What is Shariah?

The term “Shariah” comes from the Arabic word “sharīʿah,” which means “path” or “way.” Shariah refers to the “Law of Islam”, and the 4 main sources of Muslim law (or Islamic law) are Quran, Sunnah, Ijma, and Qiyas. The Quran is considered the most important source of Shariah as it is the direct word of Allah. The second major source of Muslim law is the Hadiths, which are collections of sayings and actions of Prophet Muhammad. Ijma refers to the consensus of Islamic scholars on a particular issue, while qiyas is the process of analogical reasoning to derive legal rulings from primary sources. Sharia encompasses much more than just legal principles.

Importance of Shariah

The importance of Muslim law, or Shariah, can be difficult for non-Muslims to understand. For example, it may seem strange when someone says a judge should follow the legal code outlined in the Quran. But Shariah is far more than just a set of rules. It’s a way of life. It encompasses everything from what foods to eat to how you should dress. And it has been used for centuries as a way of organizing society and guiding individuals.

More importantly, it provides Questions that dwell in the realm of real-world problems, such as whether investing in cryptocurrency is Halal or Haram, or if Muslims can invest their money to earn interest (or Riba), which is Haram (or illegal) in Islam, often come up. Nevertheless, through the active and dynamic interpretation and application of Shariah, the sources of Islamic law provide firm and insightful answers.

Benefits of Islamic Law

Shariah offers manifold benefits to Muslims and society at large.


Shariah serves as a moral compass, instilling a sense of responsibility and ethical conduct among Muslims. It promotes righteousness, honesty, and just dealings in every sphere of life.


By setting clear boundaries of right and wrong, Shariah fosters social harmony. It safeguards the rights of individuals, ensuring justice and equality, which ultimately leads to societal peace and prosperity.


Shariah acts as a spiritual guide, enabling Muslims to lead a life in alignment with the teachings of Islam. It emphasizes the significance of prayer, charity, and fasting, thus fostering a deep sense of spirituality.


Shariah brings economic justice. It prohibits exploitative practices such as usury and encourages wealth distribution and charitable giving, which reduces wealth gaps within society.


Shariah provides a comprehensive legal structure. It covers various aspects of life, including family laws, criminal laws, and business laws, ensuring a just and equitable legal system.

Examples of Shariah Law / Muslim Law

In contemporary society, Shariah law manifests in various forms, shaping the lives of many Muslims worldwide.


Predominantly, Shariah law has a significant influence on personal status laws. For example, in marriage, a contract (Nikah) is considered both a legal and spiritual agreement. It outlines the rights and responsibilities of the groom and bride or other parties involved in the marriage proceedings. On the other hand, in the event of a divorce (Talaq), Shariah law provides a structured process prioritizing reconciliation attempts before the final dissolution of the marriage.


Shariah law also governs inheritance and succession issues among Muslims. It offers detailed mechanisms on how one’s wealth and property should be divided among heirs after death, ensuring every rightful heir gets their share under Islamic principles.


Shariah law guides business ethics and commercial transactions. It forbids practices such as Riba (usury or interest), Gharar (uncertainty or ambiguity), and Maysir (gambling or speculation), promoting fairness, justice, and transparency in the commercial world. These principles have led to the evolution of an alternative financial system known as Islamic banking and finance. Examples of such examples are:

Shariah in the Light of Quran:

The Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) was His last messenger, and his Shariah represents the ultimate manifestation of divine mercy. In the Holy Quran, Allah says:

“Today, I have perfected your way of life for you, and completed My favour upon you, and have chosen Islam as your way of life.”.

Surat Al-Ma’idah Ayah No. 3!

The Encompassing Scope of Muslim Law and Life:

The word “Muslim” means “One who submits to Allah”. Islam expects a Muslim to follow its laws, in every aspect of life. The Muslim Law is not limited, and no aspect of human life is outside its domain. Whether it is: Personal and familial, Religious and social, moral and political, or even it is related to business and economics.

“It is not fitting for a Believer, man or woman, when a matter has been decided by Allah and His Messenger, to have any option about their decision. If anyone disobeys Allah and His Messenger, he is indeed on a clearly wrong Path”.

Surat Al-Ahzaab Ayah No. 36!


Sources of Muslim Law (Shariah):

Shariah laws are abstracted from the following four resources:

  1. QURAN: a book of Allah;
  2. SUNNAH: the practices of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him);
  3. IJMA: the approval and agreed opinion of the Muslim jurists; and;
  4. QIYAS: the analogy from the Quran, Sunnah, and Ijma.

We will take a look at each of these sources of Islamic law.

sources of Muslim law

1. Qurn:

The Quran is the sacred book of Muslims and is the primary source of Muslim laws. Allah dictated the Quran through Angle Jibrael, the Angel, to Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him). The Quran is a complete code of conduct itself. It tells us what Allah wants us to do, from birth to death.

The Quran is the Primary Source of Sharia because it has direct words of Allah. However, when it does not speak directly on a certain subject, Muslims only then turn to alternative sources.

2. Sunnah:

The word Sunnah means “a system”, “a path”, or “an example”. In Islam, it refers to the practices of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him), and his life examples.

  • Sunnah is the things that Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) said, did, or agreed to.
  • Sunnah clarifies details of what is stated generally in the Quran.

All his life, the Prophet acted on what Allah told him to do. So, it is part of every Muslim’s faith that Sunnah is complete obedience to Allah, and so it must be followed.


They were Prophet’s family members and companions, who observed him during his lifetime, and shared with others exactly what they had seen in his words, and behaviors.


These are the “Sayings, actions, and the actions done with the approval of Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him)”. They include issues concerning personal conduct, community, family relations, and political matters. Ahadith were collected and compiled very carefully, and they all are reported by Sahaba.

3. Ijma:

It may be defined as the “Consensus of the companions of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) or Muslim jurists of the first three centuries of the Hijra”. Ijma is simply an agreed-upon decision. It is used in an Islamic society to overcome a problem, which could not be found in Quran, or in Sunnah.

Ijma may be understood from the following Hadith of Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him), who said:

“If anything comes to you for decision, according to the book of Allah, if anything comes to you, which is not in the book of Allah, then look to the Sunnah of the Prophet (Peace be upon him). If anything comes to you, which is not in the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him), then look to what people unanimously agrees upon”.


4. Qiyas:

Qiyas means, “Judging by comparing with something”. It may be defined as “The analogy from the Quran, the Sunnah, and Ijma”. Qiyas can be carried out only in a Sharia-governed state when a solution to a problem cannot be found in the Quran, Sunnah, and Ijma. When something needs a legal ruling but has not been clearly addressed in the other sources, Islamic jurists may use an analogy, reasoning, and legal precedent to decide on new case law.

Qiyas may be understood from the following Hadith of Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him), who said:

“Judge upon the book of Allah, upon the Sunnah of the Prophet, and if you do not find it in that, then use your personal opinion”.


sources of islamic law

“Shariah is a path set by Allah for those who accept Him, in order to attain success both in the worldly life, and in the hereafter”.

Historical Development Regarding the Sources of Islamic Law

  • The historical development of Sharia law is a journey that spans over 1400 years, marked by continuous evolution, interpretation, and adaptation. It started with the revelation of the Quran, which is the primary source of Sharia law, in the 7th century. Over the next 23 years, the Quran laid down the fundamental principles of righteousness, justice, and morality. Following the demise of Prophet Muhammad, his practices, actions, and sayings, collectively known as the Hadith, became the second primary source of legal rulings.
  • Subsequently, as Islamic civilizations expanded and encountered various cultural, socio-economic, and political contexts, the need for additional sources of legislation arose. This led to the establishment of Ijma, the consensus among Muslim scholars, and Qiyas, analogical reasoning, to address contemporary issues not specifically mentioned in the Quran or Hadith.
  • In the classical period of Islamic jurisprudence, from the 8th to the 13th centuries, a systematic method of legal reasoning, known as Ijtihad, emerged. This process of independent interpretation of the Quran and Hadith allowed scholars to develop legal rulings for new situations.
    Despite its deep historical roots, Sharia law continues to evolve, driven by ongoing Ijtihad, to meet the necessities of modern life, demonstrating its enduring resilience and relevance.

The Evolution of Islamic Finance Education

Islamic finance education has seen significant growth over the years, with various globally recognized institutes offering rigorous curricula tailored towards producing Islamic finance experts. Degree programs such as a PhD in Islamic banking and finance delve deep into the doctrines of Shariah law, providing students with comprehensive knowledge and understanding of the intricacies involved. Meanwhile, an MSc in Islamic banking and finance and a postgraduate diploma in Islamic banking and finance provide a solid foundation in both theoretical and applied aspects of Islamic finance, preparing students for a wide range of careers in the industry.

Development of Different Schools of Law

In the wake of the expansion of Islamic civilizations, diverse interpretations of Sharia law led to the development of various schools of thought. Each of these distinct schools of thought reflects the diversity and adaptability of Sharia law, sustaining its relevance in changing contexts and cultures.


The Hanafi School, named after its founder Imam Abu Hanifa emerged in Iraq and is known for heavily relying on Qiyas (analogical reasoning). This school of thought prioritized rationality and human reasoning, thus allowing greater flexibility in legal judgment.


Transitioning to Medina, we encounter The Maliki School. Imam Malik, its founder, emphasized Ijma (consensus) and prioritized the practices of the people of Medina, considering them living examples of Islamic traditions.


Simultaneously, the city of Mecca was cultivating The Shafi’i School, founded by Imam Al-Shafi’i. This school of thought proposed a balanced reliance on the Quran, Hadith, Ijma, and Qiyas, pioneering a comprehensive framework of legal deduction named Usul al-Fiqh.


Lastly, there is The Hanbali School, founded by Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal. This school adhered strictly to the Quran and Hadith, minimizing the use of human reasoning and avoiding analogy or opinion if a textual source was available.


Understanding the Shariah is fundamental to comprehending the foundations of Islamic law. The primary sources of Islamic law include the Holy Book (Quran) and Sunnah, supplemented by secondary sources like Ijma (consensus) among Islamic scholars and Qiyas (analogical reasoning), providing an intricate and comprehensive religious law system. The Sharia law’s definition, encapsulating personal religious duties and societal laws, governs various aspects of public and private lives in Muslim-majority countries. The interpretations of Sharia vary widely, with examples ranging from the strict enforcement in Saudi Arabia to more liberal, localized legal systems in other nations.