What Are Sources of Islamic Law?

Corans at the bazaar of Istanbul, Turkey.
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All religions have sets of codified laws, but they take on special importance for the Islamic faith since these are the rules that govern not only the religious lives of Muslims but also form the basis of civil law in nations that are Islamic Republics, such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran. Even in nations that are not formally Islamic republics, such as Saudi Arabia and Iraq, the overwhelming percentage of Muslim citizens causes these nations to adopt laws and principles which are heavily influenced by Sharia, the Islamic religious law. 

Sharia is based upon four main sources, outlined below.

The Quran

Muslims believe the Quran to be the direct words of Allah, as revealed to and transmitted by the Prophet Muhammad. All sources of Islamic law must be in essential agreement with the Quran, the most fundamental source of Islamic knowledge. The Quran is therefore regarded as the definitive authority on matters of Islamic law and practice. It is only when the Quran itself does not speak directly to or in detail about a certain subject, that Muslims turn to alternative sources of Islamic law.

The Sunnah

The Sunnah is a collection of writings documenting the traditions or known practices of the Prophet Muhammad, many of which have been recorded in the volumes of Hadith literature. The resources include many things that he said, did, or agreed to—mostly based on his life and practice based entirely on the words and principles of the Quran. During his lifetime, the Prophet's family and companions observed him and shared with others exactly what they had seen in his words and behaviors—in other words, how he performed ablutions, how he prayed, and how he performed many other acts of worship.

It was also common for people to ask the Prophet directly for legal rulings on various matters. When he passed judgment on such matters, all of these details were recorded, and they were used for reference in future legal rulings. Many issues concerning personal conduct, community and family relations, political matters, etc. were addressed during the time of the Prophet, decided by him, and recorded. The Sunnah can thus serve ​to clarify details of what is stated generally in the Quran, making its laws applicable to real-life situations.

Ijma' (Consensus)

In situations when Muslims have not been able to find a specific legal ruling in the Quran or Sunnah, the consensus of the community is sought, or at least the consensus of the legal scholars within the community. Islamic scholars define "community" in different ways, depending on the situation: for example, ijma al-ummah is a consensus of the entire community, while ijma al-aimmah is a consensus by religious authorities. The Prophet Muhammad once said that his community (i.e. the Muslim community) would never agree on an error.

Qiyas (Analogy)

In cases when something needs a legal ruling but has not ever been clearly addressed in the other sources, judges may use the analogy, reasoning, and legal precedent to decide new case law. This is often the case when a general principle can be applied to new situations. For example, when recent scientific evidence showed that tobacco smoking is hazardous to human health, Islamic authorities deduced that the Prophet Mohammad's words "Do not harm yourselves or others" could only indicate that smoking should be forbidden for Muslims. 

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Huda. "What Are Sources of Islamic Law?" Learn Religions, Oct. 29, 2020, learnreligions.com/sources-of-islamic-law-2004417. Huda. (2020, October 29). What Are Sources of Islamic Law? Retrieved from https://www.learnreligions.com/sources-of-islamic-law-2004417 Huda. "What Are Sources of Islamic Law?" Learn Religions. https://www.learnreligions.com/sources-of-islamic-law-2004417 (accessed May 30, 2023).