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Islamic law or Sharia
Sharia (شريعة) is the moral code and religious law of Islam. Sharia deals with many topics addressed by secular law, including crime, politics, and economics, as well as personal matters such as sexual intercourse, hygiene, diet, prayer, and fasting. Though interpretations of sharia vary between cultures, in its strictest definition it is considered the infallible law of God—as opposed to the human interpretation of the laws (fiqh).
There are two primary sources of sharia law: the precepts set forth in the Quran, and the example set by the Islamic prophet Muhammad in the Sunnah. Where it has official status, sharia is interpreted by Islamic judges (qadis) with varying responsibilities for the religious leaders (imams). For questions not directly addressed in the primary sources, the application of sharia is extended through consensus of the religious scholars (ulama) thought to embody the consensus of the Muslim Community (ijma). Islamic jurisprudence will also sometimes incorporate analogies from the Quran and Sunnah through qiyas, though Shia jurists prefer reasoning ('aql) to analogy.
Scholars describe the word sharia as an archaic Arabic word denoting "pathway to be followed", or "path to the water hole". The latter definition comes from the fact that the path to water is the whole way of life in an arid desert environment.
The etymology of sharia as a "path" or "way" comes from the Qur'anic verse[Quran 45:18]: "Then we put thee on the (right) Way of religion so follow thou that (Way), and follow not the desires of those who know not." Abdul Mannan Omar in his Dictionary of the Holy Quran, believes the "Way" in 45:18 (quoted above) derives from shara'a, meaning "He ordained". Other possibilities include shir'atun meaning "spiritual law"
Definitions and descriptions
Sharia, in its strictest definition, is a divine law, as expressed in the Qur'an and Muhammad's example (often called the sunnah). As such, it is related to but different from fiqh, which is emphasized as the human interpretation of the law. Many scholars have pointed out that the sharia is not formally a code, nor a well-defined set of rules. The sharia is characterized as a discussion on the duties of Muslims based on both the opinion of the Muslim community and extensive literature.
From the 9th century, the power to interpret and refine law in traditional Islamic societies was in the hands of the scholars (ulema). This separation of powers served to limit the range of actions available to the ruler, who could not easily decree or reinterpret law independently and expect the continued support of the community. Through succeeding centuries and empires, the balance between the ulema and the rulers shifted and reformed, but the balance of power was never decisively changed.
Sources of sharia law
There are two sources of Sharia: the Qur'an and Sunnah.
According to Muslims, the Qur'an is the unalterable word of God. Much of the Qur'an exhorts Muslims to general moral values; but only 80 verses of the Qur'an contain legal prescriptions. The Sunnah is the life and example of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. The Sunnah's importance as a source of Sharia, is confirmed by several verses of the Qur'an (e.g. [Quran 33:21]). The Sunnah is primarily contained in the hadith or reports of Muhammad's sayings, his actions, his tacit approval of actions and his demeanor. While there is only one Qur'an, there are many compilations of hadith, with the most authentic ones forming during the sahih period (850 to 915 CE). The six acclaimed Sunni collections were compiled by Muhammad al-Bukhari, Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj, Abu Dawood, Tirmidhi, Al-Nasa'i, and Ibn Majah. The collections by al-Bukhari and Muslim, regarded the most authentic, contain about 7,000 and 12,000 hadiths respectively (although the majority of entries are repetitions).
The process of interpreting the two primary sources of Islamic law is called fiqh ("intelligence") or Islamic jurisprudence. While the above two sources are regarded as infallible, the fiqh standards may change in different contexts. Fiqh covers all aspects of law, including religious, civil, political, constitutional and procedural law. Fiqh depends on 4 sources:
- Interpretations of the Qur'an
- Interpretations of the Sunnah
- Ijma, consensus amongst scholars ("collective reasoning")
- Qiyas/Ijtihad analogical deduction ("individual reasoning")
Amongst the sources unique to fiqh, i.e. ijma and qiyas/ijtihad, the former is preferred.
There exist five schools of thought of fiqh, all founded within the first four centuries of Islam. Four are Sunni: Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi'i and Hanbali; and one Shia: Ja'afri.
Immutability of God's will
Although there are many different interpretations of sharia, and differing perspectives on each interpretation, there is consensus among Muslims that sharia is a reflection of God's will for humankind. Sharia must therefore be, in its purest sense, perfect and unchanging. Thus, the evolution or refinement of sharia is an effort to reflect God's will more perfectly.
Distinction between sharia law and customary law
According to Jan Michiel Otto, Professor of Law and Governance in Developing Countries at Leiden University, "Anthropological research shows that people in local communities often do not distinguish clearly whether and to what extent their norms and practices are based on local tradition, tribal custom, or religion. Those who adhere to a confrontational view of sharia tend to ascribe many undesirable practices to sharia and religion overlooking custom and culture, even if high-ranking religious authorities have stated the opposite." Otto's analysis appears in a paper commissioned by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The formative period of fiqh stretches back to the time of the early Muslim communities. In this period, jurists were more concerned with pragmatic issues of authority and teaching than with theory. Progress in theory happened with the coming of the early Muslim jurist Muhammad ibn Idris ash-Shafi'i (767–820), who laid down the basic principles of Islamic jurisprudence in his book Al-Risala. The book details the four roots of law (Quran, Sunnah, ijma, and qiyas) while specifying that the primary Islamic texts (the Quran and the hadith) be understood according to objective rules of interpretation derived from careful study of the Arabic language.
A number of important legal concepts and institutions were developed by Islamic jurists during the classical period of Islam, known as the Islamic Golden Age, dated from the 7th to 13th centuries.
Categories of human behaviour
Fiqh classifies behaviour into the following types or grades: fard (obligatory), mustahabb (recommended), mubah (neutral), makruh (discouraged), and haraam (forbidden). Every human action belongs in one of these five categories.
- Actions in the fard category are those required of all Muslims. They include the five daily prayers, fasting, articles of faith, obligatory charity, and the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca.
- The mustahabb category includes proper behaviour in matters such as marriage, funeral rites and family life. As such, it covers many of the same areas as civil law in the West. Sharia courts attempt to reconcile parties to disputes in this area using the recommended behaviour as their guide. A person whose behaviour is not mustahabb can be ruled against by the judge.
- All behaviour which is neither discouraged nor recommended, neither forbidden nor required is of the Mubah; it is permissible.
- Makruh behaviour, while it is not sinful of itself, is considered undesirable among Muslims. It may also make a Muslim liable to criminal penalties under certain circumstances.
- Haraam behaviour is explicitly forbidden. It is both sinful and criminal. It includes all actions expressly forbidden in the Quran. Certain Muslim dietary and clothing restrictions also fall into this category.
The recommended, neutral and discouraged categories are drawn largely from accounts of the life of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad. To say a behaviour is sunnah is to say it is recommended as an example from the life and sayings of Muhammad. These categories form the basis for proper behaviour in matters such as courtesy and manners, interpersonal relations, generosity, personal habits and hygiene.
Topics of Islamic law
Sharia law can be organized in different ways. For our purposes here we will follow that of the Reliance of the Traveller, an English translation of a 14th century reference on the Shafi'i school of fiqh written by Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri. This work organizes sharia law into the following topics:
- Funeral prayer
Remember that in some areas, there are substantial differences in the law between different schools of fiqh, countries, cultures and schools of thought.
In Islam, purification has a spiritual dimension and a physical one. Muslims believe that certain human activities and contact with impure animals and substances cause impurity. Classic Islamic law details how to recognize impurity, and how to remedy it. Muslims use water for purification in most circumstances, although earth can also be used under certain conditions. Before prayer or other religious rituals, Muslims must clean themselves in a prescribed manner. Muslims' cleaning of dishes, clothing and homes are all done in accordance with stated laws.
Muslims are enjoined to pray five times each day, with certain exceptions. These obligatory prayers, salat, are performed during prescribed periods of the day, and most can be performed either in groups or by oneself; although it is recommended to pray in a group. There are also optional prayers which can be performed, as well as special prayers for certain seasons, days and events. Muslims must turn to face the Kaaba in Mecca when they pray, and they must be purified in order for their prayers to be accepted. Personal, informal prayer and invocation is practiced as well. Classic Islamic law details many aspects of the act of prayer, including who can pray, when to pray, how to pray, and where to pray.
Muslims are encouraged to visit those among them who are sick and dying. Dying Muslims are reminded of God's mercy, and the value of prayer, by those who visit them. In turn, the visitors are reminded of their mortality, and the transient nature of life. Upon death, the Muslim will be washed and shrouded in clean, white cloth. A special prayer, Janazah, is performed for the deceased, preferably by the assembled Muslim community. The body is taken to a place which has ground set aside for the burial of Muslims. The grave is dug perpendicular to the direction of Mecca, and the body is lowered into the grave to rest on its side, with the face turned towards Mecca. Classic Islamic law details visitation of the ill, preparation of the dead for burial, the funeral prayer and the manner in which the Muslim is buried.
Taxes or Alms
All Muslims who live above the subsistence level must pay an annual alms, known as zakat. In the modern sense, this would be Islam's equivalent to US Social Security or UK National Insurance. This is not charity, but rather an obligation owed by the eligible Muslim to the poor of the community. The amount is calculated based on the wealth of the Muslim. There is no fixed rate stated in Quran; but the generally practiced rate is 2.5 percent. Eligibility and total payable varies; depending on the type and quantity of wealth being assessed. If the Government wishes to create a comprehensive and robust welfare state, the rate can be increased. Wealth includes savings, jewelry and land. Classic Islamic law details the tax, how it is assessed, its collection, and its distribution.
During the Islamic month of Ramadan, Muslims abstain from food and drinks between dawn and sunset. Exceptions to this obligation are made for children who are pre-pubescent, the infirm, travelers, and pregnant or menstruating women. During Ramadan, the daylight hours will often begin and end with a large meal. After dinner, many Muslims participate in special communal prayers held during Ramadan. The end of Ramadan fasting is celebrated with special prayers, gatherings of family and friends, and specially prepared meals. Muslims may also fast on other special days of the year, and to make up for missed days of fasting. Classic Islamic law details the exact definition of the fast, the times of fasting, how a fast may be broken, who must fast, and permitted exceptions to the fast.
At least once in each Muslim's lifetime, they must attempt a visit to the Holy Places of Islam located in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. The focus of this journey is the Kaaba, a small rectangular building around which a huge mosque has been built. This pilgrimage, known as the Hajj, begins two months after Ramadan each year. Dressed in symbolically simple clothing, Muslim pilgrims circle the Kaaba seven times, often followed by a drink from a special stream. Next, a symbolic search for water is performed by travelling back and forth between two nearby peaks. On the eighth day of the month, the pilgrims travel to Mina in the desert and spend the night in tents. The following day, over two million Muslims gather on the slopes of Mount Arafat, where the afternoon is spent in prayer. The Feast of Sacrifice, celebrated by Muslims worldwide, is performed by pilgrims in Mina the next day, and includes the slaughter of an animal. Finally, the pilgrims perform a ritual Stoning of the Devil by tossing pebbles at three pillars. Classic Islamic law details the manner in which the pilgrim dresses, behaves, arrives, departs and performs each of these rituals.
Islamic law recognizes private and community property, as well as overlapping forms of entitlement for charitable purposes, known as waqf or trusts. Under sharia law, however, ownership of all property ultimately rests with God; while individual property rights are upheld, there is a corresponding obligation to share, particularly with those in need. The laws of contract and obligation are also formed around this egalitarian Quranic requirement, prohibiting unequal exchanges or unfair advantage in trade. On this basis, the charging of interest on loans is prohibited, as are other transactions in which risks are borne disproportionately to the potential returns between parties to a transaction. The limits on personal liability afforded by incorporation are seen as a form of usury in this sense, as is insurance. All these inequities in risk and reward between parties to a transaction, known collectively as riba, are prohibited. For this reason, Islamic banking and financing are partnerships between customers and institutions, where risk and reward are distributed equitably. Partnerships, rather than corporations, are the key concept in collective Islamic business. Financing and investments are accomplished in this manner, as purchases and resales, with equity shifting over time between the institution and the client as payments are made or returns are recognized. Conversely, no individual is shielded from the consequences of poor judgement or bad timing. The Islamic financial and investment models have taken root in the West and begun to flourish. Classic Islamic law details the manner of contracting, the types of transactions, the assignment of liability and reward, and the responsibilities of the parties in Islamic trade.
The rules of inheritance under sharia law are intricate, and a female's portion is generally half the amount a male would receive under the same circumstances. Up to one third of a person's property may be distributed as bequests, or wasiyya, upon their death. After debts are settled, the remainder of the estate will be divided among the family of the deceased according to the rules of inheritance, or irth. In Islamic societies, inherited wealth and property do not easily accumulate to, or remain in, certain families. Large concentrations of property will be divided into smaller portions over time among male inheritors. Property will tend to flow to other families as female inheritors take their shares into their marriages. Classic Islamic law details the division of property, the shares family members are entitled to, adjustments and redistributions in the shares, orders of precedence among inheritors, and substitution among inheritors.
The laws governing Islamic marriage vary substantially between sects, schools, states and cultures. The following outline is general in nature.
Marriage is mentioned in the Quran: nikah. It aims to be permanent, but can be terminated by the husband in the talaq process, or by the wife seeking divorce using khul'. In nikah, the couples inherit from each other. A dowry known as mahr is given to the bride, a legal contract is signed when entering the marriage, and the husband must pay for the wife's expenses.
The Qur'an permits a Muslim man to marry more than one woman at a time (up to a maximum of four), but does not encourage such behaviour. Polygamy is only permitted in certain circumstances, such as when the death of another man has left his wife with no other means of support. All wives are entitled to separate living quarters at the behest of the husband and, if possible, all should receive equal attention, support, treatment and inheritance. In modern practice, it is uncommon for a Muslim man to have more than one wife; if he does so, it is often due to the infertility of his first wife. The practice of polygamy has been regulated or abolished in some Muslim states.
Historically, Muslim rulers have often remarried the wives of their conquered opponents in order to gain ties of kinship with their new subjects. In these cases, the wives of leaders have sometimes numbered in the tens or even hundreds. In Ottoman Turkey, the practice also filtered down to the aristocracy. This became the basis for the Western image of a powerful, wealthy Muslim with a vast harem.
The laws governing divorce vary substantially between sects, schools, states and cultures. The following outline is general in nature.
A marriage can be terminated by the husband in the talaq process, or by the wife seeking divorce through khul'; or it may be annulled by a qadi judge.
Men have the right of unilateral divorce under classical sharia. Upon divorce, the husband must pay the wife any delayed component of the dower. If a man divorces his wife in this manner three times, he may not re-marry her unless she first marries, and is subsequently divorced from, another man. Only then, and only if the divorce from the second husband is not intended as a means to re-marry her first husband, may the first husband and the woman re-marry.[Quran 2:230]
If the wife asks for a divorce and the husband refuses, the wife has a right, under classical sharia, to divorce by khul'. Although this right is not recognized everywhere in Islam, it is becoming more common. In this scenario, the qadi judge will effect the divorce for the wife, and she may be required to return part, or all, of her dowry.
Under faskh, a qadi judge can end or annul a marriage. Apostasy, on the part of the husband or wife, ends a Muslim marriage in this way. Hardship or suffering on the part of the wife in a marriage may also be remedied in this way. This procedure is also used to annul a marriage in which one of the parties has a serious disability.
Except in the case of a khul' divorce initiated by a woman, the divorced wife generally keeps her dowry from when she was married. A divorced woman is given child support until the age of weaning. The mother is usually granted custody of the child. If the couple has divorced fewer than three times (meaning it is not a final divorce) the wife also receives spousal support for three menstrual cycles after the divorce, until it can be determined whether she is pregnant. Even in a threefold divorce, a pregnant wife will be supported during the waiting period, and the child will be supported afterwards.
The concept of justice embodied in sharia is different from that of secular Western law. Muslims believe the sharia law has been revealed by God. In Islam, the laws that govern human affairs are just one facet of a universal set of laws governing nature itself. Violations of Islamic law are offenses against God and nature, including one's own human nature. Crime in Islam is sin. Whatever crime is committed, whatever punishment is prescribed for that crime in this world, one must ultimately answer to God on the Day of Judgement.
"Sharia" (Wikipedia) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sharia