In common with other religions, Islam has a certain philosophy of life and of man’s existence in this universe.
In Islam, man is created by God and made God’s viceroy on earth. He is chosen for this purpose because of his eminent and unique position among God’s diverse creatures. Man is chosen to establish an orderly society on this earth and to enrich his life not only with worldly pleasures but also with knowledge and spiritual delights. For the achieving of this goal, God has made the forces of nature subservient to man.
Life in Islam, therefore, is very important. Man’s life, with all its potential for moral and spiritual advancements, is a true masterpiece of God’s creation. Similarly, when man reaches his spiritual heights and is truly in communion with God, he represents the greatest achievement of man on earth. One’s life, therefore, cannot be taken lightly.
It is apparent from what we have studied so far that the worship of God and the service to humanity occupy a prominent place in a Muslim’s life. A Muslim leads a balanced life in which his relationship with his fellow beings is not sacrificed for the sake of his relationship with God, and vice versa.
But beyond the superficial, there is a deeper, more subtle purpose in life. Although worship of God and service to humanity are highly emphasized in Islam, these are just the means to achieve the real objective. The real purpose in life is to find God. This, then, is the real reward that Islam promises a believer.
A Muslim should make a clear distinction between the means and the end. All the worships we have talked about are necessary but are not the ends in themselves. All the acts of righteousness we have talked about are very good and creditable but are not the ends in themselves.
All the articles of faith we have studied are extremely important but are not the ultimate objective. These are all but the means to achieve the real objective which is God Himself. God is the real objective and all else are just the means to obtain Him. All one’s efforts must be devoted towards the achieving of this specific objective. Those fortunate persons, who found God, achieved their real objective in life and also the highest reward Islam has to offer in this world.
Other religions have beliefs and acts of worship and social and moral codes, as well. But the concept of God they present is of an impersonal Supreme Being Who is aloof from His creation and can only be reached through intermediaries. Islam, on the other hand, offers a very personal God with the possibility of a very personal relationship with Him. This relationship is so special that it cannot be truly likened to anything else in this world. This relationship has the intimacy of two lifelong friends, the love of two young lovers and the affection that exists between the mother and her child. Establishment of this special relationship with God is really the true theme of the religion of Islam. This, then, is the relationship for which all worldly possessions could be given up; this, then, is the relationship for which one’s life could be sacrificed.
And let me tell you something: God is There For The Taking. He is so close to you that you cannot even imagine; and He is so eager to be befriended that you will be really surprised. All that is needed on your part is some effort to take Him. You have learned the basic outline of what you have to do: your beliefs should be correct and your convictions strong, your worship should be sincere and done with full attention, and your actions should be unselfish and based on love for humanity. You do all this, and in due course of time you will find God.
The fruits of this relationship with God will be unlimited. With God on your side you will have great confidence and you will not be afraid of anybody or anything in this world. Your prayers will be heard with great frequency; you will feel peace and contentment in your hearts; you will obtain great insights into the strange workings of this physical and spiritual universe of ours; and finally, if you are really fortunate, God may bless you with His communion. And when that happens, you have pretty well achieved all the spiritual pleasures that you could possibly get in this life; to get more, you will have to wait for the next one.
This, very briefly, is the purpose and philosophy of life in Islam.
The Sources of Islamic Law
In the previous sections we have seen that the entire life of a Muslim his beliefs, his worship and his social and moral conduct is structured on the basis of definite rules and regulations. Now we will briefly talk about the source of all these codes and directives.
Basically, there are three sources from which we obtain all our Islamic laws and principles:
- The Holy Quran
- The Traditions, the Sunnah and the Ahadith of the Holy Prophet
- Ijtihad (exercise of judgment).
1. The Holy Quran
The Quran is the real foundation on which the entire structure of Islam rests. The Quran is the absolute and the final authority in any discussion related to Islamic principles or codes. One could even say that the Quran is the only source and that the other two sources Tradition and ljtihad are directly or indirectly derived from the Quranic teachings.
The Quran, however, deals with the essential. It leaves the details to the Tradition and Ijtihad. We will read more about the Holy Quran and its teachings in Section 2, and now we move on to the other two sources of Islam.
2. The Tradition
After the Holy Quran, the most important Islamic textual material is the Tradition, which includes the Sunnah and Hadith of the Holy Prophet. The Sunnah is the practice of the Holy Prophet while the Hadith is his sayings.
As the Quran deals mainly with the broad principles of Islam, the details were frequently supplied by the Holy Prophet by his actions and his sayings. Since written communication was not very common in those days, the transmission of the actions and sayings of the Holy Prophet took place from one person to another by the word of mouth. It was many years after the death of the Holy Prophet that a systematic compilation of his practices and sayings started to take place. Extreme care used to be taken in tracing a tradition back through various narrators and establishing its authenticity.
It was about two hundred years after the Holy Prophet that the six most authentic compilations of the Tradition existing today were made. Together, these six compilations are known as the Sahee Sitta meaning the Six Authentic Ones. The names of these books and their compilers are given below:
- Sahih Bukhari by Imam Ismail Bukhari 194-256 AH
- Sahih Muslim by Imam Muslim bin Hajjaj 204-261 AH
- Jamia Tirmazi by Imam Abu Isa bin Tirmazi 209-279 AH
- Sunan Abu Daud by Imam Abu Da’ood Sulaiman 202-275 AH
- Sunan Nasai by Ahmad bin Shuaib al Nasa’ee 215-306 AH
- Sunan ibn Majah by Abu Abdullah bin Yazid ibne Majah 209-273 AH
These six books on Tradition, classified the sayings and actions of the Holy Prophet under various subjects, and thereby made these compilations easy to use. These books are easily available today and make extremely informative and interesting reading. Of the six collections mentioned above, Saheeh Bokharee holds the first place in many respects, while Saheeh Muslim is generally accorded second place. Saheeh Bokharee was not only the first such compilation of Tradition but has also set the standard by which the others are judged.
The early scholars of Tradition developed sound principles in the light of which the authenticity of any given Hadith could be verified. These principles related to the unbroken chain of transmission, the trustworthiness of the narrators and the apparent genuineness of the text itself.
It Must be remembered that there is a clear distinction between the Quran and the Hadith. The Quran is the Word of God. Hadith, on the other hand, is the word of the Prophet Muhammad, as narrated by various persons. Generally speaking, Muslims will follow the Hadith if it does not contradict the teachings of the Quran. If there is an apparent contradiction between the teachings of the Quran and the Hadith, then the Hadith must be considered suspect. The Holy Prophet is reported to have said, “If you find anything foolish ascribed to me, discard it. For it is not from me”.
3. Ijtihad or Exercise of Judgment
Ijtehad, or the exercise of judgment, is the third source of Islamic principles and codes. To enable you to understand the importance of Ijtihad, we will narrate an actual Hadith of the Holy Prophet:
On being appointed Governor of Yemen, Mu’adh was asked by the Holy Prophet as to which rule would he follow. Mu’adh replied, “The law of the Quran”. “But if you do not find any direction therein”, asked the Prophet. “Then I will act according to the Sunnah of the Prophet”, replied Mu’adh. “But if you do not find any direction therein”, he was asked again. “Then I will exercise my judgment (Ijtihad) and act on that”, said Mu’adh. The Holy Prophet approved of this and prayed for Mu’adh
This is the true example of how human judgment should be used in the matter of religion. Muslims believe that the most accurate and perfect form of knowledge is that which is given to man through the process of revelation. To properly understand God’s revelation, however, some human reasoning and judgment is always required. As long as the Holy Prophet was alive himself, he provided this judgment and explained to the people many of the rules and regulations given in the Quran. After his death, the people continued to carry out this threefold approach to the Islamic principles. Whenever a problem arose, the Muslims tried to find its solution in the Quran. If it was not mentioned in the Quran, they searched the Holy Prophet’s Sunnah and Hadith. Not finding the solution there either, they used their best judgment based on the general philosophy and principles of Islam. This process of using human judgment in elaborating Islamic principles or solving problems is called Ijtihad.
THE FOUR SCHOOLS OF LAW IN ISLAM
As we discussed in the previous section, there are three main sources of Islamic law which govern and regulate all aspects of a Muslim’s public and private life. These laws relate to religious worship, prohibitions, and all contracts and obligations that arise in social life such as inheritance, marriage, divorce, punishments, conduct of war and the administration of the state.
The science of these religious laws is called Fiqah and the expert in this field such as a jurist is called a faqih (plural: fuqaha).
We read that Ijtihad, or the exercise of judgment, is a valid source of Islamic laws in areas where the Holy Quran and the Tradition are not explicit. But the exercise of this independent judgment can only be left in the hands of proper scholars of the Holy Quran and the Tradition. The vast Majority of Muslims give this right of independent reasoning to only four ancient Muslim theologians and jurists who lived in the first three centuries of Islam. These four fuqaha are:
Imam Abu Hanifa of Kufa
Imam Malik bin Anal of Medinah
Imam Muhammad al Shafi of Medinah
Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal of Baghdad
Although a number of other jurists also became popular during their times, only the above four are now recognized by the vast majority of Sunni Muslims. These four great jurists and theologians tried to systematize the Islamic law into a comprehensive rational system which covered all possible legal situations. The four prominent schools of Islamic law are named after their founders and are called the Hanafiyya, the Malikiyya, the Shafiyya, and the Hanbaliyya schools of religious law.
Most Muslims regard these four schools as equally valid interpretations of the religious law of Islam. These schools are in good agreement on all essential aspects of the religion of Islam. They all acknowledge the authority of the Holy Quran and the Tradition as the ultimate sources of the Islamic law. Only in areas and situations where these two sources are silent, do the four schools use their independent reasoning in which they may differ with each other.
1. The Hanafiyya School
The earnest school formed was by Imam Abu Hanifa (699-767 A.D) of Kufa. It generally reflects the views of the jurists of Iraq. Abu Hanifa did not compose or write any books on law himself but his numerous discussions and opinions as recorded by his disciples form the basis of this school.
As a theologian and a religious lawyer, Abu Hanifa exercised considerable influence in his time. His legal thought is very consistent, uses high degree of reasoning, avoids extremes, and lays great emphasis on the ideas of the Muslim community. The Ahmadi Muslims generally follow the Hanafiyya school of law.
Other areas in which this school has a following include Turkey, the countries of the Fertile Crescent, Lower Egypt, and India.
2. The Malikiyya School
The next school of law in order of time was the one founded by Imam Malik bin Anas (d. 795 A.D) of Medinah and reflects the views and practices associated with that city. Imam Malik served as a judge in Medinah and compiled all his decisions in a book form called al Muwatta (the Leveled Path).
Like the jurists of Iraq, Imam Malik preferred to depend more on the Traditions associated with the Companions of the Holy Prophet than with the Prophet himself.
The adherents of this school are predominantly in North African countries.
3. The Shafiyya School
The third school was founded by Imam al Shafi (d. 820 A.D.) who was a disciple of Imam Malik. Imam Shafi placed great importance on the Traditions of the Holy Prophet and explicitly formulated the rules for establishing the Islamic law. He was a great thinker, had an unusual grasp of principles and a clear understanding of the judicial problems.
This school is strong in Lower Egypt, Syria, India and Indonesia.
4. The Hanbaliyya School
This school was founded by Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal (d. 855 A.D.) of Baghdad. Iman Hanbal did not establish a separate school himself; this was rather done by his disciples and followers.
The Hanbaliyya was the most conservative of the four schools. Its rigidity and intolerance eventually caused its decline over the years. In the eighteenth century, however, this school was revived with the rise of Wahhabism and the growing influence of the House of Sa’ud. Today Hmbalyya School is followed only in Saudi Arabia.
The Hanbalis insist on the literal injunctions of the Oman and the Hadith and are very strict in the observance of religious duties.
Although the Muslims generally apply the Islamic law according to the principles and details laid down by the four ancient jurists, legal situations keep arising from time to time for which there are no clear answers in these early schools of law. To cope with this changing aspect of Islamic society, particularly in the light of new facts, specialists in the field of Islamic law are asked to give their decisions using the traditional tools of legal science. Such a decision is called a fatwa and the religious scholar who gives this decision is called a mufti.
THE NAMES OF ISLAMIC MONTHS
In their religious practice, Muslims follow the Islamic calendar which consists of twelve lunar months. Each month may be of 29 or 30 days. On an average there are 355 days in a lunar year. The fact that the lunar year has approximately ten days less than the solar year, brings an Islamic anniversary ten days ahead each year in the solar calendar.
Following are the times of the Islamic months. Even in pre Islamic days, four of these months were considered sacred and no fighting was permitted during that period. These sacred months are marked by an (S) below:
- Muharram (S) – The first month of the Islamic calendar
- Rabi-ul-Awwal – The month of the Holy Prophet’s birth, Hijrat and death
- Rajab (S)
- Ramadhan – The month in which the Holy Quran started to be revealed and the month in which the Muslims fast
- Shawwal – On the first day of this month Eid ul Fitr is celebrated
- Dhul Qadah (S)
- Dhul Hijja (S) – The month in which the Hajj is performed and Eid ul Adha is celebrated.