Portal: Islamic Law

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Islamic law, or the Shariah, is held to comprise the specific rulings intended by Allah for all of mankind in all times and places and delivered through Islamic scriptures (namely, the Quran and hadith). Fiqh, or Islamic jurisprudence, comprises the legal and interpretive theories through which these rulings are derived from the Quran and hadith. Norms observed and prescribed by Muhammad in these scriptures are, as a rule, taken literally and considered binding. To intentionally defy any part of Islamic law is to defy God's will, and thus to recant one's faith. Islamic law covers and immense array of topics, regulating everything from bathroom etiquette, criminal law, bedroom conduct, and imperial policy to etiquette with books, restrictions on speech, restrictions on diet, and economy. As nearly all of Islamic law derives from the hadith rather than the Quran, historians have questioned whether much of it can be historically attributed to Muhammad in actual fact. Nonetheless, the Shariah serves as a foundation, at times comprehensively and other times nominally, for numerous Muslim-majority nations. Where Muslims are not governed by Islamic law, they are obligated to conduct their own lives in accordance with it, on penalty of torturous punishment in the hereafter, alongside unbelievers.


For all their prescriptive content, Islamic scriptures do not themselves contain a formal theory of law. Much as Christian doctrine has been pieced together by competing sects based on different formulas for reading scripture, Islamic law is generated only after Islamic scriptures are passed through the different interpretive apparatuses of the various schools of Islamic law. For all there differences, there is much that the four major Sunni schools of law, or madhhabs agree on: Muslims must pray facing the Ka'bah in Mecca, apostates must be executed, and cousin marriage is permissible. Broadly speaking, the four schools agree where there is explicit instruction on a legal matter in scripture deemed authentic, and differ where there isn't.

Islamic law, or the Shariah, is held to comprise the specific rulings intended by Allah for all of mankind in all times and places and delivered through Islamic scriptures (namely, the Quran and hadith). Norms observed and prescribed by Muhammad in these scriptures are, as a rule, taken literally and considered binding. Islamic law covers and immense array of topics, regulating everything from bathroom etiquette, criminal law, bedroom conduct, and imperial policy to etiquette with books, restrictions on speech, restrictions on diet, and economy.
Islamic jurisprudence, or Fiqh (فقه‎), is the activity Islamic jurists engage in as they elaborate the Shari'ah, or "Islamic law"/"God's Law", based directly on the Qur'an and Muhammad's Sunnah or "way", as compiled in the hadiths. Fiqh can be described as "the human understanding of the divine laws of God as revealed to Muhammad". In this sense, the Shariah is an ideal body of laws which fiqh only ever approximates, albeit satisfactorily in the eyes of jurists. The usage of the two words in common and even technical parlance overlaps.
A Madh'hab (مذهب) is a school of Islamic law or fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence). Within Sunni Islam there are four mainstream schools of thought, which are accepted by one another, and the Shi'ite school of fiqh which (according to a fatwa by Al-Azhar, the most respected authority in Sunni Islam) is also now accepted by some Sunnis as a legitimate fifth school of Islamic Law. The five major schools of Islamic law agree on many things, including the death sentence for apostates.
The Caliph (خليفة‎; khalīfah) is the head of state in a Caliphate, and the title for the leader of the Islamic Ummah (body of Muslim believers) who serves as the successor to Muhammad, the founder of Islam, in all matters of political and religious decision making. The word of the caliph is, however, only legally and not theologically binding upon members of the Muslim ummah who consider him legitimate. In this sense, it is Ijma (legal concensus) which is the proper Islamic analog of the Catholic pope, rather than the Caliph.

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Women are legally disadvantaged by Islamic law in several in several domains of life. Particularly, women are disadvantaged in matters of sexual, domestic, legal, financial, sartorial, and physical autonomy. According to Islamic legal theory, while not all of Islamic law necessarily has a perceptibly rational basis, legal restrictions on women may be due to their intellectual deficiency, which was pronounced by Muhammad and is recorded in Sahih Bukhari.

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Child marriage and sexual activity between adults and children are sanctioned by Islamic law and were practiced by Muhammad and his companions. As is the case within all contexts where sexual activity is permitted in Islam - namely, marriage and slavery - female consent is not required and the category of "rape" does not exist. The only restriction on sexual activity with children of any age within the contexts of marriage and slavery is that the child should not come to severe physical harm as a consequence of the encounter.
The Mahr (مهر) is a contract fee paid for by the groom to the bride in an Islamic marriage (see The Meaning of Nikah). Its purpose within Islamic law, as shown through the Islamic texts themselves and the rulings of fiqh, is to compensate the woman for the privilege of consummating the marriage through sexual intercourse with her. The mahr is an obligatory part of Islamic law. In the abscence of a mahr, the marriage is not valid.
The traditional view of most Islamic scholars, past and present, prohibits free-mixing between men and women. Modern scholars and activists often posit that free-mixing is actually allowed in Islam, however their assertions on the matter usually lack the well-attested scriptural citations of the Islamic tradition that are marshaled by traditionalist scholars.
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Wife-beating is instructed by the the Qur'an and the Hadiths, and has been an accepted part of Islam law since its inception. Quran 4:34 states that men are in charge of women and that husbands may, among other things, beat their wives if they fear disobedience. Prophet Muhammad provided tacit approval of wife beating by not scolding Muslims for beating their wives, referred to women who spoke-out against abuse as "not the best among you", forbade Muslims from questioning men who beat their wives, allowed others to hit his wives (the very women whom all Muslims adore and refer to as "the Mother of believers"), reaffirmed the command of wife-beating in his farewell sermon, and himself struck one of his wives in the chest. In addition to Muhammad's actions, three of the four Rightly-Guided Caliphs are also reported to have beaten women. Because of its many endorsements within Islamic scripture, wife-beating is permitted by the majority of Muslim scholars and leaders. This has led to domestic violence being permitted under law in several Islamic states or being largely ignored by the authorities.

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Those non-Muslims permitted to live under the Islamic regime (namely, Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians; i.e. 'Dhimmis') are subjected to unique disadvantages in matters of sexual, domestic, legal, financial, sartorial, physical, communal, and religious autonomy. While this subjugation is comparable - albeit in each specific account different - from the legal disadvantages imposed upon women under Islamic law, the rationale is fundamentally different. Though the Quran decries non-Muslims as being, among other things, 'deaf, dumb, blind'[1], 'evil'[2], 'like cattle'[3], 'perverse'[4], and 'without intelligence'[5], any supposed characterological traits are not the underlying reason for their subjugation, as might be thought to be case for the subjugation of women. The reason for the the subjugation of non-Muslims living in the Islamic state is because the have the potential to convert to Islam - As the Quran states, this subjugation is simply intended as measure which, through bringing about their humiliation, will incentivize their conversion.

The Quran and other Islamic sources prohibit certain degrees of relationship with non-Muslims, including with the "People of the Book". Its stance appears to have evolved over time at various stages of Muhammad's prophetic career, occurring in a context when the believers had been driven out from Mecca and there was a degree of enmity between them, as recorded in such verses as Quran 60:1. Some contemporary views emphasize contextual issues and use particular verses and examples from Muhammad's life to argue that friendship with non-Muslims is permitted in some circumstances.
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The word Dhimma in modern parlance refers to the non-Muslim persons permitted to live under the Islamic regime (The Caliphate), namely those of Abrahamic faiths, as well as the system of financial, legal, and social subjugation that must be brought to bear over them so as to bring about their humiliation, as instructed by the Quran. Included in this system are the practices of Zunar (yellow-badge practices) and Jizyah (non-Muslim tax).
In Islamic terminology, a kāfir is a disbeliever, or someone who rejects or does not believe in Allah as the one and only God and Muhammad as the final messenger of Allah. In the context of Islamic scriptures, "kafir" is the broadest, all encompassing category of non-Muslim, which includes all other sub-categories, such as mushriqun, or polytheists, dahriyah, or those who deny the existence of any gods outright, as well as those who would today identify as agnostics or who are simply ignorant of religious figments.
Traditional Islamic jurists generally dichotomized the world into the Dar al-Harb, or Abode of War, and the Dar al-Islam, or Abode of Islam. Not recognizing anything but a perpetual state of warfare, save occasionally and tactically permitted temporary treaties, with all non-Muslim political entitles, Islamic jurists tended to legislate the Muslims should operate under war-time norms whenever they entered non-Muslim lands. This could go so far as to mean that theft, slave-raiding, and, according to some, even rape was permitted in non-Muslim lands, given the assumed perpetual state of war. It is on the basis of this dichotomy that some Islamic jurists today permit Muslims to collect interest from unbelievers in Western countries, by construing it as a form of legal theft.

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Crime and punishment

Islamic scripture explicitly lists a number of particular punishments, most corporal, for the violation of the various rules it contains. The crimes for which scripture provides its own punishments tend to be those which are considered the most severe. Advocacy against these explicit scriptural injunctions is itself considered an act of apostasy, and thus traditionally merits the death penalty, as outlined in scripture. Beyond the well-known prohibitions on and punishments for sexual activity, the practice of free speech, and drinking alcohol, Islamic law traditionally also outlawed a great many forms of recreation, such as music and games that involved chance. In many cases, the particular prohibition is not clear - the most eminent example of this is, perhaps, the prohibition on Riba, as the precise meaning of the 7th century Arabian financial concept has long been lost to history.

According to Islamic law, it is a criminal offense to speak ill of Islam, its Prophet, and its holy Scriptures (Qur'an and Hadith). Blasphemy is punishable by death. Sufficiently unorthodox perspectives constitute blasphemy just as well as only partially orthodox perspectives (that is, those perspectives that affirm some tenants of blasphemy while denying others).
The four Sunni schools of jurisprudence all agree that practicing homosexuality is an egregious crime that earns an especially harsh punishment, although the schools vary regarding what exactly this punishment should be. Punishments range from execution by beheading, execution by stoning, execution by being thrown off a tall building, and imprisonment until death.
Islamic law does not punish the murder of those who warrant execution (such as blasphemers, apostates, and those who in some manner 'spread mischief in the Earth') and differentiates between the murder of a Muslim, which merits the death penalty, and the murder of a non-Muslim, which only merits the payment of blood-money. This ruling is outlined in the Quran and, in Sahih Bukhari, Muhammad is repeatedly recorded as saying "no Muslim should be killed in Qisas (legal retribution) for killing a Kafir (disbeliever)".
Intoxicants (الخمر al‐khamr) such as alcohol, marijuana etc. and recreational games of chance, such as board games (especially chess), card games and other forms of gambling are forbidden under Islamic law. Notably, several hadiths in Sahih Muslim report that Muhammad himself used to consume alcoholic drinks prior to prohibiting it.

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Jihad, which literally means struggle, refers in Islamic law exclusively to military activity intended to spread and preserve the Islamic empire. Islamic literature does, however, often avoid this terminological use in order to use it in its literal sense. In this usage, the word Jihad is sometimes used to metaphorically allude to and describe the internal struggle one must at times engage in against oneself. This alternative, metaphorical usage of the word Jihad does not, however, have any legal implications. The legal doctrines of Jihad are rather straightforward: the Muslim ummah, or peoples, must, as the Quran states fight the unbelievers "until religion is all for Allah".[6] Although a military struggle is envisioned and described by these and similar statements in scripture, they have be employed rhetorically and metaphorically as encouragement for personal, spiritual struggles. There are also rules set out for how to conduct Jihad. On the one hand, wildlife, innocents, and enemies should not be needlessly maimed. On the other, all those who refuse to convert or submit to financial, social, legal, and various other forms of subjugation, be the innocents or combatants, must either be executed or enslaved (this includes sexually, in the case of women and girls).

Jihad has been a central imperative in Islamic law throughout history and remains one today. Although the doctrine of global religious and imperial conquest has proven controversial in recent times, particularly when groups have attempted to implement it, the basic contours of the doctrine have remained static since rise of first Islamic caliphates.
The practice of inviting non-Muslim nations to join Islam or pay the Jizyah prior to engaging in offensive Jihad was first initiated by the Prophet Muhammad. His example was then followed by the Rightly-Guided Caliphs and the leaders of Islamic empires, codified within the Islamic Shari'ah. Where radical Islamists have today tried to emulate Muhammad and implement this well-established practice, they have generally been faced with widespread criticism.
There are many hadith narrations and Qur'anic verses forbidding suicide, however, there are also some hadith (and one Qur'anic verse related to one of them) which indicate that killing oneself is allowed under certain circumstances. Islamic law has generally been willing to amplify this variety of exception particularly in legal contexts, which has led numerous Islamic jurists to sanction suicide bombing in certain contexts (even where they have not supported the particular movements or groups implementing the practice).
"Fard" means Compulsory. Jihad is an Individual duty and is also a community responsibility, or sufficiency duty, for each and every Muslim. While modern voices differentiate between a personal or greater Jihad and a military or lesser Jihad, such a dichotomy is not found in classical and especially early Islamic literature, and finds no endorsement in Islamic scripture, which refers to Jihad overwhelmingly, and some argue exclusively, as a doctrine of military conquest, with the reference to internal struggle being a metaphorical usage.

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A great part of the body of Islamic law regulates the particulars of ritual practices ranging everything from precisely how one should twiddle one's index finger during the daily prayers to how the the throats of cattle should be split and drained dry of blood during ritual sacrifice. Whereas scripture provides usually clear outlines on the basic workings of rituals, jurist differ endlessly in the details. The great majority of ritual law regards benign practices of the finger-twiddling variety which, despite being a potential and sometimes actual source of social discord, have generally become topics of lesser concern among the wider Muslim population. Ritual laws regarding the large-scale sacrifice of hundreds of millions of animals to Allah, on the other hand, have attracted growing international attention. Similarly troubling have been the pilgrimage rituals conducted at Mecca which, when practiced by millions of persons all at once, have repeatedly resulted in hundreds of deaths by stampede and contagion. While some of these challenges such as those with pilgrimage rituals, Islamic jurists contend, can be overcome through logistical and architectural innovation, other, often moral, challenges, such as those face by animal sacrifice in the face of growing concern for animal rights, have beeen cause for lesser optimism.

Eid Al-Adha (عيد الأضحى, "the festival of sacrifice") is the biggest Islamic holiday, in which Muslims ritually sacrifice animals (usually sheep) in commemoration of Abraham's attempted child sacrifice of Isma'il (Ishmael). Of the two Islamic Eid festivals (the other being Eid al-Fitr, celebrating the end Ramadan), Eid al-Adha is the holier one. Eid al-Adha occurs on the 10th day of Dhu al-Hijjah, the final month of the Islamic Lunar Calendar, and lasts four days.
Qurban means "sacrifice" in Arabic. Islamic scriptures (the Qur'an and Hadith) recount at least two close instances of human sacrifice which were averted at last second and contemporary Muslims continue to engage in yearly animal sacrifice on عيد الأضحى "Eid Al-Adha", the Eid of the Sacrifice.
The Hajj (حج) is the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca. It is an obligatory duty (fard الفرض) for physically and financially capable Muslims, and constitutes one of the Five Pillars of Islam. The pilgrimage takes place on the 12th month of the Islamic calendar, between the 7th and 13th day of Dhu al-Hijjah. Those who fail, despite their capability, to complete the Hajj at least once during their life times may have others complete it on their behalf, so as to avoid torment in the hereafter.
Prophet Muhammad's hijra, or flight, from Mecca to Medina in 622 AD marks the beginning of the Islamic lunar calendar. Thus, the Islamic calendar dates have the suffix AH. The Islamic lunar year is between 10 and 12 days shorter than the "Western" or "Christian" Gregorian solar year, and so cycles through the seasons. The Islamic calendar is used in conjunction with the Gregorian calendar in some parts of the Muslim world, and is almost always referenced in relation to Islamic rituals (like the Hajj) and festivals (like Eid al-Adha), as it is with the Islamic calendar that these event correlate.

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Other topics in Islamic law

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