issues, where they differ and where they agree.
·       knows how qiyas is made. 
·       understands how to sort out conflicting evidence.
·       understands the goals of the Shariah and their different priorities.

Major Seats of Learning in the Muslim World

The major institutions of learning in the Muslim world are Al-Azhar University in Egypt, Zaituna University in Tunisia, Imam Muhammad ibn Saud University in Saudi Arabia, Umm Darman University in Sudan, Islamic University of Madina in Saudi Arabia, and Dar ul Uloom Deoband in India.  Many Muslim scholars are either trained there, or institutions affiliated or influenced by these centers.

Major Fiqh Councils in the West

There are several major Islamic fiqh councils which consist of well known Muslim scholars from around the world.  The most famous ones are in Mecca, Jeddah, Cairo and India.  The three major fiqh councils for Muslims living in the West are Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America, European Council for Fatwa and Research, and Fiqh Council Of North America.


Footnotes:
[1] Al-Madkhal ila al-Shariah wa Fiqh al-Islami by Dr.  Umar al-Ashqar, p.36
[2] Al-Madkhal ila al-Shariah wa Fiqh al-Islami by Dr.  Umar al-Ashqar, p.42-43
[3] Madkhal li-Dirasa al-Shariah al-Islamiyya by Yusuf al-Qaradawi, p.  22
[4] The Evolution of Fiqh by Dr.  Bilal Philips p.  17-18.

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