What is Shariah? - Definition/Description potpourri

Dr. Mohammad Omar Farooq

This is not a complete essay. Rather, it was written for an online discussion on NABIC-L.
Now, I have a more comprehensive essay in which you might be interested. 
Please see "Shariah, Law and Islam: Legalism vs. Value-orientation."

Assalamu alaikum.

As we are delving into a discussion about what is Shariah, I would like to approach it slightly differently. Please go through the following sampler I have culled from various online sources. They are broadly representative of the way Shariah is generally viewed or understood by Muslims. I intend to frequently refer to this sampler as part of the discussion on "What is Shariah?" Please do understand that these are not always necessarily an expert or scholarly definition. Rather, it represents the way it is broadly understood and used by Muslims across the board.

#1 by IDB includes scholarly opinions based on Quran and Sunnah.

#2 by Maudoodi regards Shariah as rules/modes of certain Propehts that can differ from the unchanging Deen.

#3a by Khurram Murad suggests that Deen and Shariah are synonymous. However, it is also equivalent to "Islamic Law"

#3b by Khurram Murad suggests that Shariah includes everything, even prayer is "enforceable"

#3c by Khurram Murad suggests that Shariah is "eternal". (ETERNAL? Hmm!) Also, "equally valid for all circumstances."

#4 by Qutb suggests that Shariah includes EVERY aspect of our lives.

#5 by Qaradawi suggests Shariah is comprehensive; uses law interchangeably with Shariah; considers "eternal"

#6 by MSA suggests Shariah is revealed and canonical laws; The legislators are to make rules and regulations ... (which) constitute the Shari'ah.

#7-#22 by various sources suggest an equivalence between Shariah and Islamic Law. Also, note #17, Amanah Mutual Fund lists Fiqh Coucil of North America as its Shariah Consultant, which includes Prof. (Abdul Hakim) Sherman Jackson. The Fund describes Shariah as substitute of Islamic Law.

See if you are comfortable with any of these definitions/descriptions and share your thoughts. In particular, please address the following:

  1. Should scholarly opinions be included as the basis for Shariah?
  2. Is Shariah "eternal"?
  3. If Shariah includes every aspect of human life, is Shariah "enforceable" in its entirety?
  4. Are rules and regulations formulated by the legislators what constitutes Shariah?
  5. Are Shariah and Islamic Law equivalent? Why or why not? Why Shariah = Islamic Law (Fiqh) equation is so endemic in Muslim mind?

In answering these questions, please keep in mind the issue, notion or claim that Shariah is absolute and immutable.

Dr. Mohammad Omar Farooq


#1. What is shari'ah?
Islamic Development Bank

Shari'ah is the set of rules derived from both the Holy Quran and the authentic traditions (Sunnah) of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and the scholarly opinions (Ijtehad) based on Quran and Sunnah.

IDB: http://www.isdb.org/english_docs/idb_home/faq/Q_ISM.htm 

#2. Let us be Muslims

What is ' Shari'ah'

Now I shall tell you what Shari'ah is. The meaning of Shari'ah is mode and path. When you have acknowledged God as your sovereign and accepted His servitude and have also admitted that the Messenger is the tangible ruler holding authority on His behalf and that the Book has been sent by Him, it will mean you have entered Deen. After this, the mode in which you have to serve God and the path you have to traverse in order to obey Him, is called Shari'ah. This mode and path has been indicated by God through His Messenger who alone teaches the method of worshipping the Master and the way to become pure and clean. The Messenger shows us the path of righteousness and piety, the manner in which rights are discharged, the method of carrying on transactions and dealings with fellow-beings and the mode of leading one's life. But the difference is this that while Deen always was, has been, and is still one and the same, numerous Shari'ahs came, many were cancelled, several were changed but these alterations did not change the Deen. The Deen of Noah was the same as that of Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Shu'aib, Saleh, Hud and Muhammad ( peace be on them) but the Shari'ahs of these Prophets varied from each other to some extent. The modes of saying prayer and observing fast were of one kind with one prophet and of another kind with the other. Injunctions about Halal and Haram, rules of cleanliness and codes of marriage, divorce and inheritance somewhat differed from one Shari'ah to another. In spite of this, all were Muslims---the followers of Noah, the followers of Abraham, the followers of Jesus and those of Moses, and we too are all Muslims because Deen is one and the same for all. This shows that Deen is unaffected by differences is the rules of Shari'ah. Deen remains one though modes of following it differ.


#3a. Shari'ah - The Way to God
Khurram Murad

In its fullest sense, the Shari'ah is therefore virtually synonymous, and can be used interchangeably, with the word Din, which can only inadequately be translated as 'religion'. Din literally means 'way of life', 'submission', 'following' or the 'Way'. Though the word Shari'ah in its various derivative forms is found in five places in the Qur'an, (1) its extensive use only came into vogue much later; for the words Islam and Din were more commonly employed to express the same meaning in the early days of Islam.

The Shari'ah includes both faith and practice. It embraces worship, individual attitude and conduct as well as social norms and laws, whether political, economic, familial, criminal or civil.

It may also sometimes be used to imply, in a more restricted sense, do's and don'ts- the rules and regulations for conduct and behaviour. Lastly, it is also used as the equivalent of the Islamic laws.

The Shari'ah is thus nothing less than the divinely ordained way of life for man. To realise the divine will, man must follow the Shari'ah. To live in Islam is to live according to the Shari'ah. To give up the Shari'ah or any part of it knowingly, wilfully or deliberately is to give up Islam. A Muslim must therefore do his utmost to observe and to implement the whole of it, wherever and in whatever situation he finds himself. Hence the Muslim insistence, persistence, commitment and passion for it.


#3b. Shari'ah - The Way to God
Khurram Murad


One image of the Shari'ah which has been assiduously cultivated, is that of a collection of laws enforceable only through political authority. This is not the case; all its laws are religious, but religion is not all law. Laws are therefore an important and integral part of the Shari'ah and, as we have already noted, it admits of no distinction between its parts: 'to pray' is as valid, enforceable, obligatory and sacred as 'to consult in collective affairs' or to 'prohibit interest' or 'to stone an adulterer'. Yet the Shari'ah overwhelmingly consists of morals, norms, manners and rules, from worship to statecraft, which depend for compliance entirely upon man's conscience. 'Law' in modern usage is only that regulation which is enforced by political authority, whereas Muslim scholars use this word to cover every act of human behaviour, even acts of the human heart; for the Shari'ah deals extensively with the intention, just as it does with the duties of prayer, fasting and alms-giving as well as with civil and criminal law.


#3c. Shariah - The Way to God
Khurram Murad


The Shari'ah is for all times to come, equally valid under all circumstances. The Muslim insistence on the immutability of the Shari'ah is highly puzzling to many people, but any other view would be inconsistent with its basic concept. If it is divinely ordained, it can be changed by a human being only if authorised by God or His Prophet. Those who advise bringing it into line with current thinking recognise this difficulty. Hence they recommend to Muslims that the 'legal' provisions in the Qur'an and the concept of the Prophet as law-giver and ruler should be 'downgraded' .

But, as the manifestation of God's infinite mercy, knowledge and wisdom, the Shari'ah cannot be amended to conform to changing human values and standards: rather, it is the absolute norm to which all human values and conduct must conform; it is the frame to which they must be referred; it is the scale on which they must be weighed.


#4. Milestone
Sayyid Qutb

By 'the Shari'ah of God is meant everything legislated by God for ordering man's life; it includes the principles of belief, principles of administration and justice, principles of morality and human relationships, and principles of knowledge.

The Shari'ah includes the Islamic beliefs and concepts and their implications concerning the attributes of God, the nature of life, what is apparent and what is hidden in it, the nature of man, and the interrelationships among these. Similarly, it includes political, social and economic affairs and their principles, with the intent that they reflect complete submission to God alone. It also includes legal matters (this is what today is referred to as the 'Shari'ah', while the true meaning of the 'Shari'ah in Islam is entirely different). It deals with the morals, manners, values and standards of the society, according to which persons, actions and events are measured. It also deals with all aspects of knowledge and principles of art and science. In all these guidance from God is needed, just as it is needed in legal matters.


#5. The Lawful and the Unlawful in Islam
Yusuf al-Qaradawi

Finally, when mankind had reached the stage of intellectual maturity and was ready to receive the last message from Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala, Islam came with its complete, comprehensive, and eternal Shari'ah (law) for the whole of mankind.


#6. Shari'ah
MSA: Islamic Glossary

The root of this word is Shara'a; and some other names of it are Shar', Shir'ah and Tashri'. The Shari'ah is the revealed and the canonical laws of the religion of Islam.

The legislative power in the government lies in the hands of legislative assembly. The legislators are to make rules and regulations within the scope and dimensions of the Qur'an and the Sunnah of the Prophet (s.a.w.). These rules constitute the Shari'ah.


#7. Islamic Law

"The Shari’ah or Islamic Law is derived from Qur’an and Sunnah"


#8. What is Shari'ah?


Shari'ah is the comprehensive Muslim law derived from two sources: (a) the Quraan (2) the Sunnah or practices of Prophet Muhammad (Peace and blessings of God be upon him). It covers every aspect of daily individual and collective living.


#9. What is Shariah? Major Sources and Principles of Islamic Law

The Islam Project

Shari’ah, or Islamic law, is the "centerpiece and backbone of the religion of Islam." It is based on the Qur’an, which Muslims believe is the revealed book of God given to Muhammad over 23 years, ending in 632 CE, and the Sunnah, or example of the Prophet Muhammad, whom Muslims believe was divinely guided. The Hadith, which are sayings of Muhammad and provide information about the Sunnah, were recorded in the two centuries after Muhammad’s death in authenticated hadith collections. Islamic law prescribes Muslim behavior in every aspect of life from private matters between the individual and God to relationships with others from the family or the widest community. The Shari’ah contains categories and subjects of Islamic law called the branches of fiqh (literally, "understanding"). They include Islamic worship, Family relations, Inheritance, Commerce, Property law, Civil (tort) law, Criminal law, Administration, Taxation, Constitution, International Relations, War and Ethics, and other categories.


#10. Principles Of Islamic Banking

"As defined in the Shari'ah, or Islamic law, ..."


#11. Glossary of Financial Terms
Islamic Conferences Guide

Shariah / Sharia / Shari'a

Islamic cannon law derived from 3 sources: the Quran; the Hadith (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad); and the Sunnah (practice and traditions of the Prophet Muhammad).


#12. Issues: Hijab 

Dr. Ibrahim Syed

In Shari’ah or Islamic Law only the authentic (sahih) and good (hasan) Ahadith (plural of Hadith) are used in deriving the rules. The weak (da’if) Ahadith have no value for the purpose of Shari’ah. 


#13. Shariah in Islamic Banking Glossary


Shariah = Islamic Law


#14. Shariah in [Glossary of Islamic financial terms]
The Institute of Islamic Banking and Insurance

Shariah: Islamic law derived from three sources - the Quran, the Hadith, and the Sunnah. 


#15. Glossary
Bahishti Zewar (Heavenly Ornaments) by Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi

Shariah: The Islamic Law


#16. Shariah

Islamic (Shariah) Law


#17. Amana Mutual Fund Trust
Shariah Consultant

The Fiqh Council of North America, Leesburg, VA, serves as Shari’ah consultant to the Funds. Members of the Council offer investment guidance in light of the Shari’ah, or Islamic law. They include:
# Dr. Taha Jabir Alawani [President, Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences, USA]
# Dr. Nazih Hammad [Author]
# Dr. Abd Al Hakim Jackson [Assoc. Professor of Medieval Arabic Law & Theology, University of Michigan, USA]
# Dr. Muzammil Siddiqui [President, Islamic Society of North America]
# Dr. Gamal Badawi [Assoc. Professor of Management, St. Mary’s University, Canada]



Dr. Shahul Hameed bin Mohamed Ibrahim, PhD, M.A., CA(M), FCCA

Islamic Accounting, on the other hand, hopes to enable users to ensure that Islamic organisations (whether business, government or NFP) abide by the principles of the Shari’ah or Islamic Law in its dealings and enables the assessment of whether the objectives of the organisation are being met.


#19. Shariah Legal Education for Women

Seraj, Saedah - University Malaya - Malaysia

Islam is a religion based on education, and one of the most important facets of education is proper instruction in shari’ah, or Islamic law


#20. Legal basis of the Guiding Principles on the internally displaced

The Geneva-based IDP Unit is exploring the use of radio to inform IDPs of their rights, and even examining innovative notions of presenting the GPs in culturally sensitive forms by demonstrating their compatibility with Shari'ah, or Islamic law.


#21. Encountering Islamic Law

John Strawson
Despite differences in political programmes and strategy, the unifying demand of these movements is the implementation of Shari'a or Islamic law


#22. What is the Shari`ah?

The term “Shari`ah” is generally used to refer to the laws of Islam.


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