Muslim law is perhaps the most misunderstood personal law in the world insofar as allegations of Muslim religious texts inciting religious hatred and inflicting barbaric punishments is concerned. Thus, to avoid an ambivalent view on the directives and principles of Muslim law, it is necessary to understand the sources of Islamic law. This essay shall trace the various sources of Islamic law that have developed in the fourteen centuries of the existence of Islam.
Major or primary sources of Muslim law
The holy Quran is the foremost and primary source of Muslim law. Since Muslims believe the Quran to be the direct words of Allah, as revealed and transmitted by Prophet Muhammad, all other sources of Muslim law should essentially be in agreement with the Quran. For any controversy, Muslims first turn to the Quran for guidance and answers.
It is only when the Quran is silent or when the Quran does not elaborate on a particular issue that it becomes necessary to look into the other secondary sources of Muslim law. The basic rules relating to civil, criminal and law of evidence are contained in the Quran. It is important to note that though the Quran is a gigantic book containing over six thousand verses. Only two hundred of these verses deal with legal aspects such as state policy, family law etc.
It is also appropriate to note at this stage that contrary to popular belief, the contents of the Quran were not reduced to writing during the life time of Prophet Muhammad but were presented during the life time of the Prophet in the memories of his companions or inscribed on bones, skins, leaves etc. It was revised only later, in the time of Osman, the third Caliph from his memory, though the compilation of the work of the Quran was undertaken during the times of Abu Bakr the first Caliph and Omar, the second Caliph.
The second important source of Muslim law is the Sunnah, that is the traditions or known practices of the Prophet Muhammad, many of which...