The Significance of the Shari'ah


By Dr. Nizam Ajmir Mohammed

      Sharia’h is the sacred Law of Islam, which is binding upon every Muslim. The term Shari’ah is found in the Holy Qur’aan itself where Almighty Allaah says:

Then We put thee on The Right Way of Religion Shari’ah, so
follow thou that (way) and follow not the desires of those who know not


      The author of this Divine Law is Almighty Allaah who is the Originator of all forms and aspects of life and existence. Submission to the rules of Shari’ah (Sacred Law of Islam) is therefore not merely a social duty but, above all, a precept of faith. Islam is a practical system of life, and its Sacred Law guides Muslims in all spheres of existence, providing the means of success for this world as well as for the next.

      The Shari’ah or Sacred Law of Islam is not merely “Law” in the narrow and modern sense of the word. It involves more than legal rules and court procedures. It is the complete and Divine Code of faith and practice for Muslims. When Muslims live in accordance with the Shari’ah, he places himself in the custody of Allaah. The Shari’ah pro­vides a religious significance to every aspect of human existence. It is the blue print of a Muslim’s life. It explains to him his religious duties, how to perform his prayers, what to eat or drink, how to dress, what makes him ritually clean, how to manage his estate, how to conduct his trans­actions, how to make treaties and honour them, and how to conduct himself privately and publicly. It explains to him these and all other aspects of life. It regulates, therefore, not only the religious, social and political life of a Muslim, but also governs his marital and civic relations as well as his relations with all other members (Muslims and non-Muslims) of the community. It explains to him what is lawful in terms of Farz, Wajib, Sunnat and Mustahab (or Nafl); what is indifferent (mubah); what is reprehen­sible (Makruh), and what is forbidden (haraam). It explains to him, through gradations from legality to illegality, what is lawful and what is unlawful. The Shari’ah represents the totality of Allaah’s commands that regulate every aspect of a Muslim’s life.



The Shari’ah is built upon the following foundations:

(1) The Holy Qur’aan or the Revelation of Allaah.

(2) The Hadith and Sunnah or the Sayings and Practices of the Holy Prophet of Islam,
      Muhammad (peace be upon him).

(3) Ijma - consensus of the Islamic community.

(4) Qiyas - analogical reasoning.

      In essence, the Holy Qur’aan contains the entire Shari’ah. This final and Divine Revelation contains the prin­ciple of the Sacred Law of Islam. In many instances the details of these principles were explained by the Holy Prophet who best understood the Divine Revelation. Therefore, the Hadith and Sunnah of the Prophet together constitute the second basic source of Shari’ah. Besides these primary sources viz, the Holy Qur’aan and the Sunnah and Hadith, the principles of the Sacred Law re­ceived further elucidation and interpretation through two other sanctioned means viz. Ijma and Qiyas.

      Ijma is defined as the consensus of the Muslim jurists (Mujtahids) on a question of law. It comes from the word Jama’at meaning collecting or gathering together, or unani­mity. The principle of ljma finds its support from both the Holy Qur’aan and the Hadith. The Holy Qur’aan warns about the penalty of rejecting the principles as follows:

 “If any­one contends with the Apostle even after guidance has been plainly conveyed to him, and follows a path other than becoming to men of Faith, We shall leave him in the path he has chosen, and land him in hell. What an evil refuge!” (4:115).

The Holy Prophet himself has said:

       “My com­munity will never agree on an error.”

      The use of Ijma has been clearly demonstrated in the mutual consultative and constitutional system originated by the Holy Prophet and followed by the rightly guided Caliphs. Some Muslims have distinguished between the consensus of all Muslims, called Ijma-al-Umma i.e. con­sensus of all Muslims, points, and the consensus of scholars on the points of details called ljma-aI-Aimma. Through Ijma, the general principles and guides for human conduct as contained in the Holy Qur’aan and Hadith, are interpreted with specific reference to the conditions of society at a particular period. In this manner, specific laws are elabo­rated and framed on the basis of the sacred principles. Ijma, therefore, like the other sources, ensures the dyna­mism and progressive spirit of the Muslim community. Qiyas is the analogical reasoning of the learned, utilising the other sources of law - the Holy Qur’aan, the Hadith and Ijma. Qiyas signifies the process of deduction by which the law of a text is applied to cases which, though not covered by the language, are governed by reason of the text. It therefore means the use of human reason to de­velop the laws of the Qur’aan and Sunnah from known con­ditions to unknown conditions. For example, wine is for­bidden in the Qur’aan under the word Khamr, which literally means anything intoxicating. Therefore by Qiyas, or ana­logical reasoning, opium, marijuana and all intoxicating drugs are also forbidden.



(The Science of Shari’ah).

      The four Imams, Abu Hanifa, Malik, Shafeyi, and Ahmad laid the foundations of Fiqh or Islamic Juris­prudence, which is the science of Shari’ah, and its inter­pretation. By meticulously studying the Holy Qur’aan and Hadith, and the practices of the earlier and pious Muslims, they were able to codify the law, and compose the com­pendia of law in which the teachings of Shari’ah as they relate to various aspects of life were delineated and sys­tematised.

      It may be mentioned that these four schools do not constitute four different “sects” in Islam. Instead, they merely represent four different schools of thought for­mulated within the spirit of the basic sources of Islamic law. Each school emphasizes a particular aspect of law. The differences between them are slight and negligible, and one can freely move from one school to the other without any loss of faith.



      The Western world finds it difficult to understand the significance of the Shari’ah in a Muslim’s life, because its growth has been nourished by the belief that all worldly affairs, including all social, political and economic matters should be regulated by secular authorities, and that all reli­gious activities should be consigned to a separate depart­ment. It believes in the principle of the division of life into secular and religious spheres, a principle that is completely alien to Islam. Moreover, the Western World has not had a Divine Law to govern human society and because of this it has not only become increasingly materialistic in its out­look, but most important of all, it has failed to understand and appreciate the significance of the Shari’ah, the sacred law of Islam. Unfortunately, many Muslims, influenced by Western thought, have also failed to understand and appre­ciate the Shari’ah.

      Islam has never separated the secular from the religious. The social, political, economic, and in fact, all aspects of human life have been incorporated in the laws of Islam. Man is by nature a social being, and he functions in the context of his relationship with his fellow-beings. As a result of this social interdependence and functioning, some form of social order is necessary. Rules of law are therefore drafted so as to enable members of the society to live and work together in a harmonious, orderly and peace­ful manner. Western laws are not so much concerned with moral rules and ethics. Therefore no legal action can be taken against a person who covets, tells lies (except where a person tells lies under oath in a court) or engages in private drunkenness. Western laws are therefore mainly concerned with the violation of rights against other members of the society and state, and ignore the fundamentally deeper and inner aspects of man. Their laws change throughout the course of history and respond to public opinion or pressure.

      The Shari’ah or Sacred Law of Islam, on the other hand, provides not only rules of guidance for man’s social life, and concerns itself not only with legal rules and institutions and courts of law, but also provides man with the guidance whereby he can conduct himself properly in this world and prepare himself for the next.







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