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Islam is the religion of the Muslims. It is the youngest of the world's major religions. Its roots are traceable to the same Abrahamic tradition of Judaism and Christianity. However, Islam is not merely a religion, as in the Western sense. Islam is a unified way of life, crossing both religion and secular life, from the percepts and principles of right and wrong to the system of law, government and economic life.

Islam teaches that Allah is the Lawgiver and that His precepts and the laws or Shari'a provides the path to Allah. The Shari'a also provides to Allah's people the directions for the interpretation and expansion of the Law.

There are four classifications of sources of the Shari'a: the Qur'an, the Sunnah, the Ijma, and the Qiyas. The Shari'a in these four sources aims to regulate the relationship of man with His creator, and among men.

The Noble Qur'an contains the revelations of Allah. It is the Book of Allah sent through the last of the Prophets, Muhammad. The Qur'an:
  • Contains the knowledge imparted by Allah and the guidance for all righteous men (2:145)
  • Is the declaration of the truth and the light to show the right path (2: 138, 4:4)
  • Is the wise (10:1), the complete exhortation (10:57), and the clear message (14:52)
  • Is a rope to Allah, and by holding unto it, individuals and nations are saved (3:108)
  • Is the remedy for all the spiritual aliments of men (17:82)
  • Is the constant reminder for all that Prophets will not come anymore for our guidance (21 :50)
  • Acts as criterion to choose between the truth and the falsehood (25:1)
  • Is an embodiment of the fairest statements and Divine words of wisdom (54:5, 65:6)
  • Provides a code of conduct for every believer (69:48)
  • Is the commandment and a warrant for believers (43:1-2)
  • Its injunctions are manifest (43:4), sublime (85:21) and blessed (21:50)
"The process of revelation of various injunctions (Ahkam) of the Qur'an shows that the revelation came down when some social, moral or religious necessity arose, or when some Companions consulted the Prophet concerning some significant problems which had wide repercussions on the lives of Muslims" (Doi:1984). Tafsir or the exegesis of the Qur'an was made therefore to make the injunctions of the Qur'an clearer to the people of Allah. Sahaba or the companions of the Prophet Mohammad provided commentaries on the Qur'an and these are included in the Tafsirs. Tafsir is called a science that deals with studying and understanding the Book of Allah. There are a few scholars of Tafsir. They have in each of their own ways provided injunctions and passed them to their Tabi'un or successors or followers. With these, three main schools of the Qur'anic Commentary developed:
  • The Makka that learned from 'Abdallah lbn 'Abbas (considered the rabbi of the community, the interpreter of the Qur'an and the Sea during his time, as well as most knowledgeable in the Qur'an and its messages among the companions of the Prophet);
  • That of Iraq which recognized Ibn Mas'ud as its main authority, and duly considered the rest of the companions ('Adballah bin Mas'ud was considered one of the most knowledgeable companions, given his constant pursuit and study of the Word);
  • The Madina, the first capital of the Islamic Caliphate.

Tafsir writing has gone on up to this date around the world, and in different languages.

There are two kinds of Tafsir: AI Tafsir Bil Ma'thur, which are the first books of this class and the AI Tafsir Bil Ma'qul Wa Bil Darayah wherein commentators rely much on their own intellectual reasoning and initiative to interpret the verses of the Qur'an. The latter takes into several forms as well, due to the sheer number and differences of leanings of its writers: (a) The Linguistic Tafsir; (b) The Sufi or Philosophical Interpretations; (c) AI-Israiliyyat, which is based on the explanations and narrations received from Jews converted to Islam on the stories of the Qur'an; (d) Commentaries on the Verses of Injunctions; and (e) Commentary through narration or proof.

Nonetheless, the Qur'an serves as the best Tafsir of itself. It has two elements, those which are fundamental or have established meaning and allegories. Parts of the Qur'an specify and define commandments of Allah while parts of it explain or help explain Allah's guidelines. Those of allegorical meaning are provided but not understood by just anyone, and is known to Allah alone. Much interpretation is provided on these meanings and may be incfuded in the Tafsirs that follow.

The Qur'an therefore as Tafsir and body of legal injunctions or Ahkam, forms the source of Shari'a. The verses of the Qur'an are generally classified accordingly:

  • Those, which teach mankind through the remembrance of the gifts of Allah.
  • Those, which teach mankind through the remembrance of various happenings, incidents, etc.
  • Those, which teach mankind through the remembrance of death and Eschatology.
  • Those, which teach mankind the injunctions of the Qur'an.
The Qur'anic injunctions from which the Shari'a is derived, is further explained and translated into practice by the Sunnah. Sunnah literally means a way, practice, rule of life; and refers to the exemplary conduct of the model behavior of the Prophet in what he said, did and approved. Thus the Sunnah is second in authority to the Holy Qur'an. The Hadith is called the "store room" of the Sunnah of the Prophet, for all the events, actions and teachings are taken together as a Tafsir of the Qur'an. The Hadith literature therefore, is the apostolic precept and example on the duty of man, the basis for the system of law, theology and customs which is Islam (Doi:1 984).

Thus the Shari'a clearly comes from the Sunnah or the Book called Hadith. Shari'a herein described means "Islamic Theology". Hadith is derived from "Hadatha" which means a tale or verbal communication of any kind, in its broadest sense.

The Qur'an especially provides guidance from Allah for man to live a decent and refined life. It is full of life and details; however, Fatawa (religious decision or legal opinion) and Traditions and the Hadith, Ijma and Qiyas are developed to supply what is not specified under the Qur'an.

The life of Muhammad, which is contained in the Hadith, is imitated and Muslims followed his examples. A record of all his decisions, his answers to formal inquiries, and all that he said, did, and what he kept silent about are compiled in Hadith. These were passed on through text and through Isnad or transmitters who passed Traditions by mouth. The Isnads were recorded in the Asma al-Rijal, which contains the name of men who passed on traditions. One of, if not, the earliest collections of traditions is the Musnad.

Traditions of Hadith were recorded according to their subject matter under the heading of law books. The Isnad and the text are of equal importance for Muslims. Thus they have set principles for criticizing Isnads and texts. There are Hadith that were rejected for non-compliance with principles set.
It is necessary that these principles be appreciated in order that the different schools and different sects of Muslims can be understood. The Hadith is extremely important to Muslims because the Traditions of the Prophet lay down the precepts and laws to be followed, second to the Qu'ran. In fact, there is a very lengthy list of Hadith scholars that helped in the growth of Islamic jurisprudence and, as such, formed the basis of Shari'a throughout the world.

The ijma is the consensus of the opinions of the learned men and the jurists. To arrive at an ijma Juristic reasoning or the ljtihad is normally conducted. Ijma is the consensus of the Ulama based on the Book of Allah, the instructions of the Prophet, and the actions, demonstrations and preaching as well as speeches of the prophet. There are three broad categories of the Ijma: the verbal consensus of opinion, the consensus of opinion on an action, and the silent consensus. Another subdivision of Ijma is that of regular (Jurist does something and the rest of the Jurists does not challenge him) and irregular (wherein one or more Jurists question the action of a Jurist) consensus of opinions.

The qualifications of the Jurists who can sanction the Ijma are a point of contention. According to some Jurists, only the Companions of the Prophet can sanction the Ijma. The Shi'ites on the other hand believe that Ijma can only be sanctioned by the descendants of Ali (son-in-law and cousin of Muhammad) and Fatimah (daughter of the Prophet). Imam Malik argues on the other hand that the Ijma can only be sanctioned by the Jurists of Madinah. Hanifah school argues lastly that the Ijma can be sanctioned by any qualified Jurist regardless of where he lives, or the sect where he belongs.

The Qiyas or analogical deductions give an instrument to cope with the growing needs and requirements of society, while the Isitihsan or juristic preferences or equity of a jurist as against Qiyas, helps in providing elasticity and adaptability to the entire Islamic legal system. There are many contentions as well on the Qiyas. There are Muslims, like the mu'tazilites, who are anti-Qiyas, stating that Qur'an is provided as guidance, that the Qur'an is the only source and that Qiyas is not acceptable. Pro Qiyas Muslims on the other hand argue that according also to the Hadith of the Prophet and the Qur'an, individual judgment on matters not mentioned in the Qur'an and Sunnah can be rendered. The Shi'ites, as in other sects apply Qiyas but have a different name for it (aql and ra'y).

Ijtihad is the use of human reason to arrive at an elaboration or exploration of the Shari'a Law. Ijithad however cannot be made on the existence of Allah, the truism or Prophethood of Muhammad and other prophets, and on the authenticity of the Qu'ran. Ijtihad starts with the principles of the Qur'an, Sunnah, or Ijma and cannot be used to achieve that which contradicts a rule established therein. Qiyas and Ijtihad are accepted by most Muslims especially the four schools of Sunni to determine the Juristic basis for reasoning on issues that have original subjects; with an object of the analogy, being a new subject; where there exists effective cause common to both subjects; and where there is a rule arrived at by Qiyas.

A Mujtahid or jurist is one who is well versed in the Qur'an and the reasons why the verses and chapters were revealed; well versed in the study of traditions of the Prophet Muhammad; knowledgeable on the principles of Ijma and on the injunctions of the Qiyas and conditions surrounding it. A Mujtahid is also required to possess certain good character such as being a practicing Muslim, pious and law-abiding, not influenced by the hereticals, and just, reliable, trustworthy and pure of iniquitous practices. A Mujtahids is therefore one who is able or allowed to Ijitihad. Mujtahids are classified as those who were the companions of the Prophet, who did Ijtihad and later founded schools of jurisprudence, and following the two former Mujtahids of the present day who give Fatawa or Juristic opinions on religious matters. The Shi'ites however believe the Ijtihad is a prerogative of their Imams alone.

The concept of Istislah, Istihsan or al-Masalih al Mursalah (the matters which are in public interest and which are not specifically defined in the Shari'a) was enunciated by Malik bin Anas and other school of thought has also become a part of the Shari'a system. Only one school of the four Sunni schools does not recognize the Istislah as a source. However, it is argued that the principle of public welfare and general interest in the decision made by the Jurists is considered in the Qiyas, even in the analogical reasoning employed by the Shams.

Istishab literally means legal presumption. It includes the rule of evidence, or the presumption that a state of affair known to exist still continues until it is proven otherwise. This is as well a source of Islamic Jurisprudence as a subsidiary source of the Shari'a. The presumption of innocence until proven guilty adopted by most courts is applied through this.

Urf or Adat or customs are recognized by all schools of Jurisprudence in Islam, as long as they do not violate the provisions of the Qu'ran and the Sunnah.

Accordingly, three sects of Muslims evolved because of the disagreements that manifested as religious disagreements, resentment of the power held by the third Caliph, and business rivalries between factions of prominent families and aristocracies. The war ended with a new dynasty of Caliphs who ruled Damascus.

One of the sects that were formed is the Sunni, the largest division of Muslim. Sunni translates to "the people of Sunnah" in Arabic. The Sunnah is the custom, method, path or example of the Prophet Muhammad as stated in the Hadith. The Shi'a Islam is said to have emerged from the Sunni Islam. Most of their precepts are the same.

Shi'a Muslims are the followers of a particular school of Islamic thought, commonly referred to as ahl al-bayt or the family of the Holy Prophet. The Shi'a Muslims believe that shortly before the Prophet Muhammad's death, he publicly nominated his cousin and son-in-law 'Ali to be his successor. Such that, when the rival claims for the caliphate occurred, all other than 'Ali, the Shi'ites considered illegitimate. 'Ali was made caliphate only after two caliphs ruled. Rebellion followed, opposing 'Ali and this formed the first major schism in Islamic history. Shi'a Islam in the next years, when the Umayyads passed on the Caliphate through the ages down through their family, held their own separate Islamic community in Iraq that did not recognize the authority of the Umayyad Caliphate. The successors of 'Ali was not called Caliph anymore but given the title "Imam" or spiritual leader of Islam. When one refers to the Shi'ites one is referring to the Twelve Shi'a as opposed to the other sects under Shi'a that have evolved.

Fundamental differences can be found between the Sunni Muslims and the Shi'a Muslims. First is that the head of Shi'ites, the Imam, is considered, aside from being both a secular and spiritual leader, to be infallible and free of sin; thus he is of a spiritual status, allowing to mediate between men and the invisible world. The Sunni Muslims merely consider their caliphs as both a political head and religious leader. Second, disagreements, since time immemorial, have been on the Traditions to be followed as the Shari'a. The Shi'ites followed the firm basis of evidence in the Holy Qur'an and the Traditions of the Prophet Muhammad as conveyed by his family whom, according to their belief, he appointed. Sunni Muslims consider the secondary sources mentioned as Qiyas and Ijma as sources as well of Shari'a.
  Source: CPRM Consultants. (June 2004). Institutional Strengthening of the Shari'a Justice System: (Phase I). Final Report on the SC-UNDP Project: PHI/01/001. Submitted to the Supreme Court of the Philippines.
Used with permission by the SC-PIO.
  Copyright 2011 Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication