SHARIAH (Shari’ah, Sharia, Arabic شريعة) literally means a “path to the water hole” i.e. the way to the source of life. Its usage as law is traced directly to the Qur’an, wherein Allah (God) admonishes us to follow the clear and right way, the path of the Shariah:
Then We have put you (O Muhammad, صلىاللهعليهوسلم) on the Way of Religion (Shariah). So follow you that and follow not the desires of those who know not. (Qur’an, 45:18)
The Shariah is therefore the entire religion of Islam, a whole way of life, that Muslims believe has been ordained by God Almighty. They submit to it and follow it in obedience based on faith (which by the way is not blind).
Its key principle is “preventing harm and bringing welfare to people”.[i] It protects and defends five basic human rights it has identified: Life, property, honor, religion and intellect. The penal system in Islam, which we will look at in our future issues, is absolutely vital in guaranteeing these fundamental rights.
There are two primary sources of the Shariah or Islamic law: Qur’an (God’s Word) and Sunnah (Prophet’s way of life). The Qur’an was revealed over a period of 23 years in the seventh century. It has been since preserved like no other book in the history of mankind. The Sunnah is everything the Prophet did, commanded to do, and/or approved of. While the uninformed may question how a 1,400-year old law could be relevant today, it does not raise a brow for anyone who has studied just the basics of Islam.
The Shariah has two dimensions to it: One specific and the other generic. Inheritance law, for example, is specific. It specifies how much portion of wealth each of the heirs should receive. Similarly are acts of worship like Prayer, Fasting, and Zakat (obligatory charity). Also, the definition of what is right and wrong does not change according to the whims of society. Adultery, homosexuality, incest, murder, rape, and theft will always remain as great crimes.
As for the generic dimension, broad principles have been laid out for us to derive laws on any modern issue. This is the second aspect of the Islamic law, called as Fiqh, which may change according to prevailing circumstances.
Excerpt from June 2014 Issue