Law and Theology of Islam
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.
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.
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.