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What is Sharīʿa

بِسۡمِ اللهِ الرَّحۡمٰنِ الرَّحِيۡمِ

The Arabic word Sharīʿis literally translated as “the way to a watering hole”, although it means the Path to be followed, the term itself can be used in a number of contexts. It can be used in the wider sense to refer to the whole of Faith (i.e. Deen), so every part of Islām is Sharīʿor it can be used to refer to Islāmic law in general or part of Islāmic law, thereby, differentiating it from fiqh aspect of Islāmic law. Even when Sharīʿrefers to Islāmic law it has a much wider scope than any ordinary legal system – it covers all aspects of human life. It can be compared in some ways to the Jewish Halakha1 (הֲלָכָה in Hebrew) which is the collective body of Jewish religious law, which provides guidance in religious practices, beliefs and day to day life.

Sharīʿin its strictest definition can be used to refer to Divine law as derived from the Qurʾān and the Sunna of the Prophet Muḥammad (), thereby differentiating it from fiqh, which is the human interpretation, understanding and application of the law. The Sharīʿis an ‘unwritten’ law that does not exist in codified form in a similar manner to English common law, which is also an unwritten law based on principles contained in ancient decisions. Sharīʿcan be thought of as a set of principles from which Islāmic law is derived by the Muslim jurists.

The real and ultimate goal of every Muslim is to get to heaven on the Day of Judgment. In order to achieve this goal, a Muslim must live his life according to the Will of the Almighty and that means living his or her life according to the way of life prescribed by the Almighty for mankind and that way of life is the Sharīʿa. This is why no Muslim who understands his or her purpose in life, who understands religion and what the objective of Sharīʿis, can never truly reject Sharīʿa. Sharīʿis the practical aspect of Islām.

Islām means to submit to the Will of the Almighty. So the purpose, the intent, the objective of the created (i.e. mankind) is to be subservient and submit to the Will of the Creator. The objective of the Creator is the fulfilment of the interests and the well-being of the created in this world and the Hereafter. The purpose of Sharīʿis to match the objective of the Creator with the objective of the created.

So, Sharīʿis not just a religious law that has to be followed, it has a real purpose - to help Muslims achieve their ultimate goal. Sharīʿis there to protect the Faith, the life (and everything pertaining to it), the mind, the progeny, the honour and the property of man. It covers every aspect of life from birth to death.

Sharīʿprovides details and principles of human interaction, which is to be based on fairness, justice, equality, transparency and the pursuit of social harmony. Cleanliness is part of Sharīʿa, how and when to wash yourself is part of Sharīʿa, declaring all the defects of your car when selling it so that a correct price is agreed between the buyer and seller is part of Sharīʿa, obeying the traffic signs, not over speeding in the interest of the public good is part of Sharīʿa, wasting resources is against Sharīʿa, looking after your parents is part of Sharīʿa, visiting the sick is part of Sharīʿa, treating one’s neighbour well is part of Sharīʿa, a person from whom his neighbour is not safe will not enter paradise5, and so on.

Sharīʿalso has a legal system. Within this legal framework the deeds of man are categorised as being obligatory, forbidden, disapproved (but not unlawful), recommended and permitted. In the Western countries, Sharīʿhas been practiced by Muslims ever since they have lived there, it is nothing new, it is only relatively recently that non-Muslims have come across the term itself.


A. Hussain

1Halakha is derived from two sources, namely the Old Testament and the Oral Law. The Oral Law was originally transmitted verbally from generation to generation but has been canonised in the Mishna and the Gemara, commonly known as the Talmud.