Skip to main content Skip to Search Box
Summary Article: sharia
from The Columbia Encyclopedia

the religious law of Islam. As Islam makes no distinction between religion and life, Islamic law covers not only ritual but many aspects of life. The actual codification of canonic law is the result of the concurrent evolution of jurisprudence proper and the so-called science of the roots of jurisprudence (usul al-fiqh). A general agreement was reached, in the course of the formalization of Islam, as to the authority of four such roots: the Qur'an in its legislative segments; the example of the Prophet Muhammad as related in the hadith; the consensus of the Muslims (ijma), premised on a saying by Muhammad stipulating “My nation cannot agree on an error”; and reasoning by analogy (qiyas). Another important principle is ijtihad, the extension of sharia to situations neither covered by precedent nor explicable by analogy to other laws. These roots provide the means for the establishment of prescriptive codes of action and for the evaluation of individual and social behavior. The basic scheme for all actions is a fivefold division into obligatory, meritorious, permissible, reprehensible, and forbidden.

Numerous schools of jurisprudence emerged in the course of Islamic history. Four coexist today within Sunni Islam, with one or more dominant in particular areas—Maliki (N and W Africa), Hanafi (Turkic Asia), Shafii (Egypt, E Africa, SE Asia), and Hanbali (Saudi Arabia; see Ibn Hanbal, Ahmad). While these schools of jurisprudence vary on certain rituals and practices, they are often perceived as complementary rather than mutually exclusive. Twelve-Imam Shiite jurisprudence is often referred to as Jafari. Islamic law is an important legal influence, to a greater or lesser degree, in nearly all nations with a Muslim majority population; the primary exception is Turkey, which has been a secular state since Atatürk.

  • See study by S. Kadri (2012).
The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2018

Related Articles


Full text Article sharia
Philip's Encyclopedia

Traditional law of Islam , believed by Muslims to be the result of divine revelation. It derives from a number of sources, including the Koran...

Full text Article Islamic Law
World Criminal Justice Systems

Concepts To Know Prophet Muhammad The Quran The Sunna The Pillars of Islam Sunni Shia Ulama Sharia Mazalim Siyasa Sharia Madhahib Ijma Ijtihad Hudu

Full text Article Islamic Civilization
A Concise History of the Middle East

Now that we have covered almost seven centuries of political history, let us view the civilization as a whole. But what should we call it? Scholars

See more from Credo