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Fiqh and Shari’ah
The Evolution of Fiqh
For a proper understanding of the historical development of Islamic law, the terms Fiqh and Sharee’ah need to be defined. Fiqh has been loosely translated into English as “Islamic law” and so has Sharee’ah, but these terms are not synonymous either in the Arabic language of to the Muslim scholar.
Fiqh literally means, the true understanding of what is intended. An example of this usage can be found in the Prophet Muhammad’s statement: “To whomsoever Allaah wishes good, He gives the Fiqh (true understanding) of the Religion”.1 Technically, however, Fiqh refers to the science of deducing Islamic laws from evidence found in the sources of Islamic law. By extension it also means the body of Islamic laws so deduced.
Sharee’ah, literally means, a waterhole where animals gather daily to drink, or the straight path as in the Qur’anic verse:
“Then we put you on a straight path (Sharee’ah) in you affairs, so follow it and do not follow the desires of those who have no knowledge.”2
Islamically, however it refers to the sum total of Islamic laws which were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (SW.), and which are recorded in the Qur’aan as well as deducible from the Prophet’s divinely-guided lifestyle (called the Sunnah).3
From the previous two definitions, the following three differences may be deduced:
Sharee’ah is the body of revealed laws found both in the Qur’aan and in the Sunnah, while Fiqh is a body of laws deduced from Sharee’ah to cover specific situations not directly treated in Sharee’ah law.
Sharee’ah is fixed and unchangeable, whereas Fiqh changes according to the circumstances under which it is applied.
The laws of Sharee’ah are, for the most part, general: they lay down basic principles. In contrast, the laws of Fiqh tend to be specific: they demonstrate how the basic principles of Sharee’ah should be applied in given circumstances.
In this book on the evolution of Fiqh the term “Islamic Law” will be used to mean the laws of Sharee’ah and the laws of Fiqh combined. The terms Fiqh or Laws of Fiqh and Sharee’ah or Law of Sharee’ah will be used where a distinction seems necessary.
At the end of this book there is a glossary of Arabic terms and their plurals used in this book. In the text of this book the English plural is used except in cases where the Arabic plural is more widely known. For example, Muslims is used instead of Muslimoon and Soorahs instead of Suwar.
Reported by Mu‘aawiyah and collected by al-Bukhaaree (Sahih AlBukhari (Arabic-English), vol.4, pp. 223-4, no.346), Muslim, (Abdul Hamid Siddiqi, Sahih Muslim (English Trans.), (Beirut: Dar al-Arabia, n.d.), vol.3, p. 1061, no.4720), at Tirmidhee and others.
Soorah al-Jaathiyah (45): 18.
Muhammad Shalabee, all-Madkhal fee at-Ta’reef bil-fiqh al-Islaamee, (Beirut: Daar an-Nahdah al-Arabeeyah, 1969), p. 28.