15 Questions About Shari`ah and Hudud

By Reading Islam Team

Islam promotes certain rights: the right of life, property, freedom, justice, etc.

1. What does Shari`ah mean?

The word Shari`ah literally means “a waterway that leads to a main stream, a drinking place, and a road or the right path.” From this meaning, the word Shari`ah was used to refer to a path or a passage that leads to an intended place, or to a certain goal.

Although the word Shari`ah and its different derivative forms are mentioned in five places in the Qur’an, its extensive use only came into vogue much later, for the words Islam and deen (religion) were more commonly employed to express the same meaning in the early days of Islam.

Shari`ah, conceptually, refers to a set of rules, regulations, teachings, and values governing the lives of Muslims. However, these rules and regulations, contrary to how they are often described by many non-Muslims, cover every aspect of life. Shari`ah embraces worship, morals, individual attitude and conduct, as well as the political, social, economic, criminal, and civil spheres.

The Shari`ah, therefore, is a path – set by Allah for those who accept Him – to follow, in order to attain success both in the worldly life and in the hereafter.

2. What are the objectives of the Shari`ah?

In principle, the Shari`ah aims at removing hardships from people and providing them with solutions to their problems.

Shari`ah in general encourages individuals and the community to be pious and close to Allah. Societies should be in harmony and secure, with a sense of unity and trust where all help each other, enjoin what is good, and avoid what is evil and displeases Allah.

First and foremost among the objectives of Shari`ah is the protection of religion, as religion is the essence and spirit of life.

Shari`ah also aims at protecting life. One cannot go and kill others nor harm them in any way. The blood of others is sacred, and one of the most serious sins in Islam is to kill innocent people.

Shari`ah is also concerned with protecting the mind. Muslims should be sober at all times and should not intake any intoxicants, whether alcohol or drugs. Intoxicants are very harmful to societies and bring much more destruction than benefit – if there is any benefit at all.

Property in Shari`ah is also something that is highly protected. Naturally, to feel a sense of security is to feel that the fruit of one’s labor is protected and not subject to theft or molestation.

Shari`ah is also very keen on keeping lineages clear and accurate. Progeny is protected, and thus pre- and extramartial sexual relations are forbidden and punishable. Shari`ah prohibits not only fornication and adultery, but also all that lead to them.

3. What are the sources of Shari`ah?

The main source of Shari`ah is the Qur’an, the literal words of Allah said out of His infinite wisdom and knowledge. After the Qur’an, there is the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). The Sunnah includes what the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, did, and approved of. The Sunnah is mostly recorded in books of Hadith (sayings or traditions). In addition to the Qur’an and the Sunnah, there are some secondary sources of Shari`ah such as the ijma`(consensus), qiyas (analogical deduction), ijtihad (personal reasoning), maslaha (public interest).

4. What is the difference between religion and Shari`ah?

Shari`ah refers to a set of rules, regulations, teachings, and values governing the lives of Muslims. Shari`ah embraces worship, morals, individual attitude and conduct, and other spheres like political, social, economic, criminal and civil.

According to Islam, the genuine religion must come from God to guide humankind to the right path. At the same time, human nature and major human deeds are basically the same irrespective of time and place, of race and age, and of any other considerations. This conception leads to the conclusion that there is only one true religion coming from the One and the Same God, to deal with the outstanding human problems of all times. This religion is Islam. Islam was not taught by Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) alone. On the contrary, Islam had been taught by all the prophets before Muhammad, su ch as Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. The idea of submission to one God was the message of all prophets.

The Islamic concept maintains that religion is not only a spiritual and intellectual necessity, but also a social and universal need. It is not to bewilder people but to guide them. It is not to debase them but to elevate their moral nature. It is not to deprive them of anything useful, or to burden them, or to oppress their qualities, but to open for them inexhaustible treasures of sound thinking and right action. It is not to confine people to narrow limits but to launch them into wide horizons of truth and goodness. (Hammudah `Abdul-`Ati, Islam in Focus)

5. What is the relationship between Shari`ah and ethics?

In secular systems, law and ethics are not necessarily interrelated. However, ethics and Shari`ah are directly related; Shari`ah laws try to enforce and encourage ethical standards within the society. One cannot fully implement Shari`ah without being truly sincere and without regarding it as the true and only way to lead a society instructed by the Creator of all beings.

The whole objective of Shari`ah is ethical and moral, as Shari`ah tries to establish and promote certain values such as justice, rights and obligations, consultation, public interest, success in this world and the hereafter.

6. What does hudud mean?

The word hudud is the plural of hadd, which in Arabic means “the limit or boundary.” In Islam, hudud are the liabilities incurred as a result of crossing the boundaries set by God.

Hudud are not subject to human authority; they cannot be reduced or superseded, for they have been laid down by God, and no one can be more merciful, wiser, or more just than God.

7. Why is there punishment in the first place?

Punishment is an integral part of justice; that is, praiseworthy behavior is rewarded and ill behavior is punished. Punishment is a controversial issue; however, it should be looked at as part of a bigger whole. It is only part of the picture within the framework of the overall healthiness of a society. Although law is not the main propellant of morality in a society, however it does contribute to it.

Penalties in Islam are more of a functional nature, to regulate and deter. Allah has laid down a body of mutual rights and obligations that are the true embodiment of justice. He has also laid down certain bounds and limits to be observed and maintained for this very purpose, in order for people to live in peace and harmony. If people do not abide by this set of rules, they not only put themselves in danger, but endanger others. They, therefore, naturally make themselves liable to penalties – not in vengeful retribution, but to regulate the orderly exchanges in their lives in accordance with justice (Khurram Murad, Shari`ah: The Way of Justice).

8. What is the difference between various hudud?

Different hudud have different degrees, according to the crime committed. The worse the crime is, the harsher the punishment prescribed is. Each punishment or hadd is directly related to the crime and is not prescribed randomly.

9. What are the categories of punishment?

There are three categories of punishments in Islam. The first is hudud that are prescribed to preserve the public interest. Hudud are set for crimes such as theft, drinking alcohol, illicit sexual relations, etc.

The second is qisas (retribution), which is prescribed for homicide and assault. When a person causes physical injury or harm to a fellow human being, Islam gives the injured party the right of equal requital – the well-known principle of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”

The third is ta`zir, which is a discretionary punishment decided by the court.

10. What is the logic behind the different punishments?

These specific punishments are prescribed by Allah; however there is nothing that Allah prescribed that is not beneficial to individuals and society as a whole. Each and every thing Allah prescribes is out of His infinite mercy, knowledge, and wisdom. Allah may tell us why this specific punishment or law is prescribed on that such crime, but if He does not, we can always find logical reasoning for these specific punishments.

Ibn Al-Qayyim, a famous Islamic scholar, explained that point:

It is known that if people relied on their minds and specified a certain penalty for each crime according to its type, description, and degree, there would be a great difference in opinion, dissention, and disagreement. However, Almighty Allah spared them such a burden and, through His wisdom, knowledge, and mercy, defined crime with regard to its type and degree, and set a suitable legal penalty and an appropriate exemplary punishment for each crime. In addition, due to the limitlessness of His mercy and grace, He has made such legal penalties means of expiation and purification for the wrongdoers from the burden of sin if they willingly accept them, especially if they are followed by true repentance and sincere remorse. (I`lam Al-Muwaqqi`in)

11. Is it possible to have an ideal application of Shari`ah?

Muslims believe that Shari`ah is applicable at all times and in all places. When we fully understand the basic concepts and objectives of Shari`ah, it is safe to say that it is capable of creating a most humane and just society, and bringing peace for mankind.

Nowadays, our societies are not model ones. There are ills and evils. When we adhere to legacies of Shari`ah such as the stable family life, absence of delinquency, low crime rates, much greater freedom from drugs and alcoholism, concepts of brotherhood, mercy, compassion, generosity, justice, and mutual aid and help, then Shari`ah will be ideally applied.

12. Does the implementation of Shari`ah mean the implementation of hudud?

Shari`ah is not about hudud only. Shari`ah is about everything in Muslims’ lives. When we apply the hudud, this means we are applying a part of Shari`ah, as punishments are only a part of a vastly larger, integrated whole. There are other aspects of Shari`ah that should be implemented as well.

13. Whose duty is it to implement Shari`ah?

Indeed, it is the duty of all Muslims to implement Shari`ah and abide by its spirit of ordering what is good and forbidding what is evil. However, it is important to point out that the application of Shari`ah will not happen overnight; rather, it is the fruit of individuals leading a pious Muslim life.

Gradualism in applying Shari`ah is a smart thing and was the case in the first Islamic state formed by Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). It is also worth pointing out that in the first 13 years of Islam, there were very minor obligations of what to do and what to avoid with the exception of praying. In these 13 years, most of the revelation was to do with matters of belief in Allah, His mercy, wisdom, knowledge, and other attributes. After those 13 years of education in matters of belief, anything that was ordained was easy on the hearts of the Companions to follow because they fully comprehended the main principles of Islam. Thus again, fostering an Islamic environment by individuals and various institutions will eventually lead to the implementation of Shari`ah.

14. Who has the right to implement hudud?

Hudud (fixed penalties) are the commands of Allah and it is obligatory upon Muslims who are living under an Islamic government to establish the hudud. However, they are implemented by the ruling authority, not by individuals. Therefore, it is not permissible for individuals to go on and enforce hudud on each other.

But before implementing hudud, the rights of people have to be established. Islam promotes certain rights: life, property, freedom, justice, etc. These rights must be established before starting to punish people who violate the rules of Allah.

15. If everything in the Shari`ah is set by God, where is human reason?

When God asks us to submit ourselves to Him, this does not imply that there is no role for human reason. On the contrary, human reason has a very significant and fundamental role to play in the Shari`ah. No doubt the Shari`ah is not rational in the sense that its authority does not rest in human reason; but it is rational in the sense that it cannot be meaningfully opposed to reason.
The role of human reason consists of:

Understanding and interpreting the divine guidance in new or changed situations.
Applying the divine guidance to actual situations in human life;
Framing rules, regulations and bylaws for the implementation of the basic principles and injunctions.
Legislating in those vast areas where nothing has been laid down in the original sources.

The conduct of the Companions of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and those who came after them; the differences in opinions that emerged in all spheres of the Shari`ah in the time of the Prophet himself, in the period immediately after him, and among successive generations of Muslims, are a witness to the role human reasoning plays in Shari`ah (Khurram Murad, Shari`ah: The Way to God).
Works Cited

`Abdul-`Atti, Hammudah. Islam in Focus, American Trust Publications: USA, 1983.

Ibn Al-Qayyim. I`lam Al-Muwaqqi`in.

Murad, Khurram. Shari`ah: The Way of Justice, The Islamic Foundation: UK, 1981.

–. Shari`ah: The Way to God, The Islamic Foundation: UK, 1981.

This article was compiled by Mohsen Haredy, editor of Ask About Islam page at IslamOnline.net. He graduated from Al-Azhar University and earned his master’s in Hadith literature from Leiden University, the Netherlands.

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May 26, 2007

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