Laws of Religion
These summaries are based on key source texts of Islamic law written no later than the 14th century. In a few cases, reference to more recent works is made when these works are quoted in a translation of the earlier texts under discussion.
Qur’an and Hadith. Each topical section in our reviews of Islamic law includes summaries of what is said about the topic in the Qur’an and in the hadith collections of Muhammad ibn Ismail al-Bukhari and Abu ‘l-Husain Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj. Within the religious tradition of Islam, the Qur’an is considered to be the direct word of Allah (God) as revealed to Muhammad in the early 7th century. A hadith is a report attributing some words or action to Muhammad (or one of his closest companions), retold through a chain of transmitters until it was recorded by, for example, al-Bukhari or Muslim some two centuries or more after Muhammad’s time. The 9th century works of al-Bukhari and Muslim are considered within Sunni Islam to be the most authoritative hadith compilations as determined by the care with which the compilers assessed such factors as the reliability of the chains of transmitters of the hadiths. Our summaries refer only to the hadith collections of al-Bukhari and Muslim. (Note that we use “hadiths” for the plural of “hadith” rather than the more correct plural form, “ahadith.” Also, all of the dates on this site are expressed using the common Western calendar and correspond to “A.D.”)
Jurisprudence of Schools of Islam. The last part of the page for each topic discussed on this website contains a summary of the jurisprudence, or fiqh, relating to that topic. This system of jurisprudence/fiqh is often referred to loosely as sharia law. Three source texts were used for this purpose. The first is Bidayat al-Mujtahid wa Nihayat al-Muqtasid by Abu al-Walid Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Rushd – entitled The Distinguished Jurist’s Primer in English translation. In this book, Ibn Rushd (the 12th century scholar who is often referred to in the West as Averroës) explains the differences in the views among various Islamic scholars on many of points of law. His expressed purpose is to enable the reader to understand how these different views were derived by different methods from the Qur’an and hadiths. In The Distinguished Jurist’s Primer, Ibn Rushd always states the views of Malik, Abu Hanifa and al-Shafi‛i, in particular, when the views of these three 8th-9th century scholars are known to him. Our summaries include the views of these three whenever possible since they are known as the founders of three of the four major schools of Sunni Islam: the Maliki, the Hanafi and the Shafi‛i. However, Ibn Rushd only very rarely mentions the views of Ahmad ibn Hanbal, the 9th century founder of the fourth major Sunni school, the Hanbali, so our summaries contain few references to the Hanbali. Ibn Rushd often says that the “majority” has a particular opinion, meaning a group that includes Malik, Abu Hanifa and al-Shafi‛i. When summarizing such statements from Ibn Rushd as giving the views of a “majority” or “most scholars,” we generally insert the names of these three for clarity.
In preparing these summaries, we have used the English translation of The Distinguished Jurist’s Primer by Imran Ahsan Khan Nyazee, reviewed by Mohammad Abdul Rauf, Volume 1 published in 1994 and Volume 2 published in 1996 by Garnet Publishing Ltd., Reading, UK. We thank Professor Clark Lombardi of the University of Washington School of Law for suggesting this source text to us.
The second source text of Islamic jurisprudence used to prepare our summaries is Reliance of the Traveller, compiled and written in the 14th century by Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri. Reliance of the Traveller is a systematic codification of the laws of the Shafi‛i school of Sunni Islam. It is based primarily on the writings of Imam Rafi‛i and Imam Nawawi, scholars of Islamic law who lived in the 12th-13th centuries and in the 13th century, respectively. Although it is based on the laws of only one of the Islamic legal schools, Reliance of the Traveller is more comprehensive and detailed in its discussion of Islamic law than The Distinguished Jurist’s Primer is. Therefore, there are a number of places where our summaries refer solely to the Shafi‛i school because certain topics are discussed in Reliance of the Traveller but not in The Distinguished Jurist’s Primer. The English translation of Reliance of the Traveller also includes some sections written by a variety of commentators ranging from the 9th to the 20th centuries. In certain cases, we have cited these other commentators, always clearly noting that these citations are not from the Ibn Naqib’s original 14th century Reliance of the Traveller. On occasion, Keller’s translation of Reliance of the Traveller points out an alternative view of one of the schools other than the Shafi‛i on a particular legal point and we have mentioned these variant interpretations in our summaries. When a footnote on this site designates a source as “RT” without any mention in the text or the footnote of the time from which the comment is taken, that means that the citation is to the translation of the original 14th century text of Ibn Naqib. The full title of the original work is ‛Umdat al-salik wa ‛uddat al-nasik – The Reliance of the Traveller and Tools of the Worshipper. The English translation by Nuh Ha Mim Keller is called: Reliance of the Traveller: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law. Our summaries of Reliance of the Traveller are based on the 1994 revised edition of this work published by Amana Publications, Beltsville, Maryland, USA.
We have also included information contained in Risala: Treatise on the Foundations of Islamic Jurisprudence by Muhammad ibn Idris al-Shafi‛i. As stated above, al-Shafi‛i is regarded as the 8th-9th century founder of the Shafi‛i school, one of the four major legal schools of Sunni Islam. The Risala of al-Shafi‛i is a book of methodology – an explanation of the principles of jurisprudence of the Shafi‛i school and the Risala is cited by us only when the some aspect of the topic we are discussing is used as an example by Shafi‛i to illustrate a methodological point. The translation upon which our summaries are based is by Majid Khadduri, Second Edition, published by the Islamic Texts Society.
Source texts on the Internet. We have prepared these summaries solely from English translations. It is our hope that they will provide a gateway into some of the central literature of Islamic law for the interested English-speaking reader.
Some of the texts cited in our summaries are readily available on the Internet in English. Multiple translations of the Qur’an can be found on many websites including here, here and here. The hadith collections of al-Bukhari and Muslim (and others), as cited by us, can be read here and downloaded here. Part or all of these hadith collections, with somewhat different numbering systems, can be found here, here and here. The full text of Volume 1 of The Distinguished Jurist’s Primer is here and here and of Volume 2 is here and here. Reliance of the Traveller can be found here and here. Readers are strongly encouraged to read at least some of the cited passages from these sources.
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Abbreviations used in footnotes:
DJP: The Distinguished Jurist’s Primer, by Ibn Rushd, translated by Imran Ahsan Khan Nyazee, published by Garnet Publishing Ltd, Reading, UK. Volume 1, 1994. Volume 2, 1996.
RT: Reliance of the Traveller: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law by Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri, translated by Nuh Ha Mim Keller, revised edition 1994, published by Amana Publications, Beltsville, Maryland, USA.