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Sources of Muslim Law (Shariah)

The primary sources of Muslim law are the Quran, the Sunnat (the way of the Prophet), the Ijma (consensus of Islamic scholars), and the Qiyas (reasoning by analogy). Other secondary sources are judicial decisions, customs and legislation.

There are following main source of Muslim Law mentioned below:

The Koran

Every word of Koran is that of God, communicated to the Prophet Muhammad through Gabriel (the angle). The Koran is not and does not profess to be a code of law or even a law book. However, it is an extremely important source of Mohammedan law.

 The Koran gave the idea that law is the direct Commandment of Allah.

In Shyara Bano v. Union of India, the court while discussing the sources of Muslim Law or Shariat clarified the primacy of Quran over other sources of Islamic laws. Other sources of Islamic law can be resorted to only when they are not covered by Quran.

Those sources can only supplement Quran but cannot be contradictory to it. If there is nothing in Quran or Hadith, one must follow dictates of secular reason on basis of principles of Shariat.

Shariat means the totality of Allah commandments.

Hadith or Sunnah (Tradition)

  1. Hadith Mutwatir (Continuous) – Men from the categories of Companions, Successors, and Successors of Successors universally accepted and narrated an indefinite number of stories.
  2. Hadith Mashhoor (Well Known)These were reported by a limited number of Companions in the first instance and thereafter fulfilling the conditions of a continuous tradition.
  3. Hadith Ahad (Isolated) – These rest upon the testimony of one or more narrators, who are limited in number; not fulfilling the conditions of either of the above two classes.

The importance of Hadith as an important source of Muslim Law has been laid down in the Koran, emphasised by the Prophet, and has been recognised by his immediate successors and other companion, as well as by scholars and jurists of Mohammedan Law.  

Ijma (Consensus of Opinions)

Ijma has been defined as the agreement of the Muslim jurisconsults in any particular age on a juridical rule. The authority of Ijma as a source of law is founded on Koranic and Sunnah texts.

A few of the important requirements for the validity of Ijma are:

(a)It shall not come into conflict with Koran or Hadith

(b) Once a question is determined by Ijam, it cannot be reopened by individual jurists

(c) One Ijma may be reversed by a subsequent Ijma

(d) When the jurists of an age have expressed only two views on a particular question, a third view is inadmissible.

Qiyas (Analogy)

With the conquests and the expansion of the Islamic State, and as centuries went by, new cases occurred which were not provided for in the Koran, the Sunnah or the Ijma. The jurists found themselves compelled, in seeking solutions, to have recourse to reason, logic and opinion. Analogy thus became the fourth source of the Islamic Law.

Qiyas or analogy is a process of deduction by which the law of a text is applied to cases which though not covered by the language, are governed by the reason of the text.

Equality and the absolute good

These are source of Muslim Law which have their origin in equity or absolute good.

Istihsan (Preference)

In Islamic law, Qiyas stands as a recognized source, not easily overridden. However, when a stronger foundation like a Quranic text, Hadith, or Ijma is present, juristic preference or Istihsan sets aside Qiyas in favor of the ‘stronger basis.

When applying the source of law, Istihsan or preference involves setting aside analogy in favor of a stronger source. Istihsan gave an elasticity and adaptability to Shariah.

Customs and usages

After the advent of Islam, the Koran and tradition took the place of custom, which lost much of its importance. The Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act of 1937 was enacted with the specific aim of abolishing customs that, despite contradicting Muslim Law, had become widespread among Indian Muslims. Custom has thus now little to do with the development of Muslim Law. Though these customs also the source of Muslim Law.

Sunni Schools of Muslim Law

  1. The Hanafi School – This is the most important of the four Schools of the Sunnis. Its founder was the Great Imam Abu Hanifa. The main features of this School are:
  2. Less reliance on traditions unless their authority is beyond any doubt;
  3. Greater reliance on Qiyas;
  4. A little extension of the scope of Ijma; and
  5. Evolving the doctrine of Istihsan, i.e.,applying a rule of law as the special circumstances required.
  6. The Maliki School
  7. The Shafii School
  8. The Hanbali School

ALSO READ: The Negotiable Instruments Act was enacted, in India, in 1881.


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