Principles of islamic law
What are the principles of Islamic Law?
To understand ‘what are the principles of Islamic Law?’ we must first ask the question, ‘what is Islamic Law?’ and discuss its brief history.
What is Islamic Law?
Islamic Law, otherwise known as ‘Ilm al-Fiqh (عِلْم الْفِقْه), is a sub-branch of the Islamic legal framework known as al-Sharī’ah (الشَّرِيْعَة). The Islamic legal framework consists of two key branches: ‘Ilm al-‘Aqā’id (عِلْم الْعَقَائِد) the science that deals with theology and belief; and ‘Ilm al-Fiqh (عِلْم الْفِقْه) the science that deals with juristic matters or legalities. Conclusions and discussions of both theological and juristic matters are extrapolated from Islamic legal sources, such as the (1) the Quran (2) al-Sunnah, the corpus of Islamic knowledge containing the teachings of Muhammad, (3) al-Qiyās, analogical deduction, and (4) al-‘Ijmā’, scholarly consensus. Each science in turn informs those who are legally responsible, i.e., the addressees or the subjects being addressed in the Quran and other Islamic doctrines, what they are expected to believe in theologically, and how they are expected to conduct themselves juristically, whilst creating a religious boundary which must not be violated. For example, a typical Muslim is expected to believe in God alone, whilst not associating any partners to Him, believe in His angels, His books, including scripture of previous nations such as the original Torah and Gospels as sent by God, His messengers, the Day of Judgment, resurrection and the life of the Hereafter, and the ultimate will and power of God presiding over all that is good and bad. Likewise, a Muslim is expected to act in accordance with Islamic laws such as praying five times a day, giving alms to the poor, fasting in
the month of Ramadan, performing the pilgrimage in Mecca once in a lifetime, being dutiful to one’s parents, being kind and considerate to neighbours, friends, relatives and others, adhering to laws of marriage and divorce, transactions, and other societal and political interactions. But how did the early scholars codify Islamic law and what are the principles that they adhered to in doing so?
A brief history of the emergence of Islamic Law
Muslims believe that God chose Muhammad as the final messenger, a vessel, to receive and deliver His word, the Quran. It addresses both theological and juristic matters, as well as addressing the Muslims, Jews, Christians, polytheists, and all of mankind with regards to what God expects of them. The Quran also contains discussions of ethics and morals often told through stories and incidents of past nations and prophets. It addresses the nature of this world and the Hereafter, by encouraging to do good and receive reward whilst discouraging to do evil resulting in sin and punishment. Over six hundred verses of the Quran are dedicated to legalities which form the core of Islamic Law. If the companions of Muhammad had questions regarding their conduct or legalities, verses of the Quran would be revealed to address them or incidents that occurred during their time. However, the remit of Islamic Law is not restricted to the raw words of the Quran. Often the Companions would enquire about the meanings of Quranic verses or other legalities and Muhammad would provide explanations or details, which are recorded as al-Sunnah, preserved in the al-Ḥadīth (الحَدِيْث) literature. Together the Quran and al-Sunnah provide a bases for both theological and juristic matters.
The codification and canonisation of Islamic Law
These core sources of law do not always provide answers to all juristic enquiries, but often form a foundation for universal principles that can be extrapolated and used to answer more specific questions. After the death of Muhammad in 632 AD/11 AH, his most senior and learned companions would continue to use the
Quran and al-Sunnah to respond to theological and juristic matters in their times. Young companions of Muhammad and the students of senior companions would dedicate their lives to studying the Quran, al-Sunnah and corpus of literature containing legal rulings and practices of senior companions. This vast knowledge was being preserved in memory, writing and conduct, to develop a coherent structure and legal framework that would not only enshrine Islamic and theological law, but also contain the methodologies of interpreting text and extrapolating legalities from legal sources. Thus, a new science was born, ‘Ilm ‘Usūl al-Fiqh (عِلْم أُصُول الْفِقْه), or Islamic Legal Theory.
By the latter part of the Second Century AH, prominent scholars had emerged; the likes of ‘Abū Ḥanīfah (d. 767 AD/150 AH) in Kufa and Mālik (d. 795 AD/179 AH) in Madinah. Having learnt from the most illustrious scholars of their times, whose knowledge could be traced directly to the senior companions of Muhammad, these eminent scholars and their students began to codify Islamic Law and justify their conclusions through the core sources. Within their works was a clear and coherent methodology and structure, itself born out of the Quran and al-Sunnah, which could be seen, read and extrapolated. Some began to write books containing their methodologies whilst others discussed their legal theory throughout their writings of Islamic Law.
During the early part of the Third Century AH, another prominent jurist emerged, Muhammad ibn Idrīs al-Shāf’ī (d. 820AD/204 AH). al-Shāf’ī was a student of Mālik and had studied under the students of ‘Abū Ḥanīfah. A man of great skill and knowledge, he is credited with the title, ‘the founder of the science of Islamic Legal Theory. He wrote his famous al-Risālah (الرِّسَالَة), or the Epistle on Islamic Legal Theory, the earliest surviving book on this subject matter, which contains structured discussions of the principles of Islamic Law. Later many scholars would continue to contribute to the science of Islamic Legal Theory and cement the principles of Islamic Law.
These principles would confine the interpretation of key texts and core sources such as the Quran and al-Sunnah to the understanding of Muhammad and the
early generations and provide a clear and coherent structure of Islamic Legal Theory that endeavours to preserve the true understanding of Islam whilst enabling learned jurists to correctly apply the laws of Islam and its rulings to modern issues generation after generation. In essence, the principles of Islamic Law are like tools on the utility belt of jurists that enable them to analogically deduce answers from core sources and apply principles to any questions that may occur, enhancing the reach of Islamic Law beyond the remit of the raw words of text.
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