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Encyclopaedia of Ismailism by Mumtaz Ali Tajddin

Shariah is an Arabic term used to designate Islamic law. It originally referred to a path trodden by camels to a water source, a course to the watering place or resort of drinkers. Hence, it means the clear path or the highway to be followed.

The word shari'a occurs once in the Koran: "We have set you on a shari'a (way) of command, so follow it." (45:18). The cognate shir'a is also used once, "To each We have appointed a shir'a (way) and minhaj"(path) (5:48). The verb shar'a occurs twice, once with God as subject, "He has laid down for you as religion that which He enjoined also on Noah" (shara'a lakum min al-din) (42:13) and once in relation to rebels, "Or do they have companions who have laid down for them as religion that which God did not permit" (shara'u lahum min al-din) (7:163). The word shara'i (pl. of shariah) was used in the Prophet's time for the essentials of Islam.

When the word shariah is used, one immediately calls to mind the beliefs of Islam, and the external decrees comprising forms of worship, rules of behaviour and civil and criminal laws. Within this outer shariah there exists an inner shariah, known as tariqah. The shariah is concerned with the observance of the outward manifestations of religion, whilst tariqah concerns inward vision of divine power (mushahadat ar-rububiyya). Every rite not informed by the spirit of reality is valueless, and every spirit of reality not restrained by the law is incomplete. The shariah exists to regulate mankind, whilst the tariqah makes us to know the dispositions of God. The shariah exists for the service of God, whilst the tariqah exists for contemplation of Him. The shariah exists for obeying what He had ordained, whilst the tariqah concerns witnessing and understanding the order He had decreed. The one is outer, the other inner.
Din and Shariah

"The words din and shariah are applied as correlative terms, while in reality they are distinct. Din is concerned with the basic and fundamental issues, such as the unity of God, the Prophethood and the concept of hereafter. The shariah is the external manifestation of religion and is applicable to Muslims alone. The shariah is not opposed to modern law as long as it restores man's dignity and does not go against any fundamental moral values of Islam. As a matter of fact, the shariah always takes public interest into account. Thus law has to take social circumstances and the philosophy working behind the law into account. The shariah is the wider circle; it embraces in its orbit all human actions. The shariah is not perennially sound source of guidance. It is so transitory that some of its schools, such as those of Imam Sufian Savri and Imam Auzai have disappeared.

Fyzee writes in A Modern Approach to Islam (Bombay, 1963, p. 87) that, "Shariah embraces both law and religion. Religion is based upon spiritual experience; law is based upon the will of the community as expressed by its legislature, or any other law-making authority. Religion is unchangeable in its innermost kernel. If shariah is the name given to this duality, then one of the forces constantly pulls in the other direction. The cognition of God is a mystery and man is forever pursuing it. In this pursuit, all men of faith regardless of their particular religions are equal. But laws differ from country to country, from time to time. They must ever seek to conform to the changing pattern of society. The law of the Arabs cannot be applied to the Eskimos; and the laws of the bushmen of Australia are unsuitable for the fertile basin of Uttar Pradesh. Laws are like metals in the crucible of time and circumstances; they melt, they gradually solidify into different shapes; they re-melt and assume diverse forms. This process of evolution is conterminous with human society. Nothing is static except that which is dead and lifeless. Law can never be static." He also writes, "Therefore, to me it is clear, that we cannot go back to the Koran, we have to go forward with it. I wish to understand the Koran as it was understood by the Arabs of the time of the Prophet only to reinterpret it and apply it to my condition of life and to believe in it, so far as it appeals to me as a 20th century man. I cannot be called upon to live in the desert, to traverse it on camel back, to eat locusts, to indulge in vendetta, to wear a beard and a cloak, and to cultivate a pseudo-Arab mentality. I must distinguish between poetic truth and factual truth. I must distinguish the husk and the kernel of religion, between law and legend. I am bound to understand and accept the message of Islam as a modern man, and not as one who lived centuries ago. I respect authority, but cannot accept it without how (bila kayfa) in the matter of conscience" (Ibid. p. 94)."


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