Sources and School of Muslim Law

Who are Muslims?

Islam is a religion and people who practice it are called Muslims. The basic principle of Islam suggests that God is one and Muhammed is the Prophet of God. The origin of Muslim law is Arabia. Muslim laws are laws applied only to Muslims. Muslim law is a personal law that applied only to Muslims. Each personal law is based on certain sources. With the passage of time, these sources can be divided into two kinds: Primary sources and Secondary sources of Muslim Law.

Primary Sources of Muslim Law

Primary sources are those sources are the roots of Muslim law. These sources are the basis of Muslim law. These sources include the religious aspect of personal law. Primary sources of Muslim law are the Quran, Sunnat, Ijma and Qiyas.

1. Al-Quran 

The sacred book of the Quran is the prominent and the most important source of Muslim law. The word Quran is based on the Arabic word “Quarra” which means to read. It is believed to be a divine scripture given to Prophet Muhammed through Gabriel. It is considered to be the ultimate revelation from God to humanity. Therefore, making it the first and the primary source of Muslim law. The book states the moral and righteous way of living. It has verses on family law and inheritance, obligations and contracts, criminal law, procedures and other matters. As Muslim believe Quran to be the very word of Allah, therefore, there is no way in which its teaching can be changed. As a result, even the court of law has to base their decisions keeping in mind the sayings of the Quran. 

2. Sunnat

Whenever Al-Quran is silent about an issue, guidance was sought from the Sunnat. It is believed to be the pathways of the Prophet Muhammad. The Quran is believed to be the direct words of God given to the Prophet Muhammad, while, the Sunnat is the word of Prophet Muhammad on the issues which are not revealed in the Quran. 

3. Ijma 

Sir Abdul Rahim defines Ijma as the consensus of followers of Prophet Muhammad on a particular question of law. For example, scholars believed that there should be five obligatory prayers or adan should be recited before namaz. The idea behind Ijma is the principle that God will not let his people accept something wrong and therefore whatever Muslims hold to be good is good before god. The Ijma is of three kinds:

  • Ijma of the companions of the Prophet. It is universally acceptable and practiced. 
  • Ijma of jurists. It is considered to be the second most important Ijma after the Ijma of the companions. 
  • Ijma of the people. This kind of Ijma holds great importance in matters of religion as compared to legal issues.

4. Qiyas

This source of Muslim law is based on the other three primary sources i.e., Quran, Sunnat and Ijma. This involves creating rules by the exercise of reason. It does not create a new law, however, uses the old principles to apply to new establishments and situations. To substantiate, in Muslim law consumption of alcohol(Khamr) is haram. In modern contemporary society, the question is ruling on the consumption of marijuana by Muslims. In such circumstances, scholars of Islam would engage in deduction and find out the same. As Khamr is intoxication and consumption of marijuana is a form of intoxication, therefore, it will also be categorized as haram under Muslim law.

Secondary Sources of Muslim Law

Secondary Sources on Muslim law can also be categorized as comparatively modern sources. They are not the basis of Muslim law but are supplementary in nature. The secondary sources govern Muslim law to an extent. It includes Urf or Custom, Judicial Decision and  Legislation, Equity.

1. Urf or Custom

Customs are a substantial source of law. In Muslin law, customs play a significant role in matters related to agriculture, land and succession. However, there are certain conditions for a valid custom. It includes: 

  • It must be territorial
  • It must be ancient.
  • It must be continuous and certain.
  • It should not oppose public policies.
  • It should not be in contradiction to the Quran.
  • 2. Judicial Decisions

In the modern world, the decisions of the court hold a crucial position as a source of law. It includes decisions by district courts, High courts and the Supreme Court of India. To substantiate, in a leading case, the Supreme Court of India declared the years-old practice of Triple Talaq (talaq-e-bidat) as unconstitutional. The courts in India have modified the rules of Muslim personal law. These rules continue to be a source of Muslim law until overruled by Legislative enactment. 

3. Legislation

In India, laws are made through Legislation. The bills are passed in Parliament and are later enforced as statutes applied on the whole of the country. Since the independence of India, various legislations have been passed by the government focusing on the Muslims. Some of these statues are the Muslim Marriage Act, 1957, The Muslim Woman (Protection of Rights and Divorce) Act, 1986, the Shariat Act and the Dissolution of Marriage Act. These legislations deals with Muslim personal laws in some or the other way and is the most modern source of Muslim law. These laws are enacted as per the needs of society.

School of Muslim law

As discussed above, there are various sources of Muslim law that were based on the Quran, Prophet Muhammad and the scholars. The scholars provide reasoned rules in circumstances where the Quran and Sunnat are silent. Due to various opinions and interpretations of these scholars, a conflict of opinion arose leading to the establishment of different schools of Muslim law. Broadly, the schools under Muslim law can be classified into Sunni Schools and Shias Schools. 

The Sunni School of law tries to create a harmonious blend of customary and new principles. They valued the decisions of scholars as similar to that of the holy Quran. The Sunnis include four major schools:

  • The Hanafi School: Named after Abu Hanafi, this school of Muslim law is based on customs, traditions and principles of the Muslim community. It is the most famous school of Muslim Law in India.
  • The Maliki School:  Malik-bin-Anas, a mufti of Madeena,  started this school of Muslim law. There are no followers of this school in India.
  • The Shafei School: This school of Muslim law holds a prevalent position in southern India. It is the second most practiced Muslim school of law in India. Under this law, the rules of laws are balanced and systematic. 
  • The Hanbali School: Initiated by Ibn Hanbal, the Hanbali School of law is rigid in nature as it adheres to the traditions of the Prophet 

While the Shias formed a completely altered set of principles and rules. They did not only reject the ideas of scholars but also the traditions handed down by the descendants of Prophet Muhammad. The Shias include three major schools of law: the Imamia School, the Ismailia School and the Zyadis School. The practitioners of the Shia school of law are considered to be a minority in India. 

Pridhi Chopra
I am Pridhi Chopra. I did my graduation in literature and currently pursuing law. I see the field of law as an infinite field that has the capability to include all other disciplines. Apart from a keen interest in Human Rights, I like to study family and constitutional law. I believe in the philosophy of Carpe Diem. Among other things, I like to read feminist literature and create art pieces.