An Introduction to Shari’ah, its meaning and sources


بسم الله الرحمان الرحيم

الحمد الله

Meaning of Shari‘ah:

الشريعة Comes from the word شَرَعَ which literally means to prescribe or ordain, law, and a straight road or path. Qur`an provides usages of all three meanings.

The First meaning ordained or prescribed.

شَرَعَ لَكُم مِّنَ الدِّينِ مَا وَصَّىٰ بِهِ نُوحًا وَالَّذِي أَوْحَيْنَا إِلَيْكَ

Allâh has ordained for you the same religion which He ordained for Nuh and what we have revealed to you.{Surat Al Shura, ayah 13}

The Second meaning Law.

لِكُلٍّ جَعَلْنَا مِنكُمْ شِرْعَةً وَمِنْهَاجًا

To each among you We have prescribed a law and a clear way.{Surat Al Ma’ida, ayah 48}

The Third meaning, a straight path.

ثُمَّ جَعَلْنَاكَ عَلَىٰ شَرِيعَةٍ مِّنَ الْأَمْرِ فَاتَّبِعْهَا وَلَا تَتَّبِعْ أَهْوَاءَ الَّذِينَ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ

Then We put you on a straight path in your affairs, so follow it and do not follow the desires of those who have no knowledge.{Surat Al Jaathiyah, ayah 18}

Roughly, it refers to the sum total of Islamic Laws which were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه و سلم which are recorded in the Qur`an as well as deducible from the Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم’s divinely guided lifestyle (called the Sunnah).”

Meaning in the Arabic Language:

شريعة “A watering place; a resort of drinkers (both men and beasts); a place to which men come to drink there-from and draw water.”
[Lanes Lexicon volume 4 pg. 1535]

It is a reasonable to now define the word Fiqh:

Linguistic Meaning:

Fiqh literally means to understand الفهم.An example of this is found in the Qur`an in the Du‘a of Prophet Musa عليه السلام when he asked Allah سبحانه و تعالى to remove the impediment from his speech so Pharaoh and his people could understand him.

وَاحْلُلْ عُقْدَةً مِّن لِّسَانِي. يَفْقَهُوا قَوْلِي

And loosen the knot from my tongue that they may understand my speech.

{Surat Taha, ayaatayn 27-28}

Islamic Meaning:

Fiqh according to the scholars has the following meaning: “The collection of rulings or laws, (taken from) Shari‘ah, dealing with actions, by which every Muslim is required to live. It is important to know that these rulings deal with the individual as well as the society.”

Differences between Fiqh and Shari‘ah:



  1. A body of laws deduced from the Shari‘ah to cover specific situations not covered in the Shari‘ah.
  1. Shari‘ah is the body of laws found both in the Qur`an and Sunnah.

  1. Fiqh changes according to the circumstances surrounding it.

2. Shari‘ah is fixed and unchangeable.

  1. Fiqh laws tend to be specific: they demonstrate how the basic principles of Shari‘ah should be applied in given circumstances.

3. The laws of Shari‘ah are, for the most part, general: they lay down basic principles

Sources of Shari‘ah:

Since this is just an introduction, I shall only mention the two main sources of Shari‘ah:

1) Qur`an

2) Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه و سلم


There are about 350 legal Ayât (verses) in the Qur`an of which around 140 verses deal with devotional issues such as: Salaah, Zakaat, Siyaam, hajj, jihad, repentance, the taking of oaths, and charities, around 70 verses deal with marriage, divorce, the waiting period, revocation, mahr, maintenance, custody, fosterage, paternity, inheritance and bequest. Another 70 verses deal with commercial transactions. Close to 30 verses deal with crimes and penalties. About 30 deal with rights and obligations of citizens and around ten verses dealing with economic matters.

Qur`anic Periods of Revelation:

The Makkan period (609-622 C.E)

  1. Tawheed
  2. Allâh’s existence
  3. The next life
  4. The people of old
  5. Salah (the only ruling sent in Makkah)
  6. Challenges

The Madinan period (622-632 C.E)

  1. Laws
  2. The people of the book
  3. Hypocrites
  4. Jihad

Divisions of Qur`anic Legislation:

  1. Man’s relationship with his Creator.
  2. Man’s relationship with others.


According to Arabic lexicographers it means: “A way, course, rule, mode, or manner of acting or conduct of life.”

[Lanes Lexicon volume 6 pg. 1438]

In Islamic terminology the Sunnah is defined as: “what has been (authentically) related to us on behalf of the prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم from his sayings, actions, and silent approvals. It is the second source of reference in Islamic law for the Faqih, with the condition that it is authentically reported on the prophet’s behalf.”

Types of Sunnah:

1. The Sunnah related to the sayings of Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم

2. The Sunnah related to the actions of Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم

3. The Sunnah related to the silent approvals of Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم


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