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Ash-Shari'ah: The Law Of Islam

Ash-Shar' - The Revelation - and Ash-Shari'ah - both of which mean The Law of Islam.

The root verb and its meanings are as follows:
to go
to begin

Shari'a, plural is: Sharaa'i -
water hole
drinking place
approach to a water hole
law; Ash-Shari'ah, the revealed or canonical Law of Islam.

(Urdu speakers will be familiar with the word Shuru' - meaning: beginning, start, commencement, inception, etc)

Surah 6 Al-An'aam, Verse 12
Qul Lliman Mma Fi-S-Samawaati Wa-L-Ard. Qul Llillahi, Kataba 'Ala Nafsihi Ar-Rahmah

Say: To whom belongs all that is in the Heavens and the Earth? Say: To Allah, Who has Willed upon Himself the Law of Grace and Mercy.

In order to emphasize the supreme importance of this Statement, it is repeated in Verse 54 of the same Surah. Further, each and every Surah - with the exeption of Surah 9 At-Tawbah - begins with the invocation: Bismi-Llah Ir-Rahman Ir-Raheem, In the Name of Allah, The Most Gracious, The Most Merciful. We may safely conclude, then, that after the Name Allah 'Az Wa Jal itself, Ar-Rahman and Ar-Raheem constitute HIS two most important Attributes. Therefore, the entire narrative of Al-Qur'an ought to be comprehended in the light of these most oft-repeated Names - as well as the Ayaah quoted above. Thus, no law, statement, ordinance or prohibition contained in Al-Qur'an may be detached from the Grace and Mercy of Allah SWT.

Surah 5 Al-Maa'idah, Verse 48
Wa Anzalnaa Ilayka Al-Kitaaba Bi-L-Haqqi Musaddiqan Llima Bayna Yadayhi Min-L-Kitaabi Wa Muhayminan 'Alayhi Fah-kum Baynahum Bi-maa Anzala Allahu Wa La Tattabi' Ahwaa'hum 'Amma Jaa'ka Min-L-Haqq. Li-Kullin Ja'alnaa Minkum SHIR'ATAN Wa MINHAAJAN. Wa Lao Shaa Allahu Laja'alakum Ummatan Wwaahidatan Wwa Lakin Lliyabluwakum Fi Maa Aataakum Fa-stabiqu Al-Khayraat. Ila-Llahi Marji'ukum Jamee'an Fa-yunabi'ukum Bi-maa Kuntum Feehi Takhtaleefun.

And WE have sent down to you The Book in Truth, confirming the Scripture which came before it, and a Watcher - Muhaymin - over it. So judge among them by what Allah has revealed, and follow not their vain desires, diverging away from the Truth that has come to you. To each among you, WE have Prescribed a Law and a Clear Way. If Allah had Willed, HE would have made you one nation, but that (HE) may test you by means of what HE has given you: so compete in performance of good works. The return of you (all) is to Allah; then HE Will inform you about that wherein you used to differ.

The term Shir'ah Wa Minhaaj is only mentioned in this one place in Al-Qur'an. The designation "A Law and a Clear Way" is to be understood within the context of the Verses preceeding and succeeding reference to it: that is, to each of the Abrahamic Communities has Allah SWT Prescribed Laws which, when adhered to and followed, lead to a Clear Way. In this manner does Allah SWT test the Believers with that which HE has given to them.

Surah 45 Al-Jaathiyah, Verse 18
Thumma Ja'alnaaka 'Ala SHARI'ATIN Min Al-Amri Fattabi'ha Wa La Tattab'i Ahwaa'e-Alladhina La Ya'lamun.

And finally, WE have set you on a way by which the purpose (of faith) may be fulfilled: so follow this (way) and follow not the likes and dislikes of those who do not know (the truth)

The word Shari'ah as mentioned in the above Ayah follows upon references to the Revelations granted to the Children of Isra'el, V16-17. Instead of adhering to the way ordained for them by their Scripture, the communities fragmented through futile argumenation and disputation. Thus, Al-Qur'an represents both the Way and purpose of true Faith. As may be apparent from the subsequent collapse of unity amongst Muslims, they too followed - not the way of The Revelations - but the ways of those who preceded them.

We might bear in mind that there was no Ash-Shari'ah - The Law of Islam - at the time of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) This represents a much later development in the life of the Muslim Community. Scribes, scholars, Imams and Lawyers sought to construct a coherent and viable system of laws based upon Al-Qur'an and the Sunnah of the Prophet (pbuh) This was percieved as necessary in order to adjudicate matters relating to the spiritual and secular realms. A brief pause here is required so that we may examine how Al-Hadeeth came into being:

Hafiz Ibn Hajar Al-Asqalani said in Hady As-Sari, which is the introduction to his commentary on Sahih Al-Bukhari known as "Fath Al-Bari"

Know - may Allah teach me and you - that the traditions of the Prophet (pbuh) were not recorded in collections at the time of the Prophet nor at the times of his Companions or of the great Followers, nor were they systematically organised, for two reasons:
Firstly, because initially it had been forbidden, as is firmly established in Sahih Muslim for fear that some of it would become mixed up and confused with the Glorious Qur'an.
Secondly, because of the depth of their capacity for memorisation and the copiously retentive nature of their intellects, and because most of them did not know how to write.."

(The Muwatta Of Imam Muhammad, Introduction, Page 1)

It was after the time of The Followers - At-Tabi'un - that traditions came to be collected and recorded. This is of great importance, because, as we know, many laws are derived from the reported sayings of the Prophet (pbuh) It is against this back-drop that we return to the subject of this piece: Ash-Shari'ah. The Prophet did not institute his own laws, he implemented Divine Laws. It was incumbent upon his successors and those vested with authority to follow the example of the Prophet by adhering to Al-Qur'an and striving never to deviate from it. However, over the course of time laws on the statute books manifestly increased - perhaps this was a reflection of societies becoming more sophisticated. As Laws expanded greatly, so too did their complexity.

Allah SWT States that HE does not burden an individual with more than he/she can bear - following upon this, then, we know that the community to which the person belongs has not been burdened either, 2:286. We may also note that Allah SWT has placed no hardships whatsoever in matters pertaining to Religion and Faith, 22:78. Since this is so, it seems remarkable that Ash-Shari'a has taken on a life of its own - with huge tomes having been composed on the subject of Islamic Law. Allah SWT made religion easy - and thereafter Muslims made it hard for themselves.

Divine Ordinances are designed specifically for the benefit of humankind. What is clearly not beneficial is a system of complicated laws which result in many people turning away from their religion altogether. And that is exactly what has occurred over the centuries: Laws have either been selectively applied or abandoned. At the same time, different sects and denominations have acquired their own set of laws, compiled and composed by their scholars and/or imams. Thus have Muslim societies fragmented - and are in states of disintegration.

Mention of Ash-Shari'ah terrifies both Muslim and non-Muslim alike. This is hardly surprising given that the version of Islam promoted and propogated bears little resemblance to the Religion of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) In some instances, Islam is seen as trendy, liberal and cool, in others it is viewed as harsh, stern, uncompromising, rigid and cold. The perception of Islam is markedly influenced by knowledge - or lack thereof - of its Laws.

Surah 5 Al-Maa'idah, Verse 50
Afahukma-L-Jaahileeyati Yabghun. Wa Man Ahsanu Min-Allahi Hukman Lliqawmin Yyuqinun.

Do they then seek the judgement of the (Times of) Ignorance? And who is better in judgement than Allah for a people who have firm faith?

Allahu 'Alam

Translations from:
Muhammad Asad: The Message Of The Qur'an.

Dictionary definitions from:
Hans Wehr: A Dictionary Of Modern Written Arabic, Edited by J. Milton Cowan.

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