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 An Introduction to Islam: 3. Sources of Doctrine in Islam

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An Introduction to Islam: 3. Sources of Doctrine in Islam

Khaled Nusseibeh

 Sources of Doctrine in Islam

Although as a consequence of the stunning and rapid expansion of the domain of Islam, the cultures of Greece, Byzantium and Persia had a considerable influence on the fabric of the nascent Islamic civilization, the early piety-minded individuals and scholars assured the Islamic underpinnings of doctrine and law. The legists postulated that Islamic doctrine and law should be based on four sources or fundamental principles (usul): the Quran, the Sunna traditions, ijma`a or consensus, and ijtihad or qiyas (independent mental exertion and analogical reasoning respectively).

The Quran, the uncreated speech of God, as it is regarded by orthodox theology, constitutes the principal source of doctrine and law. It is divided into 114 Surahs or Chapters of unequal length. To reiterate, the Qur`an revealed in Mecca primarily address the monotheistic imperative, so to speak, as well as ethical and spiritual and eschatological tenets and teachings. By contrast, the Surahs revealed in the Medinan period are more concerned with social legislation and politico-moral principles necessary for the tasks of ordering the Muslim community.

Introduction to Islam
Table of Contents

Introduction to Islam

Fundamentals of Islam

Sources of Doctrine in Islam

Doctrine in Islam

Islamic View of Man and the Universe

Suffis and Suffism

Islam in the Modern World - Interfaith Dialogue

The Sunna, or the well-trodden path as it may literally mean, which had its precursor in the pre-Islamic tribal custom, came to mean in the context of Islam, the words and deeds and example of the Prophet Muhammad. Moreover, the Hadith is a report of a saying attributed to Muhammad. In orthodox Islam, there exist six great compilations of Hadith (al-sihah al-sitt – or the six authentic works) which were done in the 3rd Century Hijri (9th century A.D.) and which acquired great authority among Islam’s orthodox community, the sunnis, who constitute the majority of Muslims.

The ijma`a of the community (denoting consensus) is a source of Islamic law and dogma. A tradition attributed to the Prophet reports Muhammad as saying “My community shall not agree on an error’. Thus, consensus, probably developed as a juridical vehicle in the 2nd century Hijri/8th Century A.D. manifested an effort to standardize legal practice and theory and to transcend disputes and differences on points of law and theology.

Finally , ijtihad (literally - the exertion of oneself - denoting "innovation") was originally categorized as ‘ra`y or opinion. However, in order to mitigate the emergence of vast differences in the opinions of Muslims, ra`y became qiyas (reasoning by strict analogy) which was a derivation of legal principles (ahkam) from the two primary sources of the Shari`ah (Islamic law) by means of analogical reasoning or deduction.

In effect, ijma`a played a conservative role in the Muslim intellectual tradition, given that it delineated the space of intellectual creation. The saying that the door of ijtihad was closed is a famous one. However, throughout Islamic history there have been efforts at intellectual regeneration represented by, for example, the great mystic-theologian Al-Ghazali (d.1111) who reappraised the edifice of orthodoxy, reformulated it in spiritually and intellectually vigorous terms, while at the same time adhering to the accepted parameters of the Quran and the Sunna. In modern times, there have been sporadic calls for the reopening of the gate of ijtihad by Arab and Muslim thinkers and reformers of various philosophical and political orientations.

In addition to the four sources of Islamic law mustered by legists to derive legal principles, there have been others which were articulated by the protagonists of the four major surviving Islamic schools of law, historically founded by Abu Hanifa, Malik, Shafi`I and Ibn Hanbal. It may be noted that the Maliki school of jurisprudence is dominant in North and West Africa, the Hanafi in Turkic Asia, the Shafii in Egypt, East Africa and South East Asia, and the Hanbali in Saudi Arabia. It also may be remarked, in this context, that the legists formulated five categories regarding the actions of humans: obligatory, meritorious, permissible, reprehensible and forbidden. Thus, with respect to any aspect of human conduct, whether in terms of ritual, or economic activity, or marriage etc.- the fuqaha state, based on the four sources of the law, whether the action is halal, haram, mustahab, makruh, or mubah. While differences between these schools of jurisprudence exist they coalesce on the fundamentals of Islamic doctrine and law, and complementarity is the defining feature of their reality.

Introduction to Islam (4)Continued


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