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Shari`ah: Bringing Value to Our Lives (Part. 1)


By Wael Hamza

19 June, 2012

Shari`ah is the guidance, the teachings, the rulings, and the way of life that Allah sent through His messengers for humanity to attain success in this life and the eternal life. The final seal of this guidance is the Shari`ah of Islam sent to Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him).

The word ‘Shari`ah’ is misunderstood by many Muslims and non-Muslims and it is often confined to criminal law. This limited understanding of Shari`ah takes away the beauty of Islam and its values and virtues. It is very important for us as Muslims in general, and American Muslims in particular, to understand our Shari`ah, learn its attributes, and know about the values it promotes and the objectives it aims to achieve. This series is meant to shed some light upon the definition of Shari`ah and fiqh and the relationship between them. It also helps us understand some of the important attributes of Shari`ah and how these attributes distinguish it from any other value system. It also describes, in brief, the major objectives of Shari`ah rulings and their importance in Islamic fiqh, and aims to help us develop a sense of pride in being Muslims, and encourages us to embrace the values of Shari`ah in our lives.

After going through the series, we hope to be able to use those values and objectives to better present Islam to people around us. The series also highlights the need to join hands in promoting such values and working hard to instill them in our society.

What is Shari`ah?

Linguistically, Shari`ah is an Arabic word that has several meanings. Among these meanings are:

1) The beginning, or the start of something,

2) clarity and obviousness,

3) a path to a source of water, a large abundant one, and

4) the clear way, or path, to reach something. (Omar Solaiman Al-Ashqar, Introduction to Islamic Shari`ah and Fiqh)

In the Qur'an

In the Qur'an, Shari`ah means the guidance, the rulings, the teachings and the way of life Allah prescribes to people. Several verses from the Qur'an state this meaning clearly. Every messenger was sent to his people with a specific Shari`ah.  Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) was sent to his people and to the rest of humanity with the final seal of Allah's Shari`ah.

There is a substantial overlap between the Shari`ah of all the messengers, especially constants related to the belief in Allah and the belief in the unseen, the angels, the Day of Judgment, and all other areas of belief.  There is also a substantial overlap when it comes to the moral system.  Even the basics of the rituals are common between the Shari`ah of all messengers. Allah says,

{He established the Shari`ah for you as that which He enjoined on Noah and that which We have revealed to you and that which We enjoined on Abraham, Moses, and Jesus} (Ash-Shura 42:13).

However, the Shari`ah of different messengers differs based on the time in which each messenger was sent, the nature of people he was sent to, as well as the maturity of humanity at that particular time.  To that Allah says, {To each among you, we have prescribed a Shari`ah and a clear way.} (Aal-`Imran 5:48). The final Shari`ah to Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) is the guidance to all of humanity for all times and places.

Terminology of Scholars

Scholars of Islam use a different terminology when they use the word Shari`ah.  When the early scholars used the word ‘Shari`ah’, they meant exactly the aforementioned Qur'anic definition; that is, the guidance, the rulings, and the way of life Allah sent to His messenger Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) whether concerning beliefs, moral character, or actions.(Al-Ashqar)  However, some scholars, especially at a later time, used the word ‘Shari`ah’ to mean the guidance, the rulings, and the way of life concerning only the actions of people. They excluded, in their definition, the area of belief (`Aqeedah) and the area of Al-Akhlaq, moral character. (Al-Ashqar) [2]

Shari`ah in this series

Shari`ah is the solution to all our personal, familial, and communal problems.

For the purpose of this series, the choice of terminology is not important as the series applies to all of the terminology choices of the scholars. However, in this series, we chose the Qur’anic definition that was adopted by the early scholars of Islam. The reason for our choice is that the first definition encompasses the second. We also would like to bring to the reader’s attention the more comprehensive definition of the word. As our scholars always say, “there should not be argumentation regarding terminology,” as long as the terminology used is defined clearly. The linguistic meaning really describes the concept of Shari`ah very well. Shari`ah is the abundant source of guidance that is clear and obvious.  It is the way, or the path, one should follow to reach success in this life and the hereafter.

Shari`ah is the ultimate truth

As Muslims, we believe that the Shari`ah of Islam is the guidance, the rulings, and the way of life that Allah sent to humanity to help them live an honorable life and attain success in this life and the eternal life.  It is the ultimate truth we should all aspire to reach. We strive to learn this guidance and to apply it in our lives. We strive to teach it and promote it, so that good becomes abundant. Shari`ah is present in the words of Allah in His final Book to humanity, the Qur'an.  It is also in the tradition of the seal of the prophets, Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him).  Shari`ah is the mercy he (peace and blessings be upon him) was sent with and it is the solution to all our personal, familial, and communal problems.

[1] It is worthy mentioning here that the word shari`ah can be used to mean the set of laws including criminal law. While it is acceptable to use the word in a scientific or legal terminology, using this terminology generally reduces the value of shari`ah as described in the Qur’an and as understood by the early scholars of Islam.

[2] In this terminology, the exclusion of the areas of belief and moral character is not due to the less importance of either. It is due to assigning separate areas of knowledge to each. This terminology is used more in the academic setup where students either take the route of belief studies or the route of law. The route of belief is usually called, Usul Ad-Din, the foundations of religion while the route of the law is called, Shari`ah and fiqh. In this series, this terminology is not used.

Wael Hamza is a Muslim writer, thinker and an active figure in MAS (Muslim American Society), U.S.A.