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Shari`ah and Fiqh

Reprinted with permission from Perspectives

As we strive as Muslims to remain on the straight path, we need to discern the right from the wrong in every aspect of our life. The Shari`ah (sacred law) and the Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) provide us with the rulings in different matters. In this article simple definitions of shari`ah and fiqh are given.


The Arabic word shari`ah refers to the laws and way of life prescribed by Allah (SWT) for his servants. The shari`ah deals with the ideology and faith; behavior and manners; and practical daily matters. “To each among you, we have prescribed a law and a clear way. (Qur ‘an 5:48) Shari`ah includes the Qur’an and the sunnah of the Prophet (saas). The Qur’an is the direct word of Allah (SWT), and is the first most important source of guidance and rulings. The Sunnah of the Prophet (saas) is the second source of guidance and rulings. The sunnah is an inspiration from Allah (SWT), but relayed to us through the words and actions of the Prophet (saas), and his concurrence with others’ actions. The sunnah confirmed the rulings of the Qur’an; detailed some of the concepts, laws and practical matters which are briefly stated in the Qur’an (e.g. definition of Islam, Iman, and Ihsan, details of salah, types of usury); and gave some rulings regarding matters not explicitly stated in the Qur’an (e.g. wearing silk clothes for men).

1-Qur’an 2-Sunnah of the prophet (saas)
Ideology and faith Sayings
Behavior and manners Actions
Practical manners

  • Articles of worship
  • Day-to-day activities

Pertaining to family, business,
penal code, government,
international law, economy.

Concurrence with others’ actions
Characteristics of the Prophet (saas)

FiqhThe Arabic word fiqh means knowledge, understanding and comprehension. It refers to the legal rulings of the Muslim scholars, based on their knowledge of the shari`ah; and as such is the third source of rulings. The science of fiqh started in the second century after Hijrah, when the Islamic state expanded and faced several issues which were not explicitly covered in the Qur’an and Sunnah of the Prophet (saas). Rulings based on the unanimity of Muslim scholars and direct analogy are binding. The four Sunni schools of thought, Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i and Hanbali, are identical in approximately 75% of their legal conclusions. Variances in the remaining questions are traceable to methodological differences in understanding or authentication of the primary textual evidence. Differing viewpoints sometimes exist even within a single school of thought.

3-Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence)
Basis of Rulings Imams of schools of thought
  • Unanimity of Muslim scholars
  • Direct and indirect analogy
  • Benefit for community
  • Custom
  • Associated rules
  • Original rules
  • Opinion of a companion of the Prophet
  • Imam Abu Hanifa 80-150 (After Hijra)
  • Imam Malik 93-179 (A.H.)
  • Imam Shafi’i 150-204(A.H.)
  • Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal 164-241 (A.H.)

Others: Al-Thawri, Ibn Abu-Lail, Al Awza’i,
and Al-Laith

Rulings of the Shari`ah

The rulings of shari`ah for all our daily actions are five : prescribed, recommended, permissible, disliked and unlawful . The distinctions between the five categories are in whether their performance (P) and nonperformance (NP) is rewarded, not rewarded, punished or not punished (see the table). The prescribed (fard) is also referred to as obligatory (wajib), mandatory (muhattam) and required (lazim). It is divided into two categories :

  • personally obligatory (fard al-‘ayn), which is required from every individual Muslim (e.g. salah and zakah);
  • and communally obligatory (fard al- kifaya), which if performed by some Muslims is not required from others (e.g., funeral prayers).

The recomended (mandub) is also referred to as sunnah, preferable (mustahabb), meritorious (fadila), and desirable (marghub fih). Examples are night vigil (tahajjud) prayers, and rememberance of Allah (zikr).

The performance and nonperformance of the permissible/ allowed (mubah) is neither rewarded nor punished.

Nonperformance of both the disliked (makruh) and the unlawful/prohibited (haram ) is rewarded. Performance of the unlawful is punished, but that of the disliked is not punished.

Rulings of Sacred Law
1. Prescribed 2. Recommended 3. Permissible/Allowed 4. Disliked/Offensive/Detested 5. Unlawful/Prohibited

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