Islamic Shari’a in Theory and Practice

>Excerpts of the lecture on “Islamic Shari’a in Theory and Practice” presented to the College at Florham Library and PubliMind Poll of Fairleigh Dickinson University, April 5, 2010. The speaker was Professor Gabriel Sawma.. You may see the lecture in its entirety at the following link:

In 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan for the purpose of establishing a communist regime in that country. The following ten years witnessed the death of close to one million people. As a result there were tens of thousands of children who have lost their parents.

The United States, being an adversary to the Soviet Union back then, along with Saudi Arabia, initiated an effort to establish schools for those children in Pakistan. The schools came to be known as “madrassa” an Arabic term, means ‘school’; the etymology of the word is Aramaic “D R SH“; Syriac “madrashto“. The students came to be known as “Taliban” from Arabic ‘talib’, meaning student.

You would think those “Taliban” will study math, physics, geometry, history, etc. None of that happened; instead they were taught how to memorize the Quran. In Islam, there is more emphasis on memorizing the text of the Quran than understanding its meaning. Understanding the meaning of the Quran in Arabic is not an easy task.

The Soviet Union Withdraws from Afghanistan
In 1989, the Soviet Union withdrew its forces. The “Taliban” returned to their country. Another civil war erupted. In 1994, the “Taliban” started their occupation of the the major cities. They commanded, under the leadership of Mulla Umar, that Islamic Shari’a should be the law of the land.

In 1996, the general presidency of Amr Bil Maruf, issued a series of ordinances. Among those are the following:

1- To prevent music.
2- To prevent beard shaving and its cutting. After one and a half months, if anyone observed who has shaved his beard, he will be put under arrest.
3- To prevent keeping pigeons and “playing with birds”.
4- To prevent kite-flying. The kite shops were order to close down.
5- To prevent idolatry by removing any picture displayed. Displaying pictures under the Taliban was prohibited.
6- To prevent gambling.
7- To prevent “the British and American hairstyles.”
8- To prevent the “riba” (i.e. interest rate on loans.)
9- To prevent “washing cloth by young ladies along the water streams in the city. Violators ladies should be picked up with respectful Islamic manner, taken to their houses and their husbands severely punished.”
10- To prevent music and dances in wedding parties. “In the case of violation the head of the family will be arrested and punished.”
11- To prevent “sewing ladies cloth and taking female body measures by tailor. If women or fashion magazines are seen in the shop, the tailor should be imprisoned.”
12- To prevent sorcery. All the related books “should be burnt and the magician should be imprisoned until his repentance.”

The Taliban issued further rules regarding work in the hospitals and clinics. This includes:
1- Female physicians can see female patients. In case a male physician is needed, the female patient should be accompanied by her close relative.
2- Male physicians can check the “affected part of her body” only.
3- Waiting room for female patients should be “safely covered”.
4- At night, male doctors are not allowed to visit female patients, unless the patients request that.
5- Male physicians are not allowed to communicate with female physicians without a “hijab.”
6- Female doctors should wear simple clothes; they are not allowed to wear stylish clothes or use cosmetics or make-up.
7- Female physicians and nurses are not allowed to enter the rooms where male patients are hospitalized.
8- Hospital staff should pray in mosques on time.

All of these rules and regulations were instituted in the name of Islamic Shari’a.

Today, there are several countries whose laws are bound by Islamic Shari’a; they are: Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Sudan. In recent years, Nigeria and Somalia started implementing Islamic Shari’a as well.

What is Islamic Shari’a?
Shari’a is defined by Muslim scholars as “the way” Muslims should live by. It is a “path” like “shiraa'” (i.e. sailing ship.) It is derived from the sacred texts of Islam: The Quran and the Sunnah.

1- The Quran, which is composed of the Revelations descended on the Prophet of Islam begining in 610 AD until his death in 632AD.

2- The Sunnah, which includes the saying and deeds attributed to the Prophet of Islam.

In Sunni Islam, there are 4 Schools of jurisprudence, they are: Hanbali (precursor of the Wahabi), Hanafi, Shafii, and Maliki.

I- The Quran
The etymology of the term is Eastern Syriac “Qiryana“, or Western Syriac “Qiryono” meaning “a reading”, or “call”. The Syriac Orthodox Church still uses the term “qiryono” in its liturgy.

The Quran contains the revelations, which descended on the Prophet of Islam, when he was 40 years old. The revelations descended from Allah (God) through the angel Gabriel (Arabic Jibreel.)

The Quran states that the Prophet of Islam was “ummi” (unlettered.)The final compilation of the Quran occurred under the auspices of the 3rd. caliph, Uthman. This compilation is known as “Musshaf Uthman.”

Muslim scholars believe that the Quran is miraculous because it was revealed to the Prophet who is called “ummi”. The text consists of 114 chapters, each known as “sura”. Some of its chapters were revealed in Mecca, others in Medina. Each “sura” or chapter is formed from several “ayat” (i.e. verses). The number of verses differs from one chapter to another. The script of the modern text differs from the earlier Kufi and Ma’eel scripts, which did not contain the diacriticals or the vowel signs.

The Quran calls for warship of Allah alone, with no partner and no companion and no son. This runs contrary to the Christian belief in the Holy Trinity.

The Quran claims that Christians and Jews have corrupted the texts of the New Testament and the Old Testament without offering evidence to that effect.

The Quran states that those who reject its teachings, will face torment for their disbelief.

It lays down the commands that every Muslim must abide by. It sets obligations on the believers for what to do and what not to do.

The Quran commands the believers to believe in “The Day of Judgment.” It also talks about the tales of previous nations.

It talks about the dress code for women and contains penalties (hudud) for violation of certain norms such as adultery and theft.

It describes the life in Paradise and Hell and sets out conditions for the marriage contracts and divorce.

It prohibits interest rate on loans “riba” and regulates commerce and trade among people.

It abolishes certain trends that were current in the Prophet’s environment in Arabia, such as the burying of infant girls alive.

It abolishes the worship of deities. The worship should be to Allah alone.

It gives specific details on inheritance share among Muslims.

The Quran is considered to be the first source of the Islamic Shari’a. Every single verse constitutes the supreme authority and commandment.

Shi’a Islam

Shi’a Islam on the other hand believe in the Quran and the teachings of the Prophet of Islam and his family, and sometimes, it is referred to as the “School of Ahlul Bayt” (the family of the Prophet, or “Shi’a Ali”. They spread into several branches, prominent among them are:

1- The Twelvers; they believe in the lineage of the Twelve Imams. They believe that the descendants of Muhammad through his daughter Fatima Zahra and his son-in-law Ali are the best source of knowledge about the Quran and Islam. The Twelvers recognize the succession of Ali, Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law and the first man to accept Islam (second only to Muhammad’s wife, Khadija), the male head of the Ahlul Bayt as opposed that of the caliphate recognized by Sunni Muslims. The Twelvers believe that Ali was appointed successor by Muhammad’s direct order on many occasions, and that he is therefore the rightful leader of the Muslim faith. The Twelvers constitute 85% of the Shi’a population. They are mainly in Iran and Lebanon.

2- Zaidi, mainly found in Yemen.

3- Isma’ili, they are found in Kufah (Iraq), Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, India, Yemen, China and Saudi Arabia.

II- The Sunnah
The Sunnah constitutes the sayings and practices attributed to the Prophet of Islam. Those sayings and deeds are recorded in the volumes of Hadith literature. It includes everything the Prophet of Islam said, did, or agreed to.

During his ministry, the Prophet of Islam, his family and companions observed him and shared with others what they had seen in his words, deeds and behaviors. People asked him directly for rulings on various matters, and he would pronounce his judgment.
His sayings and deeds were passed on and recorded in the Hadith literature, which is called the Sunnah. It constitutes the second sacred source of the Islamic Shari’a.

III- Non-Sacred Sources, the Ijma’
Ijma’ is defined as the consensus among Muslim jurists on a particular legal issue. This constitutes the third non-sacred source of the Islamic Shari’a. It has been considered a third source because the Prophet of Islam says in the Sunnah: “My followers will never agree upon an error or what is wrong.”

Sunni jurists consider ijma’ as a source, in matters of legislation, as important as the Quran and Sunnah. While Shi’a jurists, consider ijma’ as source of secondary importance, and a source that is not free from error.

Who is Eligible to Participate in Ijma’ in Sunni Islam?

Hanafi: public agreements of Islamic jurists; Shafii: the agreement of the entire community and public at large; Maliki: the agreement among the residents of Medinat Rassul Allah (i.e. Medina); Hanbali: agreement and practice of Muhammad’s Companions.

IV- Qiyass
This is defined as the analogical deduction. It is the fourth source of Islamic Shari’a in Sunni Islam.

Shi’a jurisprudence do not accept the qiyass; they replace it with reasoning “aql” or “ijtihad.”

When a jurist is confronted with an unprecedented case, he bases his argument on the logic used in the Quran and Sunnah. Jurist’s ruling is not based on arbitrary judgment, but rather the primary sources of the first two elements. Supporters of this 4th element often point to passages in the Quran that describe an application of a similar process by past Islamic communities. In one Hadith, the Prophet is reported as saying: “Where there is no revealed injunction, I will judge amongst you according to reason.”

The qiyass is sanctioned by the ijma’, or consensus, and among the companions of the Prophet of Islam. But Sunni Schools of jurisprudence differ on the importance attached to the qiyass. They express the following opinions: the Hanafi school of thought supports qiyass very strongly; the Shafii accepts qiyass as a valid but weak source of Islamic Shari’a; the Maliki accepts qiyass as a valid source of legislation and added “public good” to the determination.

V- ‘Urf
Referred to as the customs and practices of a given society. ‘Urf is not recognized officially as source of Islamic Shari’a.

Customs that were prevailed during the time of the Prophet of Islam were recognized as source of Islamic Shari’a, provided that Islam did not abrogate those traditions.

‘Urf holds as much authority as ijma’ (consensus) and more than qiyass as long as it does not violate provisions from the Quran or the Sunnah.

Application of the ‘urf is recognized in the Sunni jurisprudence if the tradition under consideration commonly prevails in the region in which it is implemented. Traditions of foreign jurisdictions can not be accepted as ‘urf in aother jurisdictions.

If the ‘urf contradicts Islamic divine texts, the customs are considered illegal and should be disregarded. If ‘urf contradicts a qiyass (analogical deduction), then it is given a preference and must supersede the qiyass.

Shi’a do not consider ‘urf as source of jurisprudence.

Gabriel Sawma, adjunct Professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University, admitted to the Lebanese Bar Association; Associate Member of the New York State Bar and the American Bar Associations. Author of “The Qur’an: Misinterpreted, Mistranslated, and Misread. The Aramaic Language of the Qur’an.” Expert Consultant on Islamic Shari’a in US Courts in matters related to Islamic divorce, Islamic banking and finance.

Email: ; Tel. (609) 915-2237

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