The Islamic Sharia - An Overview
Monday, January 30, 2012 3:10:20 PM
I begin with the name of God, the Owner and Dispenser of love, compassion and mercy.
The One God and Freedom of Religion
Belief in One and only One God is the fundamental belief in Islam and considered such by all God’s prophets. Allah, an Arabic word, is the personal name of God. The below verse speaks about God and His attributes.
Allah! There is no God save Him, the Alive, the Eternal. Neither slumber nor sleep overtakes Him. Unto Him belongs whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth. Who is he that intercedes with Him save by His leave? He knows that which is in front of them and that which is behind them, while they encompass nothing of His knowledge save what He will. His throne includes the heavens and the earth, and He is never weary of preserving them. He is the Sublime, the Tremendous. (The Holy Quran, 2:255)
God created human beings with a noble purpose to worship and obey Him. However, He gave people the free will with capacity to do good or commit evil.
There is no compulsion in religion. The right direction is henceforth distinct from error. And he who rejects false deities and believes in Allah has grasped a firm handhold which will never break. Allah is Hearer, Knower. (The Holy Quran, 2:256)
The Islamic Shari’ah helps us follow the right direction for worship and obedience to God in our entire individual and collective life.
The Meanings of Islamic Shari’ah
Khurram Murad describes the Islamic Shari’ah as:
The Islamic Shari'ah is not merely a collection of do's and don'ts, nor just a code of criminal laws prescribing punishments for certain crimes. Though it does contain both, its sweep is much broader and deeper, encompassing the totality of person's life. Shari'ah literally means a 'clear, trodden path to a source of water'. Since water is the source of life, it means a clear path to life. In religious terms, it is the path to the eternal life. It is the path that a person, in Islam, must walk as he toils and strives to reach his Creator. It is the yearning deep within to seek the Lord and the Master that the Shari'ah translates into steps, concrete and specific, on the pathways of life. The Shari'ah is the fulfillment of the total man- inner and outer, individual and corporate-as he seeks to live by the will of his one and only God. 
So for example, Shari’ah teaches Muslims the best way of performing prayers, giving in charity, fasting, eating, getting married, doing business, and more. A simple example about etiquette of eating is that:
We are taught to wash our hands before eating.
Start eating with the phrase “Bismillah Hir-Rahman Ar-Raheem.”(With the name of God, the Most Merciful, the Most Kind.)
And when we finish our meal, teaches us to thank God (and for kids, also their parents) for providing the food and drinks and made us to worship and obey Him.
It is also part of Shari’ah to speak the Truth, not to lie, not to backbite, not to steal, not to kill, not to abuse, not to deceit in trade, and if you do not like your purchase, take the item back to Walmart or from wherever you purchased it.
As we see, the principles and law of the Islamic Shari’ah are part of every society and country, including the USA. The difference in many cases is that when a Muslim follows the Shari’ah, it abides by the Law with intent to please God. From the outside, it is the same as how anyone else obeys the Law. If we sideline the clash of ignorance, the issues mostly relate to the severe punishments in the cases of theft and adultery, which can be understood as exceptions if taken in the context of the entire Shari’ah,
Primary Sources of Shari’ah
The Holy Quran and the Hadeeth form the two primary sources of the Islamic Shari’ah. Allah, the One and Only God, the Creator, the Almighty is the Law-Giver. The Holy Quran (Arabic) is the word of God revealed to Prophet Muhammad (s.a.a.w.). Hadeeth refers to the collection of books containing the sayings and narrations of actions of Prophet Muhammad (s.a.a.w.).
The Shari’ah includes religious law covering worship and rituals and the penal law covering everything else.
Objectives of the Shari’ah Law and Five Essentials:
Early Muslim scholars have looked at the question of why Allah revealed the Law. Some Muslim scholars of jurisprudence, especially Ibn Taimiah, said that Allah revealed such a legislative system or Shari’ah in order to achieve Justice. Other jurists said it is for the purpose of achieving happiness. And still some others, especially al-Ghazali, said it is only for the achievement and the realization of the very benefits of man on earth. 
A closer look at these three approaches to Shari’ah shows that they complement each other: happiness of mankind cannot be achieved at large without justice, and justice is one of the essential benefits and interest of people on earth.
Based on the Holy Quran and the Hadeeth, early Muslim scholars have given five universal necessities on which the lives of people depend, and whose neglect leads to total disruption and chaos. 
The following are the five universals (al-kuliaat):
Religion (Al_Din), Life (Al-Nafs), Intellect (Al-‘Aql), Procreation (Al-Nasl), Property (Al-Mal)
The objective of the Shariah is to preserve and promote what is good in the context of these five universals. A good introduction on the objectives of the Shariah can be found at .
An early Muslim scholar, Imam Ibn Al-Qayyum, described the Shari’ah as follows:
“ Shari’ah, all of it is filled with purpose (hikm) and with benefits (al-Masaleh) for this life and the hereafter. All of Shari’ah is justice(‘adl), compassion and love (rahmah). All of Shari’ah is benefit (masaleh), all of shari’ah is wisdom (hikmah). Therefore, any issue taken from justice to injustice, or from love, compassion and mercy to lack of it, or from benefit to harm, or from purpose to lack of wisdom, then such a solution has nothing to do with Shari’ah, even if it is made so by the power of interpretation.”
Rahmah is all encompassing of Shar’iah 
The Arabic word Rahmah means love, compassion and mercy. Its root word in Arabic means the womb of the mother. In Arabic, most words have a three letter root. All derivatives retain some aspects of the meanings of the root word. We will look at some fundamental principles of the Shari’ah, especially in the context of Rahmah.
Rahmah is a universal law of Allah
Allah has prescribed for Himself the rule of Rahmah (Quran, 6:12). He has made it mandatory on Himself to be not only the owner, but also the dispenser of Rahmah.
Every time a Muslim begins something, he or she recites “Bismillah Ar-Rahman Ar-Raheem”, which contains two nouns Ar-Rahman and Ar-Raheem based on the word Rahmah. Ar-Rahman is the possessor of Rahmah. Ar-Raheem is the dispenser of Rahmah. The sentence means, “I begin with the name of Allah, the Owner and Dispenser of love, compassion and mercy.”
Muhammad as Rahmah for the world
All God’s messengers and Prophets were sent as Rahmah for the people.
Prophet Muhammad (s.a.a.w.) has been described in the Holy Quran as:
“ We have not sent you (O Muhammad), except as Rahmah for the worlds.” (21:107)
The Arabic sentence construction implies that his entire message and mission can be contained in one phrase, as, “Rahmah for the worlds,” that is “Love, compassion and mercy for the worlds.”
In a Hadeeth, the Prophet (s.a.a.w.) said: “He who does not show Rahmah to people, should not expect Rahmah from Allah.”
Allah's Rahmah includes everything, including justice.
[rahmati wase’at kulla shai-in]
Allah’s love, compassion and mercy encompasses everything, including the law. In fact, when Rahmah is stripped from justice, it reduces to man-made law. It is not divine law any more, regardless of the mode of interpretation to reach the verdict, as Imam Ibn-al Qayyum stated above.
Two Conditions of Accountability: (Sharoot al-Takleef)
[la takleef illa be-maqdoorin wa m’aloom]
There is a basic rule in Shari’ah, which states that “No person shall be legally responsible except for what is within his capacity and what is knowable.” There is a verse in the Holy Quran which states that Allah will not hold anyone responsible for anything not within his capacity.
Legislation of Concessions: [tashree’ur-Rukhas] The scholars say that it is a hallmark, or a trademark of the Shari’ah to have a legislation of concessions. This by itself shows that Shari’ah is not literalist. That is, if something is forbidden, it is not forbidden under all circumstances. It applies not only to religious matters, but also to judicial issues.
For example, pork is forbidden, but if a Muslim is starving and nothing else is available, he or she is permitted to eat at that moment. All intoxicants are forbidden, but if there is a case when a person's eye sight can only be cured by taking marijuana and health professionals testify it, he is permitted to take it to the extent his medical need is fulfilled. (This example is chosen as there was such a case of a person in the USA, who asked for the use of marijuana due to his eye sight problem.) 
Concessions like these are already “built-in” to the Shari’ah and no new legislation is needed.
Avert by doubt: Prophet Muhammad(s.a.a.w.) advised the judges to avert punishment by doubts. The saying of the Prophet is in a command format: avert …
Cover Faults: The Prophet (s.a.a.w.) said, "Allah will cover up on the Day of Resurrection the defects (faults) of the one who covers up the faults of the others in this world". [Sahih Muslim]. One should also keep his own faults to himself. This includes certain punishable sins.
Err in Pardon: The Prophet (s.a.a.w.) said, “Ward off the hudood punishments from the Muslims as much as you can. If there is any possible way for the accused, let him go. For a judge to err in pardon is better than his erring in punishment.” [Narrated by Al-Tirmidhi #1344 with a weak chain. However, all jurists have accepted this hadith and used it in their works on the basis of other chains that strengthen it. Categorized as authentic (saheeh) by al-Hakim.]
God did not reveal the law for His own benefit. Such a statement is in fact a statement of disbelief in Islam. God is Self-Sufficient. He does not legislate in vain without purpose. It is all for the well-being of humanity.
Repentance (Taubah) is an important component of Rahmah
Punishment for a crime is the outermost layer of Islam. A Muslim is repeatedly advised and inspired to strengthen the innermost layer, which is Qalbun Saleem (sound heart), needed for happiness in this life as well as eternal salvation.
A person may continue committing sin or crime and repent each time. The difference is how a judge or society sees it and how God sees it. A judge or jury may swing to the right or to the left or do just right, but not God. Repentance is until time for death comes. Troubled people are only those who continue doing wrong until the death knocks at the door.
Capital Punishment and Qisas
Islamic Shari’ah does not have capital punishment. Islam has Qisas not capital punishment. In Islam, it is not the state, but the grieved party, the guardian of the victim who decides either to forgive the murderer, ask for a compensation or have him executed. In capital punishment, the state takes over full rights of the case and there have been cases when the guardian wanted the murderer to be forgiven, the state said no and carried out the case.
In an authentic tradition, (Sahih Hadeeth), in the time of Prophet Muhammad (s.a.a.w.), a man killed someone. The father of the victim brought the murderer to the Prophet for execution. The Prophet asked the father to forgive the murderer. The father refused and wanted him to be executed. The Prophet repeatedly asked the father to forgive, but each time he refused. The Prophet then allowed him to carry out the execution, as the decision is in the hands of the grieved party, not the state. However, while the father was taking the man for execution, the Prophet said that you are like the murderer. The father did not hear this. Others asked the father, did you hear what the Prophet said. He said no. They told him that the Prophet has said that you are like him. Upon hearing this, the father rushed back to the Prophet and said I forgive him.
In another Hadeeth, a man came to the Prophet (s.a.a.w.) and said that he has done something which requires hudood punishment, so punish him. He did not say what he has done. The Prophet turned his face away from him. The man turns around and repeats himself. The Prophet turned his face away again. It happens three times and then Call to Prayer is heard. The Prophet goes to the Mosque, prays and comes out. The man comes back to the Prophet and repeats his words that he has done something which requires punishment, so punish him. The Prophet asked him, “Did you pray with us?” He said, yes. The Prophet told him that in that case, go, God has forgiven you. (Nasai)
The sacred laws of Jews, Christians and Muslims forbid, and render punishable, all types of sexual relations outside marriage.
According to Islamic law, if four witnesses testify seeing the act by a married person, then the punishment is stoning to death. This is certainly an extreme penalty but limited to extreme cases. Four witnesses is the minimum required number.
It is also narrated that the Prophet ordered this punishment to be carried out in four cases. One of the cases were that of a Jewish man and a woman, who did not want the Jewish court to decide upon them and hoping to get lesser punishment, came to the Prophet. The Prophet decided their punishment according to the Holy Torah. There is no verse in the Holy Quran which states stoning to death as punishment for adultery. However, the prophet and the rightly-guided caliphs after him did carry out the punishment. The following story relates to a second case of adultery in the Prophet’s time.
A man named Ma’iz came to Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) and said: Allah's Messenger, I have wronged myself; I have committed adultery and I earnestly desire that you should purify me. He turned him away. On the following day, he (Ma'iz) again came to him and said: Allah's Messenger, I have committed adultery. Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) turned him away for the second time, and sent him to his people saying: Do you know if there is anything wrong with his mind. They denied of any such thing in him and said: We do not know him but as a wise good man among us, so far as we can judge. He (Ma'iz) came for the third time, and he (the Holy Prophet) sent him as he had done before. He asked about him and they informed him that there was nothing wrong with him or with his mind. When it was the fourth time, a ditch was dug for him and he (the Holy Prophet) pronounced judgment about him and he was stoned. [Sahih Muslim]
In his article, “The Face of Mercy in Islamic Law”, Dr. Abu Zayd writes:
“In the case of Maa’iz, it became known that he had confessed to the Prophet after being encouraged by his friend Hazzal al-Aslamy. After the infliction of the punishment, the Prophet sadly told Hazzal: “Woe to you, O Hazzal. If you had veiled him with your mantle it would have been better for you.” This spirit of forgiveness and concealment stands in sharp contrast to the broadcast image of religious police scouting Muslim societies for offenders to punish. Is it deliberate misinformation and exaggeration or real ignorance and extremism among segments of the Muslim society? Perhaps the blame lies somewhere in between.” 
Armed Robbery (Hirahah):
The following verse from the Holy Quran talks about justice as eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth,…
The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is: execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land: that is their disgrace in this world, and a heavy punishment is theirs in the Hereafter; (Holy Quran, 5:33)
The verse relates to an incident in which a Muslim shepherd was brutally tortured by a group in the outskirts of Madinah, his eyes and other organs were taken out, and he was brutally killed, just like this verse says in retaliation. Justice demands the punishment according to the crime. However, the Most Compassionate God revealed the next verse, as a continuation of the above:
Except for those who repent before they fall into your power: in that case, know that Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Loving, Compassionate and Merciful.(The Holy Quran, 5:34)
On the basis of these verses, Muslim jurists have raised the question:
What is the place of repentance in averting punishment?
Some jurists say that if a person repents before he is caught, then he gets no punishment. Others say the same even if he is arrested.
Rights of God and the rights of Individuals
It is important to understand in the context of the above verses that when it comes to the rights of God, repentance may be enough. When Prophet(s.a.a.w.) entered Makkah at its peaceful conquest, his hometown, from which he was driven out, and whose people had persecuted him, plotted to kill him, waged wars against him, he forgave them all and entered into the city with his head in prostration. Repentance was enough for forgiveness of the entire town.
However, when it comes to the rights of an individual, it is the individual who has to forgive the person, as I gave an example on a case of a murder. In cases like these, the rights of individuals supersede the rights of God, which is yet another example of the love, compassion and mercy of God.
Current State of the World
It appears that Rahmah is a bygone virtue. In today’s world, people may find joy in witnessing a persecution. When we do not have Rahmah for others, Rahmah is taken away from us, and we complain why God is not compassionate with us. Mind without heart is harsh and heart without mind is blind. 
At the core of the Shari’ah is sound heart (Qalbun Saleem). Covered with Rahmah and Repentance, the Penal Law constitutes an essential, but outermost layer of Islam.
Justice with Rahmah, compassionate justice forms the core of Muslim Ummah as a dynamic civilization for all times. When you see a country whose rulers live in huts, draw a salary of no more than a day’s meals and work tirelessly until they have done their best to provide food, shelter, clothing and medicine for their citizens, then know that the core of the Shari’ah is in place and the rest can follow. It has happened before in the time of the Prophet (s.a.a.w.) and the four rightly guided caliphs. It also happened in the time of Omar bin Abdul Aziz, when government officials would go out on streets to find people in need of charity and there were none! The implementation of Shari’ah must begin at the core. All other attempts lead to injustice and brutality.
Shariah – The Way to God by Khurram Murad
Maqasid al Shariah: The Objectives of Islamic Law by Dr. Mohammad Hashim Kamali
Maqasid Theory by Mashhad Al-Allaf