Sharia & Sources – Extract from the Book Islam – Faith Practice & History   Word file



1. The Place of Shari‘a in Islam

     The word “shari‘a” literally means “a way.” In Islamic terminology, it means the legal system of Islam. It is normally translated as the laws of Islam or the Islamic laws.

     Islam is a din—religion. The word din bears a concept wider and more comprehensive than the word `religion'. It means believing in the fundamentals as well as living according to the Islamic laws. This concept of religion is beautifully conveyed in the terms used by Islamic scholars to describe the fundamental beliefs and the practical laws of Islam. The “beliefs” are described as “usűlu ’d-dín — the roots of religion”. The “sharí‘a laws” are described as “furű‘u ’d-dín — the branches of religion”. Beliefs without practice is incomplete Islam; and practice without belief may be useful in this world but not of much use in the hereafter.

     The sharí‘a is a complete way of life; no aspect of human life is outside its domain. Islam expects a Muslim to follow its laws in every aspect of life: personal and familial, religious and social, moral and political, economic and business, etc. After all, “Muslim” means one who submits to God. The Qur’ân says, “When Allah and His Messenger have decreed a matter, it is not for any believing man or believing woman to have a choice in their affairs. And whosoever disobeys Allâh and His Messenger has gone astray into clear error.” (33:36)

 2. The Need for the Sharí‘a

     Man’s nature dictates that he can only function properly within a society. Human beings are interdependent by nature. This interdependency of human beings on each other is beautifully expressed in the following passage:

“The baker told me to bake my own bread; the tailor told me to cut and sew my own clothes; the shoemaker told me to make my own shoes; similarly, the carpenter, the engineer, the farmer, and all the labourers and workers told me to do everything by myself. It was then that I looked at myself and realized that I am naked, hungry and powerless with no shelter over my head, waiting for death to overcome me. It was then that I realized that I cannot survive without my fellow human beings; my survival depends on living in the society.”*

     A society, however, depends for its existence on laws and regulations. If there are no laws in a society, it is overtaken by the law of the jungle: the struggle for existence and the survival of the fittest. So the need for laws to regulate the lives of human beings is beyond any doubt.

     Islam teaches that because of the imperative need of laws for a civilized society, God has sent a series of messengers and prophets with divine laws for man's guidance from the very first day of his creation. The last Messenger was Prophet Muhammad (may peace and blessings of God be upon him and his family) who brought the final and the perfect set of laws, Islam, as a guide for mankind till the end of time.

     Many people think that there is no need for God-made laws, we can make laws by ourselves. Islam believes that a human being is a very sophisticated creature; and since he has not made his own body, nor did he create the world in which he lives, he, therefore, is not the best candidate for making laws about himself. Common sense says that when you buy a complicated piece of equipment, like a computer, you should use it according to the ‘instruction manual’ prepared by the manufacturer of that particular machine. To learn the computer by trial and error is not the smart way. Similarly, God as the Creator of man and the earth knows better how the human being should live.

     The ‘instruction manual’ that God sent for us is known as the Qur'ân. But the human being is not just any ordinary machine; rather he is more complicated than the most advanced computer a human can ever produce. So God did not only send the Qur’ân—He also sent an instructor known as Prophet Muhammad. The Prophet of Islam brought the Qur’ân to us and also provided practical examples in how to conduct our lives. According to Shi‘a Islam, after the Prophet, the Imams of Ahlu 'l-bayt are the protectors of the Qur’ân and the interpreters of its laws. 

3. The Superiority of God-made Laws

    over Man-made Laws

     At this point, I would like to show the superiority of Islamic laws over man-made laws. Man-made laws are by necessity influenced by the law-makers' social and racial biases. The United Nations Organization is the best example of how policies are enforced only when it suits the interest of the super-powers. The rule of the game in man-made laws is not honesty and justice, it is “the might is right”.

     God-made laws are superior because of the following facts:

    God is above class status;

   God is above racial prejudice;

    God is above gender rivalry;

   God, as the Creator, fully knows humans as well as the world in which they live.

     God-made laws will be just and based on fully informed decisions. Let me demonstrate the superiority of God-made laws by using the example of capital punishment.

     The secular system always swings according to the mood of the people: sometimes, the people feel that capital punishment for murder is not right and so they pressure their representatives to vote against capital punishment. But when crimes rates increase and serial murder cases occur more frequently, public opinion changes and the legislators are influenced in favour of capital punishment.

     Actually both sides of this issue reflect the Judeo-Christian basis of the Western society. Judaism, on the one hand, insists on the principle of justice which demands “an eye for an eye”. On the other hand, Christianity promotes the principle of mercy by saying “turn thy other cheek.”

     Islam, the final version of God-made laws, takes a balanced look at the issue of capital punishment and has beautifully accommodated both the principles of justice and mercy in its system. The Western system did not realize the difference between the two principles of justice and mercy: while justice can be demanded and legislated, mercy cannot be forced or made into a law. You can always plead for mercy but you can never demand mercy.

     Islam takes this difference into full consideration, and, therefore, it talks about capital punishment on two different levels: legal and moral. On the legal level, it sanctions the principle of justice by giving the right of retaliation to the victim. But, immediately, the Qur'ân moves on to the moral level and strongly recommends the victim to forgo his right of retaliation and either to forgive the criminal or to settle for monetary compensation. This issue has been clearly mentioned in the following verse of the Qur'ân:

In it (the Torah), We wrote to them: “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 there is retaliation for wounds.” But (before you act according to your right, remember that) whosoever forgoes (his right of retaliation), it shall be expiation for him (against his own sins). 5:45

     Thus Islam has very beautifully provided the legal safeguard for human life on the social level and also encouraged mercy from a moral point of view on the individual level. If human beings are left on their own in this issue, they will always swing between the two extremes of justice and mercy—only Islam, the final version of God-made legal system can accommodate both these principles.

* * *

This lesson is based on An Introduction to the Sharí‘a by Sayyid M. Rizvi



Question Paper on Lesson 21



Name: _____________________                                     Student No. ________


Question 1:                                                                               [15 points]


Tick the appropriate box:

                                                                                           TRUE  FALSE


     (a) Islam is just a system of beliefs.                                            


     (b) “Dín” means a complete way of life.                                      


     (c) Sharí‘a is a way charted by the ummah.                               


     (d) Islam is a religion of justice with no room for mercy.            


     (e) God-made laws are just and unbiased.                                 



Question 2:                                                           [20 points]

     Explain in your words the shortcoming in man-made laws.


Question 3:                                                                     [15 points]


     The need for laws is for the survival of a “civilized” society. Explain

in your own words the importance of the social aspect of human beings and their interdependence on one another.





1. The Qur’ân & the Sunna of the Prophet

     The Muslims during the days of Prophet Muhammad lived by the sharí‘a by following the Qur’ân and the sunna. Sunna means the example of the Prophet. (Sunna is sometimes written as `sunnat'.)

     Was not the Qur'ân enough on its own? The Qur'ân is a book of guidance which was sent for the entire human world till the end of time. As such, it only deals with the general issues and mentions only the basic principles underlying the Muslim way of life. The Qur'ân is more like a constitution than a book of law. The deals were left to the Prophet.

     The Qur'ân itself clearly explained this relationship between the Prophet and itself in the following verses:

He raised up among the common people a Messenger from among themselves to recite to them His revelations, to purify them, and to teach them the Book and the wisdom. (62:2)

And We have revealed to you (O Muhammad) the Reminder (that is, the Qur'ân) so you may clarify to the people what has been revealed to them, and so that they may reflect. (16:44)

These two verses definitely prove that Prophet Muhammad was not just a ‘mail-man’ whose only job was to deliver the Qur'ân to us. He was a teacher and a commentator of the Qur'ân. Even his actions are a source of guidance for Muslims:

You have a good example in Allah's Messenger for whosoever hopes for God and the last day, and remembers God oft. (33:21)

The obedience to the Prophet has been considered as the proof of loving Allah:

Say (O Muhammad), `If you love Allah, then follow me; (if you do so) Allah will love you and forgive for you your sins.' (3:31) To show the importance of obeying the Prophet, Allah further says: Whoever obeys the Prophet has surely obeyed Allah. (4:80)

     The Qur'ân is not only silent on the details of things which can change over time, it is also silent on the rules of worship which can never change. For example, the Qur’ân in twenty-five different places commands the Muslims to say the daily prayers (salât), but not once has Allăh explained how the Muslims are to say their prayers. (The only exception to this statement is that of salâtu ’l-khawf, the prayer said in a battle-field or when one is in danger.) This silence on the part of the Qur’ân, I believe, was for the specific purpose of forcing the people to go to the Prophet, ask him for details and follow his example.


2. The Example of the Imams

     After the Prophet’s death, the Muslims were very much divided on the issue of leadership. This gave birth to the two groups known as the Shi‘a and the Sunnis. The Shi‘a lived by the sharí‘a by following the Qur’ân, and the sunna of the Prophet and of the Imams.

     The sunna, in Shi‘a definition, means “the sayings, deeds and silent approval of the Prophet and the twelve infallible Imams of Ahlu 'l-bayt.” Although the issue of the leadership has already been discussed in another lesson in Part One, I would like to mention one reason why the Imams of Ahlu ’l-bayt are preferable as the source of the sharí‘a than anyone else.

     The Muslims of the early days realized the importance of the Prophet’s sunna and started to memorize his sayings known as hadith. Later generations preserved the saying they had heard from the companions of the Prophet in the books of hadith. Even the actions of the Prophet, observed by his companions, were preserved in writing. But this process of preserving the sunna of the Prophet was not immune from mistakes and forgery. Many sayings were invented and wrongfully attributed to the Prophet during the early period of the Islamic history, especially during the Umayyid era. At times, the rulers bribed the companions to fabricate ‘hadīth’ in their favour and/or against their opponents. At other times, some people invented ‘hadīth’ for apparently good causes not realizing that they were using the wrong means of trying to make people more religious!

     Abu ‘Ismah, Faraj bin Abi Maryam al-Marwazi was asked: “From where have you got all these traditions narrated through ‘Ikrimah, from Ibn ‘Abbâs, from the Prophet, describing the reward of reciting each and every sũrah (chapter) of the Qur’ân?” He said, “I found people interested only in the fiqh of Abu Hanīfah and maghâzi of Ibn Ishâq; therefore, I forged these ahâdīth for the pleasure of God to bring them back to the Qur’ân.”

     In this background of the early development of hadīth, we must find an authentic and informed source for the sunna of the Prophet. When you look at the Muslims of the Prophet’s days, you can find no one who was more knowledgeable, informed, reliable and closer to the Prophet than the Ahlu ’l-bayt, the family of the Prophet: Fâtimah, ‘Ali and their sons. After all, it is the Qur’ân which testifies to their spiritual purity of the highest form by saying: “Verily Allah intends to purify you, O the Ahlu ’l-bayt, a thorough purification.” (33:33) Combine this verse about the Ahlu ’l-bayt’s purity with the following: “It is the holy Qur’ân in a preserved tablet, none shall touch it but the purified ones.” (56:79) The real sense of this verse is that the Qur’ân which is “in a preserved tablet” is not accessible to anyone except those who are purified by Allăh. This shows that the Ahlu ’l-bayt could understand the Qur’ân better than any other Muslim.

     It is for this very reason that Allăh commanded His Messenger to ask the people to love his Ahlu ’l-bayt: Say (O Muhammad), ‘I do not ask from you any reward (for teaching Islam to you) except to love my near ones.’ (42:23) This love was made obligatory because it would automatically entail obedience of those whom one loves. If the Ahlu ’l-bayt were not truthful, reliable, and worthy of following, would Allăh command us to love them?

     These few verses of the holy Qur’ân are enough to show that the best commentators of the Qur’ân and the most authentic source for the Prophet’s sunna are the Imams of Ahlu ’l-bayt. The Prophet himself said,

“I am leaving among you two worthy things. As long as you hold fast on to them both, you will never go astray after me. One is greater than the other: the Book of Allăh (which is a rope suspended from the heaven to the earth) and my descendants, my Ahlu ’l-bayt. They will not separate from each other until they come to me at the (fountain of) Kawthar (in the hereafter). Therefore, see how you recompense me by the way you deal with them.”

This is not the place to discuss the authenticity of this hadīth, but it will suffice to quote Ibn Hajar al-Makki, a famous Sunni polemicist. After recording this hadīth from various companions who had heard it from the Prophet at various places and times, Ibn Hajar says, “And there is no contradiction in these [numerous reports] since there was nothing to prevent the Prophet from repeating [this statement] at those various places because of the importance of the holy Book and the pure Family.”*

     We can conclude from these verses and the hadith mentioned above that the Ahlu ’l-bayt are the divinely appointed commentators of the Qur’ân, and the most authentic and the best source for the sunna. It is for this reason that we prefer them to all other sources.

     Even when we quote a hadīth from the Imams of Ahlu ’l-bayt, it is actually the hadīth of the Prophet which they have preserved as the true successors of the last Messenger of God. Imam Ja‘far as-Sâdiq (a.s.), the sixth Shi‘ite Imam, says:

My hadīth is the hadīth of my father, the hadīth of my father is that of my grandfather, the hadīth of my grandfather is that of Husayn [bin ‘Ali], the hadīth of Husayn is that of Hasan [bin ‘Ali], the hadīth of Hasan is that of Amiru ’l-mu’minīn [‘Ali bin Abi Tâlib], the hadīth of Amīru ’l-mu’minīn is that of the Messenger of God (s.a.w.), and the hadīth of the Messenger is a statement of Allâh, the Almighty, the Great.”**

     The historical circumstances did not allow the opportunity to the first three Imams of Ahlu ’l-bayt to formally teach and train their followers in the matters of the sharí‘a. It was after the tragedy of Karbala that the Imams, especially the fifth and the sixth Imams, got the opportunity to formally train their followers in the sharí‘a laws. The training by these Imams actually laid the foundation for the development of ijtihâd among the Shi‘as after the occultation of the twelfth Imam Muhammad al-Mahdi (a.s.).

* * *

     During the Minor Occultation (ghaybat) of the Present Imam, it was still possible for the Shi‘as to present their problems to the Imam through his specially appointed representatives. These representatives were ‘Uthmân bin Sa‘īd al-Amri (260-265 AH), Muhammad bin ‘Uthmân al-‘Amri (265-305 AH), Husayn bin Rũh (305-326 AH), and ‘Ali bin Muhammad al-Samiri (326-329 AH).

     However, after the Imam went into the Major Occultation, the problems of the sharí‘a were resolved through the process known as ijtihâd and taqlíd—the two most important ways of living by the sharí‘a. Ijtihâd, in Shī‘a jurisprudence, means “the process of deriving the laws of sharí‘a from its sources.” A person who can do ijtihâd is known as a “mujtahid”. Taqlíd means “to follow the mujtahid in the laws of sharí‘a.”

     * * *


This lesson is based on An Introduction to the Sharí‘a by Sayyid M. Rizvi


Question Paper on Lesson 22



Name: _____________________                                     Student No. ________


Question 1:                                                                               [15 points]


Tick the appropriate box:

                                                                                           TRUE  FALSE


     (a) The Qur’ăn is the only source of the sharí‘a.                        


     (b) Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) was the embodiment

          of the teachings of the Qur’ăn.                                             


     (c) Sunna is the second source of the sharí‘a.                           


     (d) All hadith are to be accepted as authentic and correct.        


     (e) Abu ‘Ismah was correct in fabricating “ahădith” to

          bring people closer to the Qur’ăn.                                        



Question 2:                                                                     [20 points]


     Why are the Ahlu ’l-Bayt the most important source for the sunna of

     the Prophet and commentary of the Qur’ăn?




Question 3:                                                                     [15 points]


     Explain by an example (from the lesson or other sources) how the

     Prophet of Islam cannot be separated from the Qur’ăn and its

     complete understanding.






     The purpose of human life in this world is to successfully go through the trials and tribulations in order to achieve salvation in the hereafter. In the hereafter, life will have no end. God did not leave us without any means of guidance.

     He sent prophets, messengers and books to guide mankind towards the right path. The last prophet and messenger was the Prophet of Islam, and the final revelation was the Qur'an. Islam is the ultimate means of guidance for mankind through the tests and trials of this world. The Prophet was sent “to convey the revelation; to purify spiritually and to teach the Qur’ăn and wisdom.”

     Islam seeks to guide its followers by the legal system known as “sharí‘a”. No aspect of our life is outside the jurisdiction of the sharí‘a: legal and moral, personal and social, economic and politics, all issues are directly or indirectly covered by the sharí‘a.

     In this lesson you will learn more about the Islamic laws from different perspectives.


1. The Roots & Branches of Religion

     To differentiate between the matters of belief and the laws of sharí‘a, the Shi‘a scholars have coined two interesting terms: The matter of beliefs (monotheism, justice of God, prophethood, imămat and resurrection) are described as “the Roots of Religion — Usũl ad-Dīn” because they form the foundation of our faith. The Shi‘a scholars have also coined the term “the Branches of Religion — Furũ‘ ad-Dīn” for the sharí‘a laws.

     These terminologies actually reflect the connection between “belief” and “practice”. If the roots are strong, they will generate healthy branches, green leaves, colourful flowers and delicious fruits; but if the roots are weak, the tree will be considered useless. Similarly, if a Muslim’s beliefs are strong, then it should show in the practical life of that person. A non-practicing Muslim betrays the weakness in his religious roots which are in need of further nurturing through intellectual stimulation and spiritual guidance.

     The items normally listed as “the Branches of Religion” are as follows:

     1. Prayers (salât).

     2. Fasting in Ramadhan (sawm).

     3. Pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj).

     4. Tax on Wealth (zakât).

     5. Tax on Money (khums).

     6. Spiritual as well as Physical Struggle for sake of Allăh (jihâd).

     7. Promoting good in the family and society (amr bil ma`ruf).

     8. Preventing evil in the family and society (nahi `anil munkar).

     9. Loving and following the Prophet & his family (tawalla).

   10. Disassociating from the enemies of the Prophet & his family (tabarra).

     These ten teachings reflect the main framework of the Islamic sharí‘a; otherwise, the entire corpus of Islamic sharí‘a falls under the term ‘branches of religion’.


2. The Classification of Sharí‘a Laws

     All the issues covered by the sharí‘a are traditionally classified into four main groups. The classification was put in the final form by one of the great Shi‘a mujtahids of the 7th Islamic century, al-Muhaqqiq al-Hilli (d. 676 AH). His famous work of jurisprudence, Sharâya‘u ’l-Islâm, is still one of the main reference books for the scholars of Islamic laws. Al-Muhaqqiq al-Hilli classified the laws into the following groups:

1. ‘Ibădăt — the Acts of Worship like prayers, fasting, hajj, etc.

2. ‘Uqũd — Mutual Contracts like business transaction, partnership, trusts, power of attorney issues, and marriage.

3. Iyqă‘ăt — Unilateral Instigations like divorce, confessions in legal matters, vows, etc.

4. Ahkâm — Miscellaneous: anything which does not fit in the three groups above like rules of eating and drinking, agriculture, arbitration, testimony, etc.

     Here I would like to present a modern classification of sharí‘a issues done by the late Sayyid Muhammad Băqir as-Sadr. Ayatullah as-Sadr of Najaf was a rising star among the new generation of mujtahids; unfortunately the Shi‘a world was deprived of his knowledge and leadership when he was tortured and killed by Saddam's regime in 1981. Sadr also divides the sharí‘a laws into four groups but his classification makes the issues more clear for the modern man unused to classical texts.

     1. ‘Ibădăt — the Acts of Worship like prayers, fasting and hajj.

     2. Financial Laws:

          (a) On Social Level: issues like Islamic taxes of various kinds.

          (b) On Individual Level:

                   i. the laws pertaining to the means of possessions.

                   ii. the laws pertaining to the utilization of one's possessions.

3. Personal Laws: issues like marriage and divorce, eating and drinking, vows and oaths, hunting and slaughtering, bidding good and forbidding evil, etc.

4. Social Laws: issues like the political system, judiciary, penal code, jihad, etc.


3. The Five Types of Decrees

     All Islamic injunctions fall within the five main categories of laws: wăjib, mustahab, jă’iz, makrũh, and harăm. There are other sub-divisions within these five decrees.

     1. Wăjib: means obligatory, necessary, incumbent. An act which must be performed. One will be punished for neglecting a wajib act, e.g., the daily prayers.

     Ihtiyăt wăjib: Sometimes you might see the term “ihtiyăt wăjib” in the decrees of the mujtahids. It means “precautionarily obligatory” and its significance is the same as that of the wâjib with one difference: wherever the mujtahid says that “it is precautionarily obligatory,” you have the option of leaving his opinion in that particular problem and following the opinion of the second best mujtahid provided the second mujtahid has a different opinion.

     Wâjib is also divided into two: ‘ayni and kifă’i:

     Wăjib ‘ayni means an obligation which is imposed on individual Muslims, e.g., the daily prayers. No one can do this duty for someone else.

     Whereas wăjib kifă’i means an obligation which is imposed on the Muslim community as a whole; and if it is fulfilled by one or more individuals, then the rest of the community is no longer required to do that. For example, a dead Muslim must be buried in the proper Islamic way. This is a duty imposed on the Muslim community collectively; if some people do that, then others are not responsible; but if no one does that, then the entire community is answerable to God.

     2. Mustahab, also known as sunnat, means recommended, desirable, better. It refers to the acts which are recommended but not wajib. If one neglects them, he will not be punished; however, if one performs them, he will be rewarded.

     3. Jă’iz means permitted, allowed, lawful. An act which is permitted and lawful; there is no reward for performing it nor any punishment for neglecting it, e.g., drinking tea.

     Halăl & Mubăh: There are other words which reflect the same meaning as jă’iz but with a different connotation: “Halăl” also means permissible acts or things, but it is used mostly for permissible things rather than actions. For example, the term “halăl meat” is used for the meat whose consumption is permissible in Islam. Similarly, “mubăh” means permissible, but it is exclusively used for things which are lawfully yours or under your control as opposed to “ghasbi — usurped”.

     4. Makrũh means reprehensible, disliked, discouraged. An act which is disliked by Islam but not haram. If one does a makrűh act, he will not be punished; however, if he refrains from it, then he will be rewarded.

     5. Harăm means forbidden, prohibited. An act from which one must abstain. If someone performs a haram act, he will be punished either by the Islamic court or in the hereafter or both.

* * *  


This lesson has been written by Sayyid M. Rizvi.

Some parts have been adopted from his An Introduction to the Islamic Sharí‘a.




Question Paper on Lesson 24



Name: _____________________                                     Student No. ________



Question 1:                                                                               [20  points]



       Fill in the blanks by writing appropriate terms of the shari`ah:



       (a) Salât is a wăjib _________ act.

       (b) Drinking alcohol is a ________ act.

       (c) _____________ means a recommended act in Islam.

       (d) A usurped property is known as _________ .

       (e) Drinking tea is _________ .

       (f)  ___________ means something that is lawfully yours.

       (g) Sunnat act is also known as ______________ .

       (h) Permissible acts and things are known as ____________ .

       (i)  A duty imposed upon the entire community is known

            as ________________________ .

       (j)  ___________________ means precautionarily obligatory.





Question 2:                                                                               [10 points]


     Tick the appropriate box:

                                                                                           TRUE  FALSE


     (a) Shari`ah only deals with spiritual training.                           


     (b) The book “Sharăya’u ’l-Islăm” was written by

          al-Muhaqqiq al-Hilli.                                                             


     (c) ‘Uqũd means the acts of worship.                                          


     (d) Furũ‘ ad-Dīn means the Roots of Religion.                            


     (e) Ayatullah S. M. Bâqir as-Sadr lived in Najaf, Iraq.                



Question 3:                                                                               [20 points]


     Explain in your own words the relationship between

     “beliefs” and “laws”.





* Jurdâq, G., al-Imâm ‘Ali: sawtu 'l-`adâlati 'l-insâniyyah, vol. 5 (Beirut) p. 14.

*    Ibn Hajar al-Makki, as-Sawâ'iqu 'l-Muhriqah, chapter 11, section 1.

**  In Shi‘a sources, see al-Kulayni, al-Usul al-Kâfi, vol. 1, p. 52; in Sunni sources, see ash-Sha`râni,

     at-Tabaqâtu 'l-Kubra, vol. 1 p. 28; Abu Nu`aym, Hilyatu 'l-Awliyâ', vol. 3, p. 193, 197.