Islamic Jurisprudence [FIQH]

In linguistic terms, Fiqh means understanding; in Shari'ah terminology it refers to knowledge of the practical Shari'ah rulings, with detailed evidence.

 Islamic Jurisprudence [FIQH]

Islamic jurisprudence may be defined as a process by means of which jurists derive sets guidelines, rules and regulations (the Shari’ah) from the principles of the Qur’an and the Sunnah. Over the centuries, these have been formulated and elaborated upon by successive generations of learned jurists, through interpretation, analogy, consensus and disciplined research.

While the principles of the Qur’an and the Sunnah are permanent, it is the nature of Islamic jurisprudence to facilitate for human beings the application of those principles to their activities and dealings.

The universality and permanence of Islam as a civilisation are intrinsically linked to the fact that the Qur’an and the Sunnah have introduced general principles and guidelines. These give Muslims the opportunity to develop practical solutions in order to regulate their continuous changing environment. Besides the Qur’an and the Sunnah, the sources of law in Islam are qiyas (analogy), ijma’ (consensus) and ijtihad (disciplined, academic research).

Early Shari’ah

Early shariah had a much more flexible character, and many modern Muslim scholars believe that it should be renewed, and that the classical jurists should lose special status. This would require formulating a new fiqh suitable for the modern world, e.g. as proposed by advocates of the Islamisation of knowledge, and would deal with the modern context.

Basic Terms in Fiqh [Islamic Jurisprudence]


Linguistically, Fiqh implies having knowledge in depth. 
As a juristic term, Fiqh has two meanings:

A. Having the knowledge of the rulings of Shariah (Islamic Law) which are extracted from the legislative sources. As an example, a Faqih would know the ruling for the issue of abortion; in addition, he would know how and from where this ruling was extracted.

B. All the Islamic laws. This definition is synonymous to the term Shariah.

Usul al Fiqh is the collection of principles pertaining to the methodology for the extraction of Fiqh. The concept of Usul al Fiqh is comparable to adhering to a methodology when conducting a scientific experiment. Similarly, adhering to a methodology in deriving Fiqh (rulings) is referred to as Usul al Fiqh. This methodology provides a way for a person to derive Islamic rulings from the legislative sources in Islam. The collection of principles related to Usul al Fiqh is many:

A. Legislative Sources: Adopting specific sources to derive laws is a major subject in Usul al Fiqh. The Quran, Sunnah, Ijma as Sahabah (consensus of the companions), and Qiyas (analogical deduction) are four sources in Islam, which are accepted by almost all of the scholars. However, there are other additional sources such as Maslaha al Mursalah (benefit) or Ijma al Ummah (consensus of the Ummah), which are not widely accepted.

B. Arabic Language: Within the Arabic language, there are rules for understanding the structure of an Ayah or Hadith. The rules of grammar in the Arabic language define the meaning of the Ayah or Hadith. Therefore, understanding the rules of grammar and their application is one use of the Arabic language in Usul al Fiqh.

C. Interpreting the text of Quran and Sunnah: Unless the text of the Quran and Sunnah is correctly understood, no ruling can be deduced from it. The linguistic structure of the text in Quran and Sunnah varies from one style to another. Some examples of these linguistic styles are: Thanniy (speculative text), Qatai (definitive text), Amm (general text), Khass (specific text), Haqiqi (literal text), and Majaazi (metaphorical text). The rules to distinguish and differentiate between these styles is an important subject in Usul al Fiqh.

Another essential aspect involved in interpreting the text of the Quran and Sunnah are issues surrounding abrogation of rulings from the Quran and Sunnah. The study of abrogation involves issues such as, what constitutes abrogation, how to understand it in relation to other Ayahs or Ahadith, and how to reconcile these differences. Some Muslims claim there is no need for Usul al Fiqh, thinking one can directly go to the text of the Quran and Sunnah and derive laws. Such a claim really illustrates the ignorance in understanding Islam. It is impossible to derive laws without being equipped with the necessary tools. These tools enable us to understand the text of the Quran and Sunnah, and without understanding the text, one would not be able to extract laws. As an example, without being aware of the rules of Arabic grammar for interpreting the text of Quran and Sunnah, one would not be able to differentiate whether the command in the Ayah or Hadith for a certain action is Haram (forbidden) or Makruh (undesirable). Therefore, Usul al Fiqh is a definite prerequisite to derive rulings.

Since rulings are derived based on Usul al Fiqh, a variation in Usul al Fiqh may result in different rulings. This is one of the reasons that there might exist more than one ruling on some issues. The end product of Usul al Fiqh is Shariah (or Fiqh). The difference between Usul al Fiqh and Shariah is that the latter is concerned with the rulings related to our actions, and Usul al Fiqh is concerned with the methodology applied to deduce such rulings.

The linguistic meaning of the word Shariah is a non-exhaustive source of water from which people satisfy their thirst. Thus, the linguistic significance of Shariah is that the Islamic laws are effectively a source of guidance. As water is the fundamental basis for life, the Islamic laws are an essential source for guiding human life. Shariah is composed of all the laws derived from the legislative sources of Islam. These laws are not just limited to areas covering marriage or divorce; rather, the Islamic laws cover every action performed by an individual or a society. The term Shariah is also a synonym for Fiqh.

The Application of Shariah is not only limited to areas covering divorce or marriage. It covers the relationship between Man and Allah (swt), Man and Himself, and Man and Man. In addition, to the method for applying these rules, implementing any rule requires having the knowledge of the situation, the rule, and the method. As an example, there is a general principal in Islam that a thief’s hand should be cut off. However, if the individual steals food while hungry, then this general principal is not applied in this particular situation. Consequently, the knowledge of how and when to apply a rule is obligatory.

A misapplication of the Shariah is applying the Islamic laws related to Hudud (punishment) while at the same time implementing an economic system based on capitalism. Islamic laws related to punishment were revealed to protect the society in which Islam is being applied.

The implementation of the Islamic rules related to the economy necessitates the implementation of the rules of Zakah, Nafaqah, and Al-Jizyah, which in turn means the implementation of the economic system. The execution of the economic system requires the implementation of the Ibadaah, social system, rules related to the People of the Book, Islamic foreign policy, and rules related to the Khalifah all together. The Islamic system is inter-connected; one part helps the implementation of the other part.

The text of both Quran and Sunnah address many topics such as, stories of previous Ummahs, the Day of Judgment, and others. However, the text which specifically addresses our actions of what to do or what not to do is referred to as Hukm Sharii. The term Hukm Sharii, in Arabic, means the address of the Legislator related to our actions.

Types of Hukm Sharii
Not all commands in the legislative sources are Fard (compulsory) or Haram (prohibited). The rules which are used to differentiate the types of Hukm Sharii are again related to Usul al Fiqh. In reality, the Hukm Sharii can be understood in five general ways.

A. Fard (compulsory): If the request to do an action is decisive (Talab Jazim) then it is a Fard or Wajib; both have the same meaning.

B Haram (prohibited): If the instruction is connected with a decisive command of refraining from an action then it is Haram.

C. Mandub, Sunnah or Nafilah (recommended): If the instruction to do an action is not firm, then it is considered Mandub, The one who performs it is praised and rewarded; however, the one who abstains from it is neither blamed nor punished.

D. Makruh (disliked): If the instruction of refraining from an action is not firm, then it is considered Makruh. The one who abstains is praised and rewarded while the one who does it is neither punished nor blamed.

F. Mubah (permissible): If the choice to do or not to do an action is left up to the person, then the action is called Mubah. One will neither be rewarded nor punished for an action falling under this category.

Does the Shariah Apply on Non-Muslims?

Allah (swt) says: We have sent you not but as a mercy for all creatures.' [Al - Anbiyya: 1071]

'We have sent you but as a Messenger to all mankind, giving them glad tidings, and warning them against sin, but most men know not.' [Saba: 107]

These Ayah are very clear that the Prophet (saaw) was sent for the whole of humanity and not just for the Muslims. Furthermore, the Prophet (saaw) applied Islam on the non-Muslims in the Islamic State. Thus, the non-Muslims were subjected to the same Islamic System of ruling, economics, punishments, and judicial processes as Muslims were without any discrimination. However, the performance of prayer, fasting, etc., are only accepted from the Muslims since the prerequisite for performing these acts of Ibadah (worship) is to be a Muslim. Finally, based on Islam, the Non-Muslims are allowed to practice their own religion, marital, and divorce affairs according to their beliefs. Furthermore, they are treated in the matters of food and clothing according to their religion, within the rules of the Shariah.

Linguistically, Daleel means a proof, indication, or an evidence. As a term, Daleel means the source or evidence for a thought, concept, or a ruling. Any law or ruling must have a Daleel, which can be from Quran, Sunnah, or a source, which Quran and Sunnah directed us to adopt.

Structure of a Daleel

A Daleel is an evidence for an opinion, concept, ruling, or a thought from Islam. There are two aspects related to any Daleel, Riwayah (reportage) and Dalalah (meaning). The Riwayah covers issues related to how the information was relayed to us, which includes the number and the integrity of reporters. The Dalalah is related to the meaning of the text in the Daleel.

Any Ayah from the Quran or Hadith Mutawatir is considered Qatai (conclusive) in its Riwayah (report). The Qatai in Riwayah implies that the evidence is authentic without any shadow of doubt. If the text of Quran, Hadith Mutawatir or Hadith Ahad is clear, specific, and has only one meaning, then it is considered Qatai. The text of a Qatai Daleel has to have only one meaning and cannot be open to any other interpretation.

Quran is derived from the word Qara’a, which means to read or recite. The term “in Arabic” refers to the language of the Quran, not to its scope or its ideas because Quran addresses all Arabs and non -Arabs. The rules of Quran are universal and not restricted to one ethnic group or a specific area or time.

Sunnah, linguistically, means a path or a way. As a juristic term “Sunnah” has different meanings to various disciplines of the Islamic culture. Sunnah refers to all that is narrated from the Prophet (saaw), his acts, his sayings, whatever he has tacitly approved, and all the reports which describe his physical attributes and character. Sunnah thus refers to another source of Shariah along with the Quran.

Ahadith is the record of the Sunnah conveying the sayings, actions (deeds and practices), or the approvals of the Prophet (saaw). Different types of Ahadith exist due to the method of transmission, number of reporters in each class, and the authenticity of the Hadith.

Hukm Sharii are the rulings of Allah (swt) addressing our actions. These rulings are derived from certain sources. The sources which are used to extract rulings have to be based on Adilla Qataiya (Decisive evidences). As an example, to have Ijma as Sahabah (Consensus of the Companions) as a source to extract laws, the concept of Ijma as Sahabah must be based upon Qatai Daleel. Thus, even though not all the laws extracted from Ijma as Sahabah have to be Qatai, the concept itself must be. The four sources of Hukm Sharii, Quran, Sunnah, Ijma as Sahabah, and Qiyas will be discussed respectively. These sources are agreed upon by the majority of the scholars.

Using Quran to extract rulings indicates adherence to the Message. There are many Ayah in the Quran which state that the Quran is a source of ruling, guidance and knowledge.

We have sent down to you the book in truth, that you may rule between men, as guided by Allah, so be not (used) as an advocate by those who betray their trust.’ [An-Nisa: 105]

Sunnah is a legislative source along with the Quran, and the Quran cannot be understood without the application of Sunnah.

Ijma is the verbal noun of the Arabic word Ajmaa, which has two meanings:

1) to determine
2) to agree upon something.

There are many types of Ijma discussed in the books of Usul al Fiqh. Some of these being, Ijma al Ummah, Ijma al Mujtahideen, Ijma ahiel Bayet, Ijma al Madinah and ljma as Sahabah.

The linguistic meaning of Qiyas is measurement. As a juristic term Qiyas is the extension of a Shariah ruling from an original case to a new case because of the equivalence of the causes underlying them (lila).

There are specific guidelines and requirements for Qiyas explained in the books of Usul al Fiqh. One such guideline is that there should be no existing ruling from the Quran, Sunnah, and Ijma as Sahabah for the new case.

Some of the other requirements for Qiyas are that the original ruling has to be from Quran, Sunnah, and Ijma as Sahabah, not from another Qiyas. In addition, the texts of the Quran, Sunnah, and Ijma as Sahabah must contain the justification for the ruling. We cannot use our Aql (intellect) to come up with a cause (lila).

Istihsan literally means to approve or to do something preferable. As a juristic term, Istihsan is defined as shifting from one Qiyas to another Qiyas due to a reason or suspending a Qiyas for a reason. A Mujtahid may take into consideration any of these options.

A. Istihsan by Qiyas – switching from a ruling of Qiyas to an other ruling of Qiyas due to a stronger reason.

B. Istihsan by necessity – shifting to another Qiyas due to necessity.

C. Istihsan by Sunnah – Canceling the Qiyas due to a contradiction caused by the Hadith

D. Istihsan by Ijma as Sahabah – canceling a ruling from Qiyas due to a contradiction caused by the Ijma as Sahabah

Literally, Maslaha means benefit or interest. As a juristic term Maslaha Mursalah refers to accepting public interest in the absence of ruling regarding an issue from the Quran or Sunnah.

Types of Maslaha Al Mursalah

A. Maslaha canceled by the text – Maslaha (interest) which is canceled due to a ruling from the text. 

B. Maslaha approved by the Shariah – Benefit which the Shariah doesn’t forbid. 

C. Adopting Maslaha (benefit) in an action for which there is no ruling from Quran and Sunnah.

There is no debate amongst the Ulema on the first two types of Maslaha al Mursalah. But there is disagreement regarding the third type of Maslaha. Some have accepted it within specific requirements while others have rejected it outright.

Ijtihad is derived from the root word Jahada. Linguistically, it means striving or self exertion in any activity which entails a measure of hardship. As a juristic term, Ijtihad means exhausting all of one’s efforts in studying a problem thoroughly and seeking a solution for it from the sources of Shariah.

A person who performs Ijtihad is a Mujtahid (pl. mujtahideen); whereas, a person who knows the rules of Shariah in detail, but is unable to extract rules directly from their sources, is not a Mujtahid but rather a Faqih, Mufti, or a Qaadi.

The text of Quran and Sunnah which are Qatai (conclusive) in meaning provide only one understanding. Any Ijtihad on these types of text will render only one meaning. The texts related to issues such as Riba or murder are clear in their prohibition of these things.

No Mujtahid can claim that Riba or murder is allowed because the text only offers one meaning. Finally, he must have a comprehensive knowledge of the issue on which Ijtihad is being performed. To extract any ruling one has to understand the subject thoroughly. If the Mujtahid doesn’t understand an issue, he is not allowed to do Ijtihad regardless of where he lives. To understand the issue, the Mujtahid can go to experts. For instance, there might be an issue in genetic engineering. To understand the process of genetic engineering, the Mujtahid can go to an expert in this field. Therefore, these criteria are enough to qualify one to do Ijtihad, and it is incorrect to say that each issue requires the Mujtahid to reside in that environment. The Mujtahid can reside anywhere and do Ijtihad as long as he is familiar with the issue being dealt with. If the Mujtahid is not familiar with the issue, he is not allowed to do Ijtihad, even if the issue occurs in the same environment that the Mujtahid is residing in.

The word Madhab means “school of Fiqh”. The following are some of the reasons for the existence of Madhahib (schools of Fiqh):

Differences in the Legislative Sources

A. Criteria in evaluating the Sunnah One Mujtahid may consider a certain Hadith authentic while others may not. This is due to their differences in the criteria for judging the authenticity of the Hadith.

B. Differences in the Sahabah’s (raa) opinions as individuals. Some scholars accepted the opinion of one Sahabi as a legislative source, while others treated the Sahabah (raa) as Mujtahids whose individual opinions were not legally binding.

C. Differences in the practice of Qiyas. Some scholars practiced Qiyas while others practiced Istihsan

D. Differences in Ijma (Consensus of Opinion) Some scholars used Ijma as-Sahabah, while others used Ijma Ahlil-Madinah (People of Madinah), Ijma Al-Mujtahideen, and various other types of Ijma.

E. Differences in other legislative sources Some Scholars used Maslaha Mursalah while others did not. This contributed to more differences among the scholars.

Differences in interpreting the text itself

A. Literalists Some scholars took the literal understanding of the text, meaning that they took the text at its surface value, refusing to take deeper understandings. Some of these scholars were called Zahiris, or those who took only the apparent meanings of the texts.

B. Those who saw hidden meanings in the text In addition to the apparent meaning, some Scholars took deeper and implicit meanings in the texts.

Differences in Methodology of Usul-Fiqh
There were differences in interpreting the forms and types of commands. For example, in the Hadith regarding the beard, there is a difference of opinion among the Scholars regarding whether the Hadith indicates Fard, Mandub, or Mubah commands.

Differences in Understanding the Arabic Language
This may be due to a different understanding of the Arabic text where it offers more than one meaning.

Main Schools of Islamic Jurisprudence

The Shari’ah is based on the Qur’an and the sayings and practices of Prophet Mohammad. In all the circumstances where the explicit command is provided, it is faithfully provided but there have been many areas which are not covered by these sources and as a result, the great scholars had themselves devised their interpretation of what should be done in such a situation.

As these scholars provided their interpretations (Qiyas) regarding the Shari’ah of Islamic laws that led to various opinions among many of them and out of such difference, different schools of Islamic thought originated. Each school has its own explanation and reasons for their interpretation and it has at times led to conflict in judgments.

The schools that originated in different places had some impact on their decisions and methods.

In the early Islamic periods the Governors would appoint qadis to judge the subjects of their newly acquired territories. They had to base their decisions on the Qur’an and act according to what they knew to be the Sunnah (sayings, teachings and practices of the Prophet Muhammad), but when none of these sources were available, they had to judge themselves, whatever seemed right to them personally. This usually included considerations of what was customary in the area. Judgment based on own opinion became common practice of the early jurists, and a system of logic to support the decisions was being formed. 

There are different approaches to the methodology used in fiqh to derive sharia from the Islamic sources. The main methodologies are:

  • The four classical Sunni schools are, in chronological order: the Hanafi school, the Maliki school, the Shafi’i school and the Hanbali school. They represent the generally accepted Sunni authority for Islamic jurisprudence. 
  • Other schools are the Zaidi, Jafari, Zahiri, Sufian Al’thawree, Sufian bin O’yayna, Layth bin Sa’ad, Tabari and Qurtubi.
  • Jafari fiqh, or the Shi’ah fiqh

The four classical schools of Sunni Islam

The four schools (or Mahdab) of Sunni Islam are each named by students of the classical jurist who taught them. The Sunni schools (and where they are commonly found) are

  • Hanafi (Turkey, Pakistan, the Balkans, Central Asia, Indian subcontinent, Afghanistan, China and Egypt)
  • Maliki (North Africa, the Muslim areas of West Africa, and several of the Arab states of the Persian Gulf)
  • Shafi’i (Arabia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Maldives, Egypt, Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Yemen and southern parts of India)
  • Hanbali (Arabia).

These four schools share most of their rulings, but differ on the particular hadiths they accept as authentic and the weight they give to analogy or reason (qiyas) in deciding difficulties.

The Hanafi school: was the earliest founded under the jurist Imam Abu Hanifa (700-768), whose real name was Nu’man ibn Thabit, was born in the city of Kufa (modern day Iraq).The Hanafi school based its rulings largely on the results of logic deduction of its scholars. 

The Maliki school: was founded under Imam Malik (713-797), whose real name was Abu Abdullah Malik bin Anas, in Madinah which reflects the origin in its decisions too. The Maliki school ruled heavily in favour of the practice of the local community of Madinah, where the immediate descendants of the Prophet Muhammad’s followers lived. 

The Shafi’i school: was founded under Imam Ash-Shafi’i ((767-820) who was the first one to systematise Islamic law. Originally, he studied both in Iraq and in Madinah, but disagreed with the methodology of those older schools, in favour of the Traditionists, but did not fully accept their ideas either. In his tractate, the “Risala”, balancing the two trends, he laid down the sources of Law, Usul al-Fiqh and his system had become the basis of Islamic jurisprudence that was subsequently used by all the schools. He fixed the four components (in order of priority) to be:

A. The Qur’an

B. The Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad

C. Ijma (consensus of the Umma – Muslim community)

D. Qiyas, (reasoning by analogy), but also istihsan. 

The Hanbali school: was founded under Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal (781-856), who had followed Shafi’i school method with ever greater emphasis on the ahadith, avoiding reasoning as far as possible, but not completely denying it.

These four Sunni schools provide Muslims with diverse legal perspectives and interpretations within the framework of Islam. While they differ in some aspects of legal methodology and approach, they share a common foundation in the Qur’an and Hadith and aim to guide the community in matters of worship, personal conduct, family law and other legal issues. Muslims follow these schools based on their geographical location, cultural heritage, and scholarly guidance. The schools continue to evolve as scholars engage in legal reasoning and adapt the principles of Islam to contemporary contexts.

The Schools of Shia Islam

Other schools of thought developed following the division in Islam between the Sunnis who focus on following the example of Prophet Muhammad and the Shi’as who focus on the lineage of Muhammad’s family through a series of Imams believed to hold a Divine position as Prophet Muhammad’s successors. However, Sunni and Shia Muslims both share many central beliefs in Islam, and accept the Qur’an and Prophet Muhammad. Among the Shia schools of thought the best known is the Jafari school of thought.

Jafari school of thought of Shi’a Islam: was founded by Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (702-765). the sixth Imam of the Shi’a Islam and a scholar of jurisprudence, He was known to be the most knowledgeable of his time in the Qur’an, Hadith (traditions), and other religious sciences. He once said, “Do not accept any Hadith supposedly narrated by us except that which is in harmony with the Qur’an and the Sunnah, or if you find in it a witness (to the meaning) from an earlier narration.” Hadith, according to the Jafari school of thought, are accepted only if the Qur’an verifies them.

Imam Jafar also made great contributions to Fiqh and Hadith. The Fiqh of Imam Jafar is considered to be one of the Fiqh from the Sunnah.

The fatwas, or time and space bound rulings of early jurists, are taken rather more seriously in this school, due to the more hierarchical structure of Shi’ah Islam, which is ruled by the Imams. But they are also more flexible, in that every jurist has considerable power to alter a decision according to his opinion. The Jafari school uses ‘aql “intellect” instead of qiyas in the Sunni schools, when establishing Islamic laws.

Islamic Jurisprudence and Finance 

“In Islam, finance, like all domains of human activity, is regulated by a set of guidelines and rules primarily introduced by the Qur’an and Sunnah.” Then, according to Dr Osama Mohamed Ali, an eminent Islamic jurist, “These were subsequently elaborated and developed by qualified jurists; hence the importance of jurisprudence in this specific area.”

Since Islam introduced general concerning the subject of finance centuries ago, contemporary legislators are responsible for organising this area of human activity by interpreting those principles and finding practical applications for them in the modern context. It is only in this manner that they will be able to establish the relevance of the guidelines set out in the Qur’an and the Sunnah.

Also see Shari’ah Rulings in Islamic Finance

Islamic Fiqh Academy

The Islamic Fiqh Academy is an Academy for advanced study of Islam based in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. It was created at the decision of the second summit of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) 1974 and inaugurated in February 1988.


UOLLB First Class Law Notes

Jafari School of Thought