Is Islamic Law Shariah Or Fiqh?
If you ask the common person, Muslim or non-Muslim, “What Is Shariah?”, They will most likely respond that it is Islamic law. Some ignorant people might even go so far as saying it’s the law that allows Muslims to chop of hands.
And then if you ask them, “What Is Fiqh?”, most non-Muslims will not have an answer. They have probably never heard of it and would have no idea what it is.
The average Muslim may have heard of the term, but they may not be able to give a good response either. Most likely they are going to say that Fiqh is Islamic law also.
But this now begs the question, if Shariah is Islamic Law, and Fiqh is Islamic Law, what’s the difference?
Perhaps you’re also thinking that there isn’t much difference between Shariah and Fiqh. But you’d be very wrong. There is a big difference and it’s important that Muslims understand that.
Why Is It Important To Understand Fiqh And Shariah?
A lot of people, especially those that hate Islam and so-called progressive Muslims, try to say that Islamic Law is outdated. They say that Muslims want to live by a code of justice that was established over a thousand years ago by a desert tribe in a foreign land.
They make this claim based on a misguided understanding of Islam and a lack of knowledge about Shariah and Fiqh. How often have we heard people say that Shariah is about cutting off people’s hands for stealing?
If that’s all you know about Shariah, then you don’t know anything about Shariah.
I remember back in 2010 when there a lot of flack in the United States about Muslims trying to take over the country and establish “Shariah Law.” This madness spilled over into 2011 and there were a whole bunch of states that passed legislation that supposedly made the Shariah illegal.
This was a big frenzy that was rather pointless.
First of all, there’s no threat of Muslims taking over anything in this country. American Muslims are so eager to prove their patriotism, most of us will out-Yankee the most ardent WASPish American.
Secondly, no one can just establish the Shariah. American Muslims are too small in number, too politically weak, to financially weak, and too divided to do something on such a grand scale as this. Come on, we can’t even agree when Ramadan start. Do you really think we’re gonna be able to establish Shariah?
So in order to combat these foolish notions and scare tactics, it is important that Muslims know how to direct the conversation. We need to know how to explain this misunderstood term.
What Is Shariah?
The literal translation of Shariah is “watering hole.”
But in Islamic terms, the Shariah is made up of three things:
- The laws dictated in the QUran.
- The laws revealed to Prophet Mohammed (pbuh).
- The laws that are taken from the lifestyle (Sunnah) of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
As you can see, the Shariah comes strictly from the Quran and Sunnah. That is, it comes from Allah and His Messenger (pbuh). Therefore, it is illogical to think a devout Muslim can leave these laws behind.
And just like the Quran and Sunnah does not change, the Shariah does not change. Whatever Alland and His Messenger have made permissible according to the Shariah will always be permissible. And whatever they have made forbidden will always be forbidden.
Allah has made polygamy and acceptable form of marriage in Islam. So it will always be permissible and no one can change that. For anyone to say we must forbid polygamy because it is outdated and abuses women is wrong. And any Muslim who espouses this view is being sinful.
Conversely, Allah has made Riba (interest) forbidden. So it will always be forbidden and no one can change that. For anyone to make it permissible because it is accepted in modern finance is wrong. And any Muslim who espouses this view is being sinful.
What Is Fiqh?
The literal translation of Fiqh is “true understanding.”
But in Islamic terms, Fiqh is making rulings and judgements from evidence found in the Shariah, that is, the Quran and Sunnah, and from consensus of Islamic scholars.
Fiqh does not necessarily come directly from the Quran and Sunnah. But it does come indirectly from these sources.
But Fiqh does not override Shariah. Fiqh is used to create laws for matters not specifically addressed by the Shariah.
For example, smoking cigarettes is not expressly forbidden in either the Quran or Sunnah. And initially, Muslim scholars ruled that smoking was disliked because of the smell and it was immitating non-Muslims.
But it wasn’t forbidden.
However, When it was discovered that smoking cigarettes can be deadly, Muslim scholars ruled that cigarettes are forbidden in Islam. Islamic scholars came to this ruling based on evidence in the Quran.
Oh you who have believed, do not consume one another’s wealth unjustly but only [in lawful] business by mutual consent. And do not kill yourselves. Indeed, Allah is to you ever Merciful.
Chapter 4, Verse 29.
That ruling is Fiqh in action. There’s no direct condemnation of smoking cigarettes in the sources of Shariah (Quran and Sunnah). But scholars use these same sources to determine that it is still forbidden.
What Are The Primary Differences Between Fiqh And Shariah?
So we can see that Fiqh and Shariah are related and they are both aspects of Islamic Law. However, there are significant differences.
- Shariah cannot be changed. But Fiqh can change based on new information
- Shariah is broad and general. Fiqh focuses on narrow and specific issues.
- Shariah comes from the Quran and SUnnah. Fiqh comes from the Shariah.
There should be no waivering when it comes to the Shariah. It is from Allah. Most Muslims utilize some aspect of the Shariah everyday, either consciously or unconsciously.
Inshallah, in later articles, we’ll discuss the benefits of the Shariah and how these divine laws benefit humanity when implemented properly.