The Sources of Shariah Law

Shariah law is the body of law that governs life within Muslim societies. In Arabic the word Shariah means “ the clear, well trodden way to water”. The primary source of the Sharia is the Qur’an. The Qur’an was revealed to the Prophet gradually, over 23 years. The essence of its message is to establish the oneness of God and the spiritual and moral need of man for God. This need is fulfilled through worship and submission, and has ultimate consequences in the Hereafter. An additional source of Shariah law is called the Sunnah. The Sunnah was based on the Prophets own example and the various rulings he issued on cases that occurred during his lifetime. They function as a secondary source of law next to the Qur’an.

Consequently, all the laws of Sharia are based primarily on Qur’an and then on Sunnah. Nevertheless in instances were no information in those two sources, judges were free to use their intelligence to make analogies. As in most legal systems, cases could then be referred to by later judges. Therefore it is said that content of Shariah law is further derived from the Ijma (which means matters on which a consensus exists amongst Islamic Scholars), Ijtihad (the opinion of Islamic scholars based on knowledge and research).

Scholarly consensus

The basis for scholarly consensus being a source of law is the Qur’anic command to resolve matters by consultation, as God stated, “Those who answer the call of their Lord, established prayer, and whose affairs are by consultation.” (42:38) Scholarly consensus is defined as being the agreement of all Muslim scholars at the level of juristic reasoning (ijtihad) in one age on a given legal ruling. Given the condition that all such scholars have to agree to the ruling, its scope is limited to matters that are clear according to the Qur’an and Prophetic example, upon which such consensus must necessarily be based. When established, though, scholarly consensus is decisive proof.

Legal analogy (Qiyas)

Legal analogy is a useful tool in dealing with change and new circumstances over time. It enables the Islamic Scholar to understand the underlying reasons and causes for the rulings of the Qur’an and Prophetic example (sunna). The Shariah is supposed to become more adaptable and consistently applicable to ever changing human situations. For example the prohibition of drugs such as cocaine and heroin are a result of analogously applying the rulings prohibiting alcohol. The analogy being that all these substance are intoxicants and albeit variedly have a similar effect on humans.

The body of Shariah law engrosses all aspects of human life pertaining to a muslim. It additionally contains some stipulations that are also applicable to non Muslims.. Its provisions concern four main topics, matters dealing with personal acts of worship, commercial practices, laws relating to marriage, divorce and penal law. The legal philosophers of Islam, such as Ghazali, Shatibi, and Shah Wali Allah explain that the aim of Sharia is to promote human welfare. This is evident in the Qur’an, and teachings of the Prophet..

The Sharia regulates all human actions and puts them into five categories: obligatory, recommended, permitted, or forbidden (Haram). The ultimate worth of actions is based on intention and sincerity, as mentioned by the Prophet, who said, “Actions are by intentions, and one shall only get that which one intended.”

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