FROM THE EDITORIAL DIRECTOR
AN UNDERSTANDING ABOUT ISLAMIC JURISPRUDENCE
FIQH the Arabic equivalent to jurisprudence literally means an understanding and knowledge of something. At more than one place the Quran has used the word fiqh in its general sense of ‘understanding’. In the early days of Islam the terms ilm (knowledge) and fiqh were frequently used to denote an understanding of Islam in general. This shows that in the Prophet’s time the term fiqh was not applied in the legal sense alone. The Prophet blessed one of his Companions in the following words: “Allahumma faqqih ho fiddin,’ which means ‘O God, give him understanding in religion’. By these words the Prophet did not mean exclusively knowledge of law. He meant in fact a deeper understanding of religion.
Brief History of Fiqh
After the Prophet, the Companions settled in different parts of the vast Islamic empire. Here they were confronted with new problems, and they had no option but to exercise their personal judgement. The Prophet was no longer amidst them to turn to him for the solution of these problems. Therefore whenever any problem arose they first consulted the Quran and Hadith and only if they failed to find the solution there, they resorted, to the exercise of their personal judgement, while observing fully the spirit of the Quran and Hadith.
It was at this stage when the exercise of reason was done to deduce a law, that the term fiqh came to be frequently used for this endeavour. Towards the end of the seventh century a movement of collecting Hadith started. Large number of people devoted their entire lives to collect and record the teachings of the Prophet. There was another group of people who were interested only in those teachings from which some legal rule could be deduced. For this purpose they resorted to the exercise of reason and personal judgement. This knowledge came to be known as fiqh and those who were involved in this task came to be known as fuqaha.
During the age of successors the Arabs settled in different parts of the vast Muslim empire. Consequently they came into contact with different cultures and civilizations—confronting with problems they had never faced before. In their endeavour to solve these problems they made great advances in various fields of learning. Islamic law developed and towards the middle of the ninth century books began to be written exclusively on fiqh.
Whenever any problem arose they first consulted the Quran and Hadith and only if they failed to find the solution there, they resorted, to the exercise of their personal judgement, while observing fully the spirit of the Quran and Hadith.
Origins of Different Schools of Law
One should be clear about the fact that during the time of the Prophet there was no such science as that of jurisprudence. The only ideal for Muslims at that time was the conduct of the Prophet. They learnt by observing the Prophet’s actions and under his instructions. On different occasions, cases were brought to the Prophet for his decision.
Prophet’s decisions were taken as models for similar decisions in similar cases. During this period, people were not interested in unnecessary philosophical discussions or in meticulous details. Prophet’s practice remained a general directive, interpreted by the early Muslims in different ways. Of course the Prophet laid down certain regulations but the jurists elaborated them with more details. The reason for this further addition to the laws by interpretation is that the Prophet himself had made allowances in his commands. He left many things to the discretion of the community to be decided according to a given situation.
The Prophet provided a wide scope for differences by giving instructions of a general nature, or by validating two diverse actions in the same situation. Had the Prophet laid down specific and rigid rules for each problem, the coming generations would have been deprived of exercising reason and framing laws according to the need of the hour.
Thus whenever any problem arose the Muslims tried to solve it by first referring to the Quran; If no definite answer was found in the Quran then they would turn to the Sunnah (the practice of the Prophet); if there too the problem remained to be solved then they resorted to consensus of the scholars; and as a final recourse they drew an analogy with the Quran and Sunnah.
The Prophet provided a wide scope for differences by giving instructions of a general nature, or by validating two diverse actions in the same situation.
From the above points we can understand that the science of jurisprudence had come into existence with the advent of Islam, but it developed as an academic discipline in the eighth century. Imams or scholars have established four different Islamic schools of jurisprudence. There is no conflict between them and they are accepted by all the Muslims of the world. One could follow any school of thought one wants to. For example the Maliki School of law is dominant in the Arab west and is also found in southern Egypt and Sudan.
These four different schools of Islamic jurisprudence have been established by the following Imams and named after them.
Abu Hanifa Nu’man ibn Thabit (Hanafi School of Law)
Born in 699 CE in Kufa, Umayyad Caliphate
Died in 767 CE in Baghdad, Abbasid Caliphate
Malik ibn Anas (Maliki School of Law)
Born in 711 CE in Madinah
Died in 795 CE in Madinah
Abu Abdillah Muhammad ibn Idris al-Shafi (Shafi School of Law)
Born in 767 CE in Gaza, Bilad al-Sham, Abbasid Caliphate
Died in 820 CE in Egypt
Ahmad bin Hanbal (Hanbali School of Law)
Born in 780 CE in Baghdad, Iraq
Died in 855 CE in Baghdad, Iraq
Dr. Farida Khanam