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Shari’a: The Islamic Law

Islam being a complete code of life (Din) covers all aspects including social, economic, political, military and other aspects of human life, hence the Islamic law, spells out the moral goals of the community, where state and religion are not separate entity. Total and unqualified submission to the will of Allah  is the fundamental tenet of Islam: Islamic law is therefore the expression of Allah’s command for Muslim society and, in application, constitutes a system of duties that are incumbent upon a Muslim by virtue of his religious belief. Known as the Shari’a (literally means path leading to the watering place). The Jews flouted the law: “The likeness of those who are entrusted with the Law of Moses, yet apply it not, is as the likeness of the ass carrying books. Wretched is the likeness of folk who deny the revelations of Allah. And Allah does not guide the wrongdoers.”(Qur’an;62:5). Allah say: “And unto thee have We revealed the Scripture with the truth, confirming whatever Scripture was before it, and a watcher over it. So judge between them by that which Allah hath revealed, and follow not their desires away from the truth which hath come unto thee. For each We have appointed a divine law and a traced out way.”(Qur’an;5:48). The Jews and Christians have been commanded to follow Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and Qur’an: “O people of the Book (Jews and Christians)! Now Our Messenger (Muhammad) has come to you to reveal much of what you have concealed from the Holy Books and to pass over much which is no longer necessary. There has come to you from God a new Light and a clear Book (Qur’an), with which God will guide to the ways of peace all those who seek His good pleasure and bring them out of the depth of darkness into the light of His grace and guide them to the Right Way.”(Qur’an;5:15-16).

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In Islamic society, therefore, the term law has a wider significance than it does in the modern secular West, because Islamic law includes both legal and moral imperatives. The Islamic law constitutes a divinely ordained path of conduct, that guides the Muslim toward a practical expression of his religious conviction (rituals) and all aspects of life (social, economic, political etc) in this world and the goal of divine favour in the world to come. For the same reason, not all-Islamic laws can be stated as formal legal rules or enforced by the courts. Much of it depends on conscience alone. The Shari’a duties are broadly divided into those that an individual owes to Allah (the ritual practices or ‘ibadat) and those that he owes to his fellow men (mu’amalat). It is the latter category of duties alone, constituting law in the Western sense, that is penal law. The other laws include; offenses against the person, homicide, law of transactions, family law, succession law, procedure and evidence etc. The Qur’anic revelations laid down basic standards of conduct for the first Muslim community established under the leadership of the Prophet (peace be upon him) at Medina in 622 C.E.  The Qur’an is the book of guidance for the believers; it also lay down the parameters of legal code. The Qur’an contains about ninety verses directly and specifically addressing questions of law. Islamic legal discourse refers to these verses as Allah’s law and incorporates them into legal codes. The remainder of Islamic law is the result of jurisprudence (fiqh), human efforts to codify Islamic norms in practical terms and legislate for cases not specifically dealt with in the Qur’an and Sunnah, through Ijma, (agreement among scholars) and Qiya, (analogical reasoning).

Beginning in the mid eighth cen­tury, the four major Sunni schools of legal thought (madhhabs) Hanafi, Maliki, Shafii, Hanbali and the Shi’a Jafari madhhab (Twelvers) emerged. They were named after the great scholars Imam Abu Hanifah (699-767 C.E),  Imam Malik ibn Anas (715-795 C.E), Imam Al-Shaf’ie (767-820 C.E), Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal (780-855 C.E) and Imam Jafar al-Sadiq (699-748 C.E) respectively. These schools differ in their methodologies, which help them to arrive at verdicts to questions that are put to them. All Sunni schools use systematic reasoning to deal with areas of law not directly covered by the Qur’an or Sunnah. They differ primarily in their emphasis on textual authority or analogical reasoning, but each school recognizes the conclusions of the others as being perfectly legitimate and within the framework of orthodox Islam. Imamah is one of the core beliefs of Shiite Islam, which separates Shiites from other Muslims.

Imamah is the belief that, in every time and place, there must be an infallible, divinely appointed guide who preserves the religion exactly as it was revealed by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). The person who bears the duty of guarding and preserving the Divine message after it is revealed and is chosen by God for this function is called the Imam; in the same way that the person who bears the prophetic spirit and has the function of receiving Divine injunctions and laws from God is called the Prophet. It is possible for the Imamate and Prophecy (Nubuwwat) either to be joined in one person or to be separate. Shi’a Muslims, believe that Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) religious leadership, spiritual authority, and divine guidance were passed on to his descen­dants, beginning with his son-in-law and cousin, Ali ibn Abi Talib, his daughter, Fatimah, and their sons, Hasan and Husain.

Sunnis and Shi’a differed in their understanding of ‘who held the power to inter­pret Shari’a’. Shi’as initially believed that only an infal­lible Imam could interpret Shari’a. When the line of appropriate descen­dants ended, this tradition was reinterpreted to grant judicial authority to the fuqaha as the Imam’s representatives.  The Sunnis, consider that the competent scholars of religious sciences can conduct Ijtihad, which means ‘independent reasoning’ as opposed to taqlid (imitation). In the absence of direct guidance from Qur’an or Sunnah for a given situation, the exercise of rational judgment by a competent authority is termed as Ijtihad. It is a unique and important component of Shari’a. Ijtihad started during the life of the Prophet  (peace be upon him) in the far flung areas. The rules of Ijtihad were framed by Abu Bakr, the first Caliph. Ijtihad, being human generated legislation is considered fallible; since more than one interpretation of a legal issue is possible: it is open to revision. The term Shari’a is sometimes applied to all Islamic legislation. Modern scholars have however challenged this claim, distinguishing between Shari’a and fiqh and call­ing for reform of fiqh codes in light of modern conditions.

The law prescribed through the previous Messengers like Moses (peace be upon him); confirmed by Jesus (peace be upon them) remain applicable to Muslims, unless changed or amended through Qur’an or by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Allah says: “This is the guidance from Allah; He bestows it upon whom He pleases of His devotees. If they were to join other gods with Him all their deeds would have become void. Such were the people to whom We gave the Book, wisdom and Prophethood. Now if these people deny this guidance, it does not matter; We would bestow this guidance upon other people who would not disbelieve. O Muhammad, those were the people who were rightly guided by Allah, therefore, follow their guidance and tell these people: “I am not asking you any compensation for this work of delivering the Message to you, this message is nothing but a reminder to all the worlds.”(6:88-90). The Muslims do not discriminate against anyone of His Messengers (Qur’an;2:285) and follow the eternal guidance provided to all of them being the same. Hence due to the common source of origin: ONE GOD; there are many commonalities amongst the law of Moses and Shari’a’, which can also form basis for reconciliation: “O people of the Book (Jews and Christians)! Let us get together on what is common between us and you..”(Qur’an;3:64).

Some commonalties are notable: The dietary instructions of Qur’an are almost similar as in Bible, adhered to by Jews and Prophet Jesus (peace be upon him). Muslims are allowed to consume permissible (Hilal) food from the Jews and Christians. The permissible (Hilal) animals are to be slaughtered by reciting the name of God not idols. (Qur’an;5:5, Acts;15:29,  Deuteronomy;14:21, Genesis;9:4, Leviticus 17:14-15, Deuteronomy 12:16, 1Samuel 14:33 and Acts 15:29 also at Revelation 2:14). Swine is regarded as the most unclean and the most abhorred of all animals (Isaiah;65:4; 66:3,17; Luke;15:15-16). A herd of swine were drowned in the Sea of Galilee (Luke;8:32-33, Mark;5:13). Eating pork is also prohibited in Bible: Leviticus;11:7-8, Deuteronomy 14:8 & Isaiah 65:2-5 and Qur’an:16:115, 2:173, 5:3, 6:145. Consumption of alcohol and gambling is prohibited in Qur’an;5:90, Proverbs;20:1 & Ephesians;5:18. God had ordained in Torah: “A life for a life, an eye for an eye, a nose for a nose, an ear for an ear, a tooth for a tooth and for a wound an equal retaliation.” But if anyone remits the retaliation by way of charity it will be an act of atonement for him.(Qur’an;5:44-45). Jesus quoted the Old Law “eye for eye,” etc, and modifies it in towards of forgiveness: “You have heard that it was said, `An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also;”(Mattew;5:38-39). The retaliation has also been allowed by Qur’an (Qur’an;2:178-179) and Bible (21:23-25, Leviticus, 24:18-21 and Deuteronomy; 19:21). The killing of innocent people is a major crime (Leviticus; 24:17, Deuteronomy;5:17, Exodus;20:13 and Qur’an;17:33, 5:32.).

Adultery is a major sin: “Neither shall you commit adultery.” (Deuteronomy;5:18 & Exodus;20:13, Mathew;5:28 also at Qur’an;17:32). Death is prescribed for adultery in Bible (Leviticus; 20:10-16). Punishment of death by stoning was already prevalent for adulteress (Deuterinomy;22:20-21) and for blasphemy (Lectivis;24:16). In Islam death by stoning is prescribed for unmarried adulterer and adulteress only if four eye witness  are produced or self confession by the accused takes place.(Al-Muwatta Hadith, 41.2). Homosexuality is strictly forbidden by Qur’an;7:81. Bible prescribe death as the punishment for homosexuality (Leviticus;20:13). Theft or robbery is a serious crime, strictly forbidden (Deuteronomy;5:19 & Exodus;20:15, Leviticus;19, Qur’an;60:12, 29:29, 7:86). Amputation of hand of thief is the punishment prescribed in Qur’an;5:38, Matthew;18:8. Apparently in the period of Prophet Jesus Christ (peace be upon him) thieves were crucified, Matthew;27:38. False witness is not permitted (Deuteronomy;5:20 & Exodus; Chapter: 20 and Qura’n;25:72). The neighbors are to be respected and treated nicely.(Deuteronomy;5:21 & Exodus; Chapter: 20 and Qura’an;4:36, Sahih Bukhari Hadith:6.4 & 8.45). Abu Huraira narrated that the Prophet said that while committing adultery, drinking  alcoholic, stealing or committing robbery a believer ceases to be a believer (for that duration). (Sahih Al Bukhari Hadith;3.655). Good treatment of parents with respect and honor has been prescribed at Deuteronomy;5:16 & Exodus; Chapter: 20, Mathew;15:4, also emphasized by Qura’n;31:14. The circumcision is the important statute ordained to Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him) as mentioned in Genesus;17:10-13,24-27, Joshua;5:2-9, Judges;14:3, 15:18; 1Samuel;14:6; 17:26; 2Samuel;1:20, Ezekhiel;31:18, Acts;7:8 & John;7:22. Prophet Jesus (peace be upon him) was also circumcised (Luke;2:21). The Christians have abandoned this statute (Roman;2:25-29, Galatians;6:15), while Muslims, being the true faithful followers of Abraham, strictly adhere to the practice of circumcision (Sahih Bukhari Hadith;7.777) like Abraham, Moses, all the other prophets including Jesus (peace be upon him). The strict observance of the Sabbath day, was enjoined to the children of Israel at Deuteronomy;5:12-15, Exodus; Chapter: 20 and Qura’n;4:154, 16:123-124. However the Muslims have been exonerated from this  restriction applicable to the followers of prophet Moses (peace be upon him). Muslims only break off for the duration of Friday prayers (Qur’an;62:9-10). Usury is prohibited in Bible at Leviticus;25:39-37 and Qura’n;2:278-279,  2:275,  2:276,  30:39.

The Islamic system of government is based on the principle of consultation (shura), the democratic way spelled out by Qur’an fourteen centuries  ago (Qur’an;42:38 & 3:159); notwithstanding the hereditary kingship which followed. Even Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was asked to consult people  in worldly matters: “and consult with them upon the conduct of affairs; and when you make a decision to do something, then put your trust in Allah”(Qur’an;3:159). In Islam state and faith are closely interlinked: “These are the people who, if We establish them (in power, authority) in the land, will establish Prayer (Salah) and pay Charity (Zakah), enjoin the right (justice) and forbid evil; the final decision of all affairs is in the hands of Allah.”(Qur’an;22:41). The people charged with authority (Ulu-l-amr), running the government are to be respected and obeyed by the Muslims (Qur’an;4:59) otherwise there can be no order or discipline resulting in to anarchy, however not on the matters which are in conflict with the faith and fundamentals of Islam. Obedience to ruler is mentioned in Bible at Romans;13:1-4. Monarchy is not appreciated by God as system of rule in the Old Testament. After Moses the Israelites asked Prophet Samuel for appointment of a King like other nations. (Qur’an; 2:246-250). They were cautioned about the excesses of kings but they did not budge from their demand, ultimately, their request  was accepted by God and Saul was appointment as King of Israelites (1Samuel;8:5-22,10:1), this was beginning of monarchy among Israelites. The Charter of Medina, in fact was the first ever written constitution in the history of mankind. This was based on the contract agreed upon by Muslims, Jews and others, stipulating that they all would be treated as equal citizens of Medina, giving the non-Muslims right of choosing a legal system they wished their affairs be governed by, be it Islamic or Jewish law or pre-Islamic Arab tribal traditions. This confirms the principle “no compulsion in religion”, freedom of expression and religious practice was open to everyone. It gave the right of protection, security, peace and justice; not only to Muslims, but also to the Jews who lived in the City of Medina, as well as the allies of Jews who were non-Muslims. The Jews were recognized as a separate political and ethnic minority, and allowed to practice their religion quite freely. In fact, Jews were considered on an equal bases as Muslims under the Islamic State.

In classical form, the Shari’a differs from Western systems of law (based on Roman Law) being followed by Christians, in two principal respects. In the first place the scope of the Shari’a is much wider, since it regulates man’s relationship not only with his neighbors and with the state, which is the limit of most other legal systems, but also with Allah and his own conscience. Ritual practices,(ibadat) such as the daily prayers, almsgiving, fasting, and pilgrimage, are an integral part of Shari’a law and usually occupy the first chapters in the legal manuals. The Shari’a is also concerned as much with ethical standards as with legal rules, indicating not only what man is entitled or bound to do in law, but also what he (obligatory) ought, in conscience, to do (halal), something that is lawful and permitted in Islam, or refrain from doing (haram) not permissible. Thus the Shari’a is not merely a system of law, but a comprehensive code of behaviour that embraces both private and public activities. The second major distinction between the Shari’a and Western legal systems is the result of the Islamic concept of law as the expression of the ‘Divine Will’. Shari’a law though appears to be rigid in certain aspects but there is room for flexibility in fiqha through Ijtehad to meet the challenges of growing and changing needs of society. In Islamic jurisprudence it is not the society that moulds and fashions the law, but the law that precedes and controls society, however the legitimate changes and requirements of the modern society are kept in view with in bounds of Divine Will. The Western Law, is not based on the Bible, they have discarded the Law of Moses, which Jesus declared as his mission (Mathew;5:17-20). By contrast in the Western Law, it is the society that moulds and fashions the law thus consumption of alcohol, homosexuality, gay marriages (not permitted in Bible) have been made legal, on the desire and public support of the Western Society, where as in Shari’a, it is not possible to make such laws which are unnatural and clearly against the Divine Will, manifested in Qur’an and Sunnah. Keeping in view the importance of Shari’a among the Muslims living in UK; the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the most senior figure in the Church of England,  has triggered intense debate by saying that; he considers the introduction of Shari’a law for British Muslims as “unavoidable” because it would help maintain social cohesion; since some Muslims do not relate to the British legal system; many UK Muslims already use Shari’a law in aspects of their day-to-day lives, such as banking and marriage, and the same principle of separate laws could “easily be accepted for other faiths groups”.

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