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Law and Theology of Islam

Updated on February 1, 2017


After the death of the Prophet Muhammad, Islam faced the problem of establishing a new path without his founder. The first Calipha Abu Bakr brought the first statement that unified, in principle, all Muslims of the time He said that Muhammad was dead but not God, who is eternal, which makes God the one to be worshiped. The definition of the characteristics of God was not so important for the first four centuries when believers were satisfied to follow the Qur’an and the Sunnah without asking questions (Gibb, 1979:183). However, schisms surged from the beginning, bringing important questions to the fore, such as the very first problem of who should succeed the prophet. For the Sunni, a precondition should be to be Muslim, for the Shi’a to be the descendant of the prophet through Ali, and for the Kharijites to be devoted to God and obedient to the Qur'an to the extent to use violence if needed. (Ayoub, 2004:162). The majority of Sunni follow the Murj’ah, another point of view, where the sinners that still confess their faith, must still be treated socially and legally as a Muslim. (Ayoub, 2004:162). The Qur’an and the Sunnah are the pillars of both the theology and the law in Islam. This essay will deal with the difference between the application of the Qur’an and the Sunnah for both.

Theological Principles

The Muslim theology has five principles shared by all the schools: Monotheism, belief in angels, belief in scriptures, believe in God’s messengers and the day of the Judgment. These fundamental truths are found in the Suras (chapters) of the Qur’an. There are however differences in other theological problems such as whether God can be seen by humans, whether there is any difference between the essence of God and His attributes, whether if committing a major sin will be punished forever, if indeed a twelve imam will return to govern before the end of the time, and whether Jesus will come back in person among other topics. (Haleem, 2009). This kind of discussions falls in the Kalem or speculation domain. The discussions around the Kalem explore the nature of God against the words that describe him in the Qur’an.

Two important theological schools were the Mu’tazilism and the Ash’arite. The former affirmed that God’s essence and attributes are in one and that all anthropomorphic attributes used in the Qur'an used by God are metaphorical, they also affirmed that the Qur'an is created and not eternal. The Mu’tazilism also opposed the belief that human will see God afterlife and that the prophet Mohammed is there for interceding for the sinners to God. On the other hand, the Ash’arite school believed that “God knows, lives and wills by a knowledge, life and will that are other than his Essences; the same is true for his attributes” (Haleem, 2009: 165). For this school, the Qur’an is not created but eternal and that divine justice boils down to predetermination. (Haleem, 2009: 165). Although the rationalistic school of Mu’tazilism disappeared, it influenced the Shi’a theology while the Ash’arite school influenced the Sunni theology.

Sharia and Fiqh

As mentioned before, the Islamic law is also based on the teachings of the Qur’an and the Sunnah, in addition, is divided into two categories: The Shariah – the divine law- and the Fiqh -the science of law. Kruger et al (2008) note that the Sharia guides Muslims how to live their daily lives and divide acts in compulsory, recommended, permissible, reprehensible and forbidden.The compulsory acts include for example the five daily prayers and the forbidden acts include eating pork or drinking alcohol. On the other hand recommended acts are not obligatory but well regarded in society, such as charity while the reprehensible are not punished but discouraged such as divorce, The permissible acts are neutral in nature.

The Fiqh applies and transliterates the Sharia to the legal system of the Islamic societies. (Kruger, Lube, and Steyn, 2008:258-259). When situations arise that are not covered in the Qur'an or the Sunnah the scholars use analogies (qiyas), consensus (Ijma) and independent reasoning (Ijtihad) from an expert in the Qur'an and the Hadith, written record of the Sunnah (Haleem, 2009). The main four schools are Maliki, Hanafi, Shaf’I and Hanbali. These schools mostly differ in the way they apply the Ijma, the quiyas, and the Ijtihad, for example, the Shaf’I school believes that it is not proper to ignore certain parts of the Hadith or the Qur'an for local reasons and also does not accept that one abrogates the other as they do not contradict each other. The other schools make more use of the Ijtihad than the Shaf’I school.


Although the Qur’an is the word of God revealed to the Prophet Mohamed, this sacred book is not a theological, history or legal book. However, it is the source for the different theological and legal schools. The theology schools have discussions about the interpretation of the nature of God and the fate of believers and sinners and it is based on the direct reading of the Qur’an and the Hadith. The legal schools, on the other hand, use these sources to regulate the rights and duties of the life of the Muslims. When the situation to be regulated is not in the Qur’an or the Hadith the legal schools use of analogies, consensus, and independent reasoning to dictate a law.

Reference List

Ayoub, M.M (2005). Islam: Faith and History. Oxford: Oneworld Publications.

Gibb, H.A (1979). Islam in The concise encyclopedia of living faiths ed, Zachner R.C.. London. Hutchinson and Co (Publishers) Ltd.

Haleem, M.A.S (2008). Qur'an and Hadith in Classical Islamic Theology ed. Tim Winter. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kruger J.S, Lubbe GJA, Steyn HC (2008). The human search for meaning, a multi religion introduction to the religions of humankind. Pretoria. Van Schaick Publishers.


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    • Jay C OBrien profile image

      Jay C OBrien 

      4 years ago from Houston, TX USA

      Yes, you are right, "Religions are about beliefs and not facts...." I believe all religions come from the same Source/God and therefore are all part of One Progressive religion. People grow and mature and eventually accept the idea, "We are all One." All humanity is part of One Organism or God.

      What is a Spiritualist? I will speak for myself alone. A Spiritualist is one who believes we are Spirit Energy. We (spirit energy) are having an experience in the material world. See my Icon or Logo or Picture for what I imagine we all look like. You may read my Hub, "My Telepathic Experiences" for a further description.

    • Maria Dorland profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from Johannesburg

      Thank you, Jay C Obrien. I welcome your comments. The Trinity is a Christian concept, if you are Christian you believe in the trinity. Religions are about beliefs and not facts and perhaps that is the reason why there is so much conflict around it. It is very interesting what you say about the negative human emotions ascribed to God as a blasphemy. In Christianity, Judaism and Islam, God is a mixture of both mercy and wrath to bring balance to our human nature. The three religions share the old testament, torah or the law.

      However, when we see the prophets, for example Jesus, is all grace, mercy, peace and love. He is very critical though of the way Jew leaders treated "sinners". The Holy Spirit bear fruits that are all positive attributes. So I agree with you, but from a Christian point of view, that we cannot be separated from God anymore. I am going to study Buddhism, Hinduism, and African religions this year and I am very excited about it.

      What exactly is to be Spiritualist?

    • Jay C OBrien profile image

      Jay C OBrien 

      4 years ago from Houston, TX USA

      Thank you. Your view is most helpful and I agree with it in large measure. I think it is important to state who we are at the beginning so the viewpoint is known. I am a Spiritualist and not bound by any of the major religions. My opinion is my own and I do not speak for Christians, Jews or Muslims.

      I believe Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Mohammad (Peace be Upon Him), Krishna, Buddha, etc. all had the same God. This must be true because there is only one Perfect Ideal/God. If God were not Good, He would not be God. God is not wrathful, nor jealous, nor vengeful as described in the Bible. All negative human emotions assigned to God is Blasphemy.

      It is possible Jesus had a Near Death Experience from his crucifixion. Jesus is part of God as we all are. There is no separation from God. Separation from God is not possible because He is everywhere and within us.

      The word Trinity is not in the Bible. It is a made up word to describe certain events surrounding the life of Jesus. We cannot truly describe God and therefore should not use the word, "Trinity" unless as a term of art. I believe, "Trinity" stands for Jesus and all of us as being part of God.

    • Maria Dorland profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from Johannesburg

      We can say in simple terms that Allah (Muslims), God the father (Christians) and God (Jews) is the same person. The conflict comes in the understanding of who Jesus is. Both Christians and Muslims are expecting the return of Jesus at the end of the times. Jews do not accept that Jesus was the Messiah.

      Christians believe that Jesus was crucified, resurrected and then ascended to heaven. Muslims believe that Jesus ascended to heaven without dying at the cross. Jews do not doubt that Jesus was crucified.

      There are historic records that Jesus was crucified, but Muslims believe that what happened was that a person very similar to Jesus took his place at the cross.

      Muslims and Jews reject the trinity (God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit) as for them the expression of one god cannot be expressed as three persons.

      For Christians, the trinity is the same God in different expressions for the fulfillment of his righteousness and mercy as only God could have taken his wrath without perishing, while a human needed to take his wrath to reconcile us with him for our sinful nature.

      I agree with you, terrorism and violence are not a way for religions to eliminate other religions. It is against the merciful nature of God towards humans that are striving to live a godly life within our limitations.

    • Jay C OBrien profile image

      Jay C OBrien 

      4 years ago from Houston, TX USA

      I am sorry, I was looking for an Imam for answers. Since I found you, what is the difference between the Muslim God and the Christian God and the Jewish God?

      If only every religion and sect would agree that God is Not Violent and we should not be violent either.

    • Maria Dorland profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from Johannesburg

      Hi Jay C Obrien, thank you for reading!

      I understand that for the Prophet Mohammad everything in nature is a Muslim, for humans they can choose to live in service to God and then become a Muslim. After his death factions started to appear, as the people that he united started to give his interpretations to the legacy.

      I am not a Muslim, I serve God as a Christian. I do not agree with violence in religion. I think the crimes we see today perpetrated by both Muslims and Christians in the name or religion stems from our human condition and not from a Calling from God. This is my opinion. I understand you can be a Muslim if you choose to. Your theological questions will be better addressed by an Iman.

      I recommend to you this hub:

    • Jay C OBrien profile image

      Jay C OBrien 

      4 years ago from Houston, TX USA

      This is a very detailed article and I have some questions. From article:

      "For the Sunni, a precondition should be to be Muslim, for the Shi’a to be the descendant of the prophet through Ali, and for the Kharijites to be devoted to God and obedient to the Qur'an to the extent to use violence if needed. (Ayoub, 2004:162)."

      Is the use of violence in religion, Religious Terrorism?

      Was Mohammad (PBUH) ever violent?

      Did Mohammad (PBUH) ever kill anyone either directly or indirectly?

      May I be Muslim if I believe in One God and believe Mohammad (PBUH) was a Prophet.

      Can I be a Muslim if I also accept other Prophets in One great succession?


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