Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Shari`ah - Islamic Law

The meaning of Shari`ah is taken from four historical sources: the Quran, the literal word of God; the Sunnah, the prophetic precedent captured in the Hadith; qiyas, reasoning based on analogies; and ijma, general consensus. The meaning of Shari`ah is constructed through interpretations by exegetes and centuries of precedent, established mainly in the medieval era. Thus, the modern day Shari`ah is the result of arriving at truth from various sources and various points in history. It is not a legal code in itself, but has been transcribed into a legal code in the form of fiqh ruled by Islamic jurisprudence as ruled by Islamic jurists. In other word, the Shari`ah is the source of principles that guide fiqh. Furthermore, the strict rulings of Shari`ah reflect an official textual Islam rather than the day to day realties of Muslim life.

However the intellectual divide within the Shari`ah has persisted in various guises and this tension has become evident in contemporary times between traditionalists (taqlidi) and reformists (tajdidi) approaches to the law. Traditionalists prefer to follow a doctrinal formulation of their respective legal school, whereas reformists advocate the reformulation of law by approaching the Quran and Sunnah through independent reasoning, as was the early practice in Islam. The main problem that arises with the Shari`ah, lies with interpretation. There are various sects within Islam and these respective sects interpret the Quran differently. Dr A.K Toffar a traditionalist argues that an important facet of Shari`ah is its continuity and permanency, where Shari`ah doesn’t change or adapt to the context of society. When one is critically analysing the Shari`ah it is crucial to take into consideration the context of the society when the Quran was revealed, the Quran as well as the Sunnah was captured and interpreted in a patriarchal society and thus having influenced the Shari`ah in a very biased way. This is the reason that contemporary Islamic scholars such as Dr Ebrahim Moosa and Farid Esack argue that the Shari`ah is flexible and a dynamic law that meets social changes as opposed to a system that is immutable. Twentieth century Muslim reformists like Shaykh Muhammed Abduh of Egypt, Muhammed Iqbal of India and others were acutely aware of the modern context in which Islam found itself. Therefore the claim of present Muslim liberals to re-interpret the Shari`ah, in the light of their own experiences and altered conditions of modern day life, in my opinion is perfectly justified. Although the Shari`ah is sometimes problematic whilst dealing with interpretation, the underlying principle of Shari`ah being Divine law with God at its centre is always agreed on, whether it is practiced or not.

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