What is Shariah and What Are It’s Sources?

Shariah the threatExcerpt from Shariah: The Threat to America, An Exercise in Competitive Analysis—Report of Team B II (pp. 57-66)

By Patrick Poole; Joseph E.Schmitz ;  William J.Boykin ;  Harry Edward Soyster, ; Henry Cooper ; Michael Del Rosso ; Frank J. Gaffney Jr.; John Guandolo; Clare M. Lopez ; Stephen C. Coughlin;  Andrew C.McCarthy

Also see Key Tenets of Shariah and The Reliance of the Traveller

The Arabic word “shariah,” according to one modern English-language student textbook on Islam, “literally means a straight path (Quran 45:18) or an endless supply of water.  It is the term used to describe the rules of the lifestyle (Deen) ordained for us by Allah.  In more practical terms, shariah includes all the do’s and don’ts of Islam.”[71]

In other words, shariah is held by mainstream Islamic authorities – not to be confused with “radical,”“extremist” or “political” elements said to operate at the fringes of Islam – to be the perfect expression of divine will and justice and thus is the supreme law that must comprehensively govern all aspects of Muslims’ lives, irrespective of when or where they live.  Shariah is characterized as a “complete way of life” (social, cultural, military, religious, and political), governed from cradle to grave by Islamic law.

While many, many millions of Muslims around the world do not practice their faith in a manner consistent with shariah, as this chapter makes clear, those who do practice shariah have grounds for arguing that their version of Islam is the authoritative one.  And those who claim that there is no single shariah – a narrative that has recently emerged from representatives of Muslim- and Arab-American groups[72] and their non-Muslim apologists[73] – are either ignorant of the facts about shariah discussed below, or deliberately dissembling (see chapter three).


There are four sources for shariah that make it authoritative: the Quran, the Sunna, ijma, and qiyas.  Deemed the “uncreated word of Allah,” the Quran reflects direct divine revelation and is understood to be the primary source of Islamic law. After the Quran, Islamic jurists next turn to the Sunna, considered to be indirect divine revelation arising out of the hadiths, or sayings or acts of Mohammed. Ijma refers to the consensus of the grand mujtahids of the past, a historic process in which, once consensus attached, became a permanent part of the immutable body of Islamic law.  Finally, the fourth source for shariah is qiyas, or reasoning by analogy, which applies an accepted principle or assumption to arrive at a legal ruling.[74]

In order fully to understand shariah, it is necessary to examine each of these sources and their contributions in turn.

The Quran: In Islamic parlance, the Quran is considered to be the uncreated word of Allah. According to Muslim belief, it has existed since the beginning of time and was revealed by the Archangel Gabriel in the 7th Century to the Prophet Mohammed in the Arabic language of his homeland. It follows from the characterization of the Quran as the uncreated word of Allah that its points are timeless. Clearly, if it were possible to place the Quran in context within a certain historical period, it could be said that it has subsequently become obsolete – especially since so many of its tenets are unique to 7th Century Bedouin culture. That would be tantamount, however, to asserting that Allah’s uncreated, and therefore eternal, word is actually time-limited.  Thus, it is mandatory that the Quran be deemed as eternal and eternally applicable to everyone, not just Muslims. The preeminence of the Quran in shariah is closed to debate.  An Indian Islamic jurist, Asaf A.A. Fyzee, put it in his work Outlines of Mohammedan Law: “The Koran according to this theory is the first source of law. … It is for this reason that the verse of the Koran (ayat), although only a few of them deal specifically with legal questions, are held to be of paramount authority.” [75]

The Quran is comprised of 114 chapters (or Suras) that include some 6,236 ayat or verses, and is believed by Muslims to have been revealed over a period of 22 years (from 610 to 632 A.D., the year of Mohammed’s death). Chronologically speaking, the first 86 of the 114 chapters were said to have been revealed to the Prophet in Mecca while the remaining 28 came after the hijra to Medina in 622.

Although the chronological order of these verses is known, the Quran itself is not laid out in order of reported revelation but by length of verses (longest to shortest).  In the beginning, Quranic verses were memorized and recited orally, with some being jotted down in a haphazard manner on pieces of parchment, plant leaves, and even stones. It was not until about 650 that the third Caliph, Uthman, commissioned an official, standardized version of the Quran, after which a concerted effort was made to find and destroy any earlier remnants and versions.

It is important to appreciate that the Quran was not compiled in the chronological order of revelations, but rather organized from longest to shortest verses. This decision makes for difficult reading and even more difficult understanding of what was said and when.

In light of the Islamic doctrine of “abrogation” – which holds that the later verses supersede, or abrogate, the earlier ones – the actual chronological order of the Quranic verses makes a critical difference.  This is because there are contradictions among the verses, a delicate situation that had to be dealt with by Mohammed himself. Thus arose the device known as al-mansukh wa al-nasikh (“that which is abrogated and that which abrogates”).  The basis for this solution to an otherwise difficult conundrum in what is supposed to be a perfect book can be found in both the hadiths and the Quran itself, where verse 2:106 states: “When we cancel a message, or throw it into oblivion, we replace it with one better or one similar.  Do you not know that God has power over all things?” A number of other verses convey the same understanding.

All four schools of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence are in complete agreement on doctrine of abrogation and in general agreement on the abrogating and abrogated import of shariah doctrine regarding Quranic texts.[76]  Seventy-five percent of Sunni Islamic law is recognized in common across all four schools.   An Islamic jurist does not read Islamic law and decide for himself what is or is not abrogated as this has already been determined by the school of law to which the jurist belongs.

These issues have already been decided. A Hanafi, Shafite, Maliki, and even Hanbali Islamic scholar will refer to their respective school’s books on abrogating and abrogated texts.  No one can become a shariah judge unless he knows these passages by heart; they are that important.

In practice, Quranic abrogation results in a known doctrinal footprint that subordinates the milder, more moderate verses of the Quran from the Meccan period of revelation, to the later and violent verses of the Medina period. Islamic law is substantially derived from the Medinan period. Where a conflict exists, anything said during the Medinan period overrules anything on the same subject in the Meccan. And anything said in the later part of the Medinan period either overrules or controls anything said in the earlier part.

To put a fine point on it: When our shariah-compliant enemies cite from the most violent verses of the Quran to justify their actions, they are completely aligned with Islamic law and doctrine.

As the noted scholar David Bukay wrote in a 2007 essay for the Middle East Quarterly, “Statements that there is no compulsion in religion and that jihad is primarily about internal struggle and not about holy war may receive applause in university lecture halls and diplomatic board rooms, but they misunderstand the importance of abrogation in Islamic theology.”[77]  The point also should be made here that, independent of abrogation, the forcible imposition of shariah is intended to set the pre-conditions within a society that will “open minds and hearts to Islam, and thereby encourage conversion.” (We shall discuss below the implications for national security leaders whose professional responsibility includes understanding the motivations and claimed justifications of the jihadi enemy.)

Closely related to the doctrine of abrogation is the concept of progressive revelation, which means that the Quran’s verses were revealed gradually over a lengthy period of some 20 years. As Sayyid Qutb, the Muslim Brotherhood strategist put it: “The Quran did not come down all at once; rather it came down according to the needs of the Islamic society in facing new problems….”[78]

According to Muslim belief, the gradual revelation of the Quranic verses tracked with the development of the early Muslim community itself under the Prophet Mohammed’s leadership. Early on, when his followers were a small, reviled group in Mecca, the corresponding revelations from Allah commanded a protective low profile.  Even in the face of harsh criticism, Mohammed instructed his followers to maintain a peaceful attitude and the Quranic verses of the period reflect that attitude.

Later on, after Mohammed’s move to Medina (the hijra), circumstances for the early Muslims improved and their numbers, and strength, grew significantly.  At this time, new revelations permitted them to fight back against those who attacked them.  This is precisely the point made by Major Nidal Malik Hasan in his pre-Fort Hood massacre presentation at Walter Reed.[79] Hasan explained the “Jihad-rule of Abrogation” in Slide 35 of his presentation.[80]

Finally, after the signal Battle of Badr in the year 624, where a relatively small Muslim force overcame a much larger enemy force of non-Muslims for the first time, revelations emerged that permitted – and then commanded – Muslims to go on the offensive from that time onward, until all the world should be under shariah.  Specifically, the chronologically last Sura to address jihad is Sura 9, the “Sura of the Sword.”  In accordance with the doctrine of abrogation, its passages represent the ultimate authority on the requirements of jihad:

Fight and slay the unbelievers wherever ye find them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem of war. But if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practice regular charity, then open the way for them; for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.  (Q 9:5)

Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Apostle, nor acknowledge the religion of truth, even if they are of the people of the Book, until they pay the jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.  (Q 9:29)

Instructions on Muslim relations with Christians and Jews were laid out in the late Medinan period as well. Those familiar with Islamic concerns with regard to terrorism are familiar with the Quranic injunction: “Let there be no compulsion in religion.” (Q 5:99) This passage is a particular favorite of those Muslim Brotherhood operatives and others seeking to obscure the true character of shariah.

What most non-Muslims have not heard is Quran 3:85: “Whoever seeks a religion other than Islam will never have it accepted of him, and he will be of those who have truly failed in the hereafter.” (Emphasis added.) Even more graphic is Sura 98:6 where it is asserted that non-Muslims are “the most vile of created beings.”

These verses are interpreted under shariah to mean that anyone who does not accept Islam is unacceptable in the eyes of Allah and that he will send them to Hell.  When it is said that shariah is a supremacist program, this is one of the bases for it.

And even more specifically, regarding the possibility of Muslim friendship with any but fellow Muslims: “Oh ye who believe! Take not the Jews and the Christians for your friends and protectors; they are but friends and protectors to each other. And he amongst you that turns to them for friendship is of them. Verily Allah guideth not the unjust.”(Q 5:51)

This verse lays down the rule for Muslims that “the unjust” are not only the Christians and Jews:  they are also Muslims who take Christians and Jews as friends.

And lastly, to quote just one of the Quranic verses that is used repeatedly by shariah-adherent Muslims to castigate Jews and Christians, and by extension, the West:

“Shall I point out to you something much worse than this, (as judged) by the treatment it received from Allah? Those who incurred the curse of Allah and His wrath, those of whom some He transformed into apes and swine, those who worshipped evil….” (Quran 5:60)

So, according to Sura 5:60, Allah turned people who worshipped evil into apes and swine. The references refer, respectively, to the apes, who are the Jews (the people of the Sabbath), while the swine are Christians, the infidels who adhere to the communion of Jesus.

Apologists for shariah try to dismiss such citations as “cherry picking” from the Quran. However[s7] , these Sura are selected precisely because they are operative according to shariah’s doctrine of abrogation. This stepped process of development through which the first Muslims moved forms the model for all Muslims to the current day.

Muslim children, and those studying to become converts to Islam, are typically taught first about the gentle “your religion for you, mine for me” verses of the Quran.

Instruction to Westerners, as it turns out, is strictly limited to understanding Islam in its early peaceful phases.  In fact, it is a top priority of the Islamic Movement to discourage U.S. leaders from studying Islamic doctrine and law.  As Edward Said famously argued in his 1978 book Orientalism, only those who can speak classical Arabic can understand the true meaning of Islam, so why read anything[s8]  at all?

Muslims, however, are required to proceed on to eventual understanding of the complete sequence contained in the Quran and hadiths.  This graduated progression to manage the Muslim community is what Ikhwan strategist Sayyid Qutb made as the object of his seminal jihadist monograph Milestones. The method of graduated progression is why it is impossible to understand the full import of Islam without mastering the doctrines of abrogation and its associated “progressive revelation.”

Finally, progressive revelation along “milestones” tracks with the stepped-learning process that many national security and law enforcement officials have taken to calling “the self-radicalization process.”  Shariah itself calls for this evolution.  The practice may or may not be properly described as “radical,” but it certainly reflects the gradual revelation of Islam itself.

The Sunna: The second most authoritative source for shariah is the Sunna, commonly understood to be the actions and sayings of the Prophet. The Sunna includes the ahadith (plural of hadith), or collections by Mohammed’s contemporaries of what he did and said during his lifetime. Also within the Sunna is the Sira, which are biographical accounts of the life of Mohammed. It should be noted that the ahadith (not the Sira) constitute the legally significant element of the Sunna.[81]

The many hundreds of thousands of hadiths have been recorded in a number of hadith collections, of which six collections are held to be the most authoritative (or “strong hadiths,” meaning their chain of transmission is considered solid). The two most important collections of all are those by Sahih Al-Bukhari (collected and compiled by Mohammed bin Isma’il, known as Imam Bukhari, born 810, died 870) and Sahih Muslim (Muslim bin al-Hajjaj, known as Imam Muslim, born 817/818, died 874/875 ).

Ijma: In addition to the Quran and Sunna, there are also two accepted secondary sources for shariah: these are ijma (consensus of the scholars) and qiyas (analytical deduction). Consensus of the Islamic jurists refers to the achievement of agreement on particular legal issues and finds its justification in numerous verses of the Quran.[82] Hadith accounts also provide support with the words of Mohammed: “My followers will never agree upon an error or what is wrong.” The early Muslim scholars turned to this device of ijma only when they could not find a specific legal ruling in either the Quran or the Sunna.

Qiyas: Qiyas make up the fourth most important source for shariah. The term means “to judge by comparing with a thing.” Its methods of deductive reasoning derive from the previous three sources of authenticity, namely the Quran, the Sunna, and ijma. When a legal ruling was required but could not be found in the other sources, the Islamic jurists employed analogy, reasoning, and legal precedent to arrive at new case law. Although all four schools of Sunni jurisprudence (Hanafi, Shafi’i, Maliki, and Hanbali) accept ijma as a legitimate source of shariah, Shiite Muslims do not; however, they replace ijma with aql (or reason). Considering that Shiites do not accept the authority of the Sunni Caliphs after Imam Ali, it is understandable that they would reject a source of legal authority that arose under their authority. In any case, the Shia practice of aql is essentially identical to ijma.

3 thoughts on “What is Shariah and What Are It’s Sources?

  1. A most valuable commentary and review of Sharia. All should be aware that to the Islamists there is but one path, even thought they do not all agree. They point their weapons at each other claiming they have all the answers; the targets are Infidels among their own. Visit Understand-Islam.com for weekly thoughts on the character of this ideology.

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