The Sources of Islamic Laws
Al-Azhar Magazine March 1969
The religion of Islam is a complete and concrete system dealing with man and his affairs in all walks of life. It is not only laid down the fundamental principles of faith and the practical devotions but it also distinctly defined the rules of transactions, moralities, penal laws, and social, economical and political systems. The Holy Quran is the fountain – head of Islamic laws. There are beside this standing miracle of Islam, three sources of Islamic Jurisprudence; namely, the Sunnah (traditions of the Prophet), Ijma (the unanimous opinion of the Muslim Jurisprudents) and Qiyas (Analogical decision of them).
- . The Holy Quran:
Holy Quran is the first source of Islam. It contains the fundamental of the law of the Nature which governs man. The Quran and Nature are in perfect harmony, because ‘Dean’ or religion is defined in the clear verses of Quran as the ‘Fitrat’ or Nature of God. The Quran says:
فَأَقِمۡ وَجۡهَكَ لِلدِّين حَنِيفً۬ا فِطۡرَتَ ٱللَّهِ ٱلَّتِى فَطَرَ ٱلنَّاسَ عَلَيۡہَا لَاتَبۡدِيلَ لِخَلۡقِ ٱللَّهِ ۚ ذَٲلِكَ ٱلدِّينُ ٱلۡقَيِّم ُ وَلَـٰكِنّ أَڪۡثَر ٱلنَّاسِ لَا يَعۡلَمُون) ٣٠-سُوۡرَة الرُّوم (
It means: “So set the purpose for religion as a man by nature upright the nature (famed) of Allah, in which He has created man. There is no altering (the law of) Allah’s creation. That is the right religion but most men know not”. (30:30)
If any conflict between Quran and Nature appears it is not because of the conflict is real but because human study of Nature and of the Holy Quran is not perfect. Some people try to interpret the Quran to adjust it with the human interpretation of Nature. They claim that the knowledge of man is final and unfailing. This attitude definitely indicates the weakness of faith in the revelations of God. The Holy Quran is directly revealed from the Creator of Fitrat and the Will of God made manifest in His creation. So the Quran would lead to discoveries of the secrets of Nature, and a careful study ofNature will help the proper interpretation and understanding of the Quran. Whenever any contradiction between human knowledge, and the Holy Quran arises, the human interpretation of Nature must be rejected as mistaken. As human knowledge increases the Quran unfolds itself gradually like a flower leaf.
Quran is the last of all revealed Books from God to the guidance of mankind. Humanity has been receiving guidance from God directly through revelation received by the Prophets, since the birth of man on the earth. The office of prophet hood was sealed and made final with the completion of revelation of the Holy Quran. The Quran calls people to believe not only in the Prophet hood of Muhammed (peace be upon him) and the revelation of the Quran, but it enjoins the belief in previous revelations and prophets. The Quran declares:
وَٱلَّذِين يُؤۡمِنُونَ بِمَآ أُنزِل إِلَيۡكَ وَمَآ أُنزِلَ مِن قَبۡلِكَ وَبِٱلۡأَخِرَةِ هُم يُوقِنُونَ( ٤ -سُوۡرَةُالبَقَرَة(
It means: “And who believe in that which is revealed unto thee (Muhammed) and that which was revealed before thee, and are certain of the Hereafter.” (2:4)
Thus the belief in previous revelations and prophets is a fundamental of the Quranic call. It is further stated in the Holy Quran that the prophets were sent to every people, and the discrepancy found between the Holy Quran and previous revelations is definitely due to human interpretation. The Holy Quran discovers earlier revelations and makes them complete. It removes all doubts on this point when it proclaims:
مَا نَنسَخۡ مِنۡ ءَايَةٍ أَو نُنسِهَا نَأۡتِ بخَيۡرٍ مِّنۡہَآ أَو مِثۡلِهَآ أَلَم تَعۡلَمۡ أَنَّ ٱللَّهَ عَلَىٰ كُلّ شَىۡءٍ قَدِيرٌ) ١٠٦ -سُوۡرَةُالبَقَرَة(
It means: “Such of our revelations as We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, We bring (in place) one better or the like thereof. Knowest thou not that Allah is Able to do all things.” (2:106)
Being the last revealed Book, the Quran contains universal and eternal truths previously revealed to mankind at various stages of its development. As such, it is a systematic and correctly formulated integration of past revelations and is the correct interpretation of man in relation to the Universe when a man and his nature were made complete. It correctly interprets life, guides humanity in the right path and keeps the torch of progress burning ever-fresh and bright through all ages to come. When such a complete and well-formulated Divine constitution guarantees preservation of it original purity, there will be no longer be need for further revelation. The Holy Quran speaks clearly on this point when it declares:
فَمَنۡ أَظۡلَم مِمَّنِ ٱفۡتَرَىٰ عَلَى ٱللَّهِ كَذِبًا أَو كَذَّبَ بِـَٔايَـٰتِهِۦۤ أُوْلَـٰٓٮِٕك يَنَالُهُمۡ نَصِيبُہُم مِّنَ ٱلۡكِتَـٰبِ حَتَّىٰ إِذَاجَآءَتۡہُمۡ رُسُلُنَا يَتَوَفَّوۡنَہُم قَالُوٓاْ أَيۡنَمَا كُنتُم تَدۡعُونَ مِن دُونِ ٱللَّهِ قَالُواْ ضَلُّواْ عَنَّا وَشَہِدُواْ عَلَىٰ أَنفُسِہِمۡ أَنَّہُمۡ كَانُواْ كَـٰفِرِينَ
It means: “They say: Why hath no portent been sent down upon him from his Lord? Say: Lo! Allah is able to send down a portent. But most of them know not.” (7:37)
The purpose of studying the Quran must be seeking knowledge and practical guidance in the aspects of life. The knowledge of Arabic Language and Literature is the key to the proper understanding and assimilation of the message of the Quran. But translations and commentaries of the Quran, which are now available in different languages, will help only to acquire some general knowledge of this Divine Book. The true spirit of this eternal miracle of Islam may not be felt without complete knowledge of Arabic and the life of the Prophet.
The Quran laid down the principles of laws relating to rites, ceremonies and transactions. These principles needed explanation and sometime practical examples which were given by the Prophet. In this manner, the Prophet himself was the interpreter of the Quran. The interpretations of the Prophet may be divided into two parts:
- Explanation of the passages occurring in the Quran.
- Answer to questions or giving practical reflection on the texts of the Quranic passages. The Quran as a living miracle of Islam and the Prophet has retained its purity without the least change, for the last one thousand and four hundred years. The companions of the Prophet, particularly the inhabitants of Mecca and Medina, had occasion to lean the Quran and the Islamic doctrine directly from him. It is the original source of Islamic theology, jurisprudence, culture and civilization.
- . The Sunnah:
The second source of Islamic laws is the Prophet himself as he is the recipient of the Quran and the typical model of the Quranic life. In him we find the percepts of Islamic teachings in their applied and concrete form. His percepts and examples are most reliable guide to the theoretical as well as practical knowledge of Islam. The record of his percepts and examples is called ‘Hadith’ or Prophetical traditions. Muhammed (peace be upon him) as all the Prophets, was a man and his distinction was that he received revelation. The prophet hood of Muhammed (peace be upon him) is an integral part of the Islamic Faith. But he is merely a messenger and perfect servant of Allah. The texts of the Kalima itself mentions this fundamental purity of faith in the Oneness of God. The Kalima says: “There is no God but Allah and Muhammed is His messenger” or “I witness that there is no God but Allah and I witness that Muhammed is His servant and messenger”.
The Prophet lived only for 63 years and he received the first revelation in his 40th year. It is during these 23 years that he delivered his mission and worked. The nomadic children of desert who only a few years ago were the worst specimen of humanity, became during this short period of Muhammed’s mission, the best men in every respect-morally, culturally, socially and politically-and the teachers of the then civilized world.
23 years in the life of an average man is not very much significant, for less as a whole this number only be lakened to the potentiality of carrying humanity from progress to progress. The Prophet transformed this potentiality, within such a small period of time into practical shape. Hence the traditions of the Prophet is known as ‘Sunna’ which literally means a way or rule, or manner or example of acting or mode of life. Sunna therefore indicates the actions, practices and sayings of the Prophet.
The Prophet explained the teachings of Quran, and laid down the detailed principles of Islamic laws in three ways: by his saying or by his practices or by his silent approval of the practice of some person. Since Islam covered the whole spheres of human life, hundreds of points had to be explained by the messenger of God, through his example in actions and words. The Holy Quran required the people to follow him and it declared that he was the example of Quranic life:
لَّقَدۡ كَانَ لَكُم فِى رَسُول ٱللَّهِ أُسۡوَةٌ حَسَنَةٌ لِّمَن كانَ يَرۡجُواْ ٱللَّهَ وَٱلۡيَوۡمَ ٱلۡأَخِرَ وَذَكَرَ ٱللَّهَ كَثِيرً۬ا
It means: “Verily in the messenger of Allah ye have a good example for him who looketh unto Allah and Last Day, and remember Allah much.” (33:21)
There is some mis-conceptions, in certain quarters, about the transmission and the recording of the Hadith during the life time of the Prophet. About the first point, it was a well established fact the transmission of the practices and sayings of the Prophet from one person to another became commen during the Prophet’s lifetime. The Prophet himself used to give instructions with regard to the transmission of his teachings. Whenever a deputation came to him in the early days of Medina, the Prophet concluded his instructions to them with the following words: “Remember this and report it to those whom you have left behind”. In some cases he said: “Go back to your people and teach them these things.” It is also reported that when ‘Mu’az bin Jabal’ appointed governor of Yemen by the Prophet, he was asked how would he judge cases and he replied: “By the Book of Allah, if do not find any direct instruction in it, by the Sunna of the Prophet of Allah…” Thus, the Sunna was recognized in the time of the Prophet as a source of Islamic guidance, and it started to be transmitted to different places and peoples.
About the second point, it is a fact that the people were started to record the traditions of the Prophet by writing, and he sometimes objected to the writing, lest that the Hadith may be mixed up with the Quran. It is clear from his objection itself that the recording of Hadith started in Prophet’s lifetime, in addition to preserving it in the memory of the thousands of the disciples of Prophet. The Arabs had a wonderful and rare power of memory and in that memory they kept the beautiful poetry of the pre-Islamic days, and the Holy Quran, alive and intact. So the preservation of the text of the Quran, and the Sunnaof the Prophet, was in the safe custody of good memory and the writings of the faithful companions.
In addition to this, there was a party of disciples who lived in Medina Mosque itself and they were specially equipped for the teaching of the religion to the people outside Medina. Some of these would remain in the Prophet’s company at all costs, and store up in their memory everything which the Prophet said or did about any aspect of human activities. Prophet’s wife, ‘Aysha’ was also one of those who sought to preserve the traditions of him. She was gifted with a clear understand and a marvelous memory. According to a report, Omar bin Khattab made arrangements with one of the neighbor that they should be in the company of the Prophet on alternate days, so that each might report to each other, what happened in his absence. Most important of a, the Prophet had repeatedly laid the obligation on every one of his followers to follow his Sunnah and it to others. These facts refute the mistaken idea that the need for Sunnah was felt, and the preservation of it started only after the demise of Prophet (peace be upon him).
There is no doubt that the collection and recording of the traditions of the Prophet, had passed through several stages. We can summarize the stages of collection of Hadith in five main stages:
- – First stage was during the lifetime of the Prophet.
- – Second stage started just after his death. In this stage Hadith had passed from individual into public possession.
- – Third stage began with the passing of the generation that had seen and heard the Prophet directly. This stage was a turning point in this field. At this time the writing down of Hadith became more and common; but merely as an aid to memory.
Towards the close of the first century of Hijra, the Omayyad Caliph, Omar bin Abdul Aziz, known Omar II, issued definite orders to the effect that written collections of Hadith should be made. It is reported by Bukhari, that he had written to the governor of Medina, Abu Bakr bin Azm, the following letter: “See whatever saying of the Holy Prophet can be found and write it down, for I fear the loss of knowledge and the disappearance of learned men. Do not accept anything but the true Hadith of the Prophet. People should make knowledge public and should sit in companies, so that he who does not know should come to know, for knowledge does not disappear until it is concealed from the public.” The importance of this stage lies in the fact that the Calif himself took the interest in the formal collection of all Hadith of the Prophet in a systematic way.
- – After the death of Umar bin Abdul Aziz, the collection of Hadith entered fourth stage in the history of the work of collecting the Prophetical traditions. By the middle of the second century of Hijra, Hadith began to assume a more permanent shape and witten collections had become popular. The first works on the subject are that of ‘Imam IbnJuraij’, who lived at Mecca, Imam Malik bin Anas at Medina, Abdullah bin Wahab in Egyt, Mamar bin Abdul Razak in Yemen, Sufyan al Thawry in Kufa, Hammad bin Salma at Basara, and Abdullah bin Mubarak in Kurasan. The book of Imam Malik bin Anas known as the ‘Muwatta’ is considered the most important of collections of the second century.
- – The fifth stage of the collection of the traditions started in the third century Hijra. It was then that the great work of collection of Hadith brought to complete for. The most important works of this stage is the Six Books of the following Imams: 1- Bukhari, 2- Muslim, 3- Abu Dawud, 4-Tirmizi, 5- IbnMaja, 6-Nasai. These books classified the reports and arranged subjects under special headings. It may be noted that these works made Hadith easy for reference. There are two kinds of collections of Hadith: “Musand” and “Jami”. Musnad is meant the tracing of any Hadith back through various transmitters to the companion of the Prophet on whose authority it rested. So the collections of the Musnad contains reports of traditions of all sorts. The Jami means a work that gathers together; it arranges reports according ot their subject matters. The credit of bringing knowledge of Sunna to perfection is due to these two kinds of collection.
In the Muslim jurisprudence, the term Ijma expresses the unanimous consent of the religious scholars. Imam Jalaluddin al-Suyuti reported in his famous book, “TarikulKhulafa” (History of the Caliphs) that:
“ During the reign of Abu Bakr when a case before him he used to consult the Quran; if he did not find it in the Book of Allah, and he knew of a Sunnah of His Messenger, he decided according to it; and if he did not find anything there, he used to question the Muslims around him if they of any decision of the Prophet in a matter of a similar case, and everyone of them stated what he knew from the Prophet, and Abu Bakr would say: “ Praise be to Allah who had kept among us those who remembered what the Prophet had said”. If he was unable to find anything in the Sunna of the Prophet, he gathered together the heads of the companions and consult them and if they agreed upon one opinion he decided according that opinion”.
The second Caliph, Umar bin Khattab also followed the same rule. When there was a difference of opinion among the learned companions, he took the decision on the basis of majority. Their unanimous or majority decisions and judgements were subject to the condition that they were neither contrary to the Holy Quran nor to the Sunnah of the Prophet. This procedure was followed by the later jurisprudents in the cases of new problems and needs of their ages.
- – Qiyas
The fourth source of Islamic Jurisprudence is Qiyas. It literally means measuring by a thing or comparing with or judging by comparing with or judging by comparing with a thing. From the Jurisprudence point of view it means a process of reasoning of a law based on Analogy i.e. a case might come up for decision, which is not expressly provided for either in the texts of the Holy Quran or in the traditions of the Prophet, or by the unanimous decision of scholars (Ijma); then the Jurisprudent looks for a case resembling in the Holy Quran or the Sunnah or in Ijma, and by reasoning on the basis if Analogy (Qiyas), arrives at a decision. Thus, this is also a kind of extension of the law as met with in the Quran, Hadith, Ijma but it is not of equal authority with them because it is based on only analogical deductions. Briefly it may be concluded as that the Holy Quran is the fountain-head of Islamic Law, explained by Traditions of the Prophet, Unanimous opinion of the Muslim Jurisprudents and Analogical decision of the Muslim Jurists.