What is Sharia, how is Sharia lived, is Sharia valid in this century?

The Details of the Question
What is Sharia, how is Sharia lived, is Sharia valid in this century?
The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

Islam has put forward its views regarding administrative mechanism as it has done regarding other issues. Islam has brought certain rules for the management of the state. The state should be managed by conforming to principles like justice, law, not violating human rights, not misusing the state management, etc.

Sharia is the name of the general judgments and laws Islam has brought. It includes state management, too.

We must convey and live the true Islam and the truth in compliance with Islam. Therefore, some applications that are carried out in the name of Islam but do not comply with Islam harm Islam and Muslims.

You meet someone. He says that he performs prayers and fasting. You go on talking and you find out that the person who carries out the most important two commands of Islam opposes Sharia and you get astonished.

You meet someone else. He defends Sharia enthusiastically. When you go into the depths of his inner life and worshipping, you see that he does not show even 1% of his enthusiasm that he shows for the application of Islamic penal law for his worshipping. You get astonished again.

You have the same opinion about those two men: They do not know Sharia!

What is Sharia and what is it not?

Sharia means “religion”, “the command of Allah”, “divine commands and prohibitions”.

A person should know the meaning of a concept when he rejects it or accepts it. To support it or to oppose it is something else.

One of the most discussed concepts is Sharia. Many people are confused about the issue. Everybody speaks about it, no matter if they know its meaning or not.

First, let us have a look at the dictionary that is regarded as the most essential dictionary in our language, “Qamus” of Shamsuddin Sami:

Sharia is defined as, “ the divine law based on the divine commands and prohibitions, and the principles of verses, hadiths and ijma (consensus) of ummah.”

Two things attract attention in the definition. One is the fact that Sharia is “divine commands and prohibitions”. The other is that those divine laws are based on “verses, hadiths, and ijma of ummah.

Ömer Nasuhi Bilmen defines that term in his perfect work: “Hukuk-u İslamiyye ve Istılahat-ı Fıkhiyye Kamusu” as follows in detail:

In the language of religion, Sharia is the whole of the religious and worldly judgments, laws that God Almighty imposed for His slaves. Therefore, Sharia is synonymous with religion and it includes both the principles of belief called essential laws, and worshipping, ethics and civil laws called judgments of details and applications.”

Sharia means the divine law conveyed by a glorious prophet according to its general meaning. When the phrase ‘the laws of Sharia’ is uttered, it is necessary to understand the judgments of the divine law. And, what is meant by it is the judgments that are clearly based on the Quran, hadiths and ijma.”

The following main points are listed expertly in the detailed definition above:

1. Allah has imposed Sharia for His slaves.

2. Sharia is the whole of the religious and worldly judgments.

3. Sharia is synonymous with the word “religion”.

4. There are all of the judgments about ethics, worshipping and daily life along with the judgments regarding belief in the concept Sharia.  

5. In general, the divine laws introduced by each prophet is called Sharia.

6. What is meant by Sharia is clearly the judgments based on the Quran, hadiths and ijma.

One of the greatest interpreters (mufassir) of our age, Elmalılı Hamdi Efendi defines Sharia as follows in his valuable tafsir called, “Hak Dini Kur'an Dili”:

In the dictionary, Sharia means the way followed in order to take water from a river or a water source. It is used as a metaphor for the special laws and the straight path imposed and offered by Allah for human beings to enable them to reach the eternal life and real happiness, which means religion.”

There are also some important points that attract attention in that definition, too:

1. Allah has imposed Sharia and held His slaves responsible.

2. Allah has sent Sharia so that His slaves will reach the eternal life and real happiness.

3. Sharia is the name of the straight path that consists of special judgments and laws. 

4. Sharia means religion.

The great scholar and thinker of our age, Badiuzzaman, states the following while defining Sharia:

Sharia means two things. The first one is Sharia that arranges the acts and states of man, who is the small world, coming from the attribute of speech. The second one is the big natural Sharia that arranges the activities and inactivity of the world, which is the big man, coming from the attribute of will, which is sometimes mistakenly named as nature.”

There are important points in that definition, too. Badiuzzaman defines Sharia by dividing it into two and clarifying the concept of nature.

1. The Sharia we know, which arranges the acts and states of man, who is “the small world”, coming from Allah’s attribute of speech.

2. Sharia that arranges the activities and inactivity of the world, which is “the big man”.

3. It is wrong to name the laws in the material world “nature” because that concept does not connote Allah. However, it is Allah who imposes and applies those natural laws.  

That explanation connotes another meaning: This world is tidy and perfect because the beings in the universe obey the natural laws of Allah without any rebellion. There is not even a slightest disorder. That is, if human beings obeyed the divine laws without any rebellion, they would reach the harmony they missed and the happiness they looked for.  The reason of discord and restlessness is rebellion and transgression. The key to the peace in the world is in Islam like the happiness in the hereafter.

According to all of those definitions, someone who says, “Sharia” says, “religious rules”. Man is a free being.

He can accept or reject.... “There is no compulsion in religion.”

How is Sharia lived?

Allah, who has given the seed the ability to become a tree and who has programmed it in a way to yield fruit, has laid some conditions for its realization. Those set of conditions are called the natural Sharia. That seed needs to find its soil, meet the water and talk to the sun in order to be a tree.  

The nature of man is like that seed, a seed that can give the life of Paradise. Sharia is the set of laws that man needs to obey so that he will deserve Paradise, which is the place of pleasure for human nature.

The mind can know Allah if it thinks within the limits that Allah has drawn. The tongue becomes a candidate for exalted talks in that eternal land if it says good and useful things. The body deserves to benefit from the material bounties of that land of happiness if it gets tired for Allah.

From the feelings like love, fear, affection and mercy to the eye, ear, hand and foot, everything improves, elevates and goes toward lofty realms only if they work in accordance with the commands of Allah. Sharia is the name of the path that leads to the truth. The meaning of it in the dictionary is “the way followed to get water from the source of water”. 

Yunus, the sufi poet, summarizes the way to reach Allah and find the truth as follows in a poem:  Sharia and tariqah are ways for those who can, the fruit of truth is inside it.

The destination cannot be reached without walking on the road. The claims to reach the truth without Sharia are delusions that do nothing but distract those claim owners’ attention.

Tariqah is the symbol for supererogatory (nafilah) worshipping. It is an activity of training to be carried out in order to be able to walk strongly on the way of Sharia and to be stronger against the soul and devil. It is a means of approaching for the slave to his Lord. It helps one to train his soul more effectively.

In short, it is necessary to obey the divine commands precisely and to continue supererogatory worshipping in order to make one’s heart sounder and his spirit stronger. Let us listen to Imam Rabbani:

It is Sharia to prevent the tongue from telling lies and to tell the truth. If one expels the thought of telling lies from his heart by striving and working hard, it is tariqah; if he does it without any difficulty, it is haqiqah (truth).”

Do we not understand the following from that nice example of the great imam? To tell the truth all the time. It is high ethics that Allah is pleased with, which is haqiqah. The slave first has to obey the command of the Sharia, “do not tell lies” in order to reach that haqiqah; he keeps his tongue away from that sin. Then, he starts to cure his spirit so that the desire to tell lies will not take place in his heart. He starts to make an effort to realize it. In the end, the heart starts to hate telling lies without forcing it or trying hard. From that point onwards, lies cannot approach that heart. When he speaks, he definitely tells the truth easily. That man is regarded to have reached the haqiqah of telling the truth. 

It is understood from the statement of the great imam that it is possible to reach that happy end without tariqah. Man can get access to haqiqah directly from Sharia. However, it is certain that the access cannot be without Sharia.

I do not want to make an analysis of tasawwuf (sufism) here. I have written the sentences above to say that it will be incomplete to understand only the rules of Islam regarding penal law when the concept Sharia is uttered. Not telling lies is also Sharia. A person who does not tell lies, does not backbite, does not have designs on the property, lives and women of other people is on the path of Sharia and haqiqah. If such a person opposes Sharia, he will contradict himself.

The foundation of religion is based on the creation of man. There exists a realm of non-living things. Every atom, star, the air, soil, water, light, in short, everything depends on the universal will of Allah. They act in accordance with the divine laws He has imposed. Everything submits to His commands due to His will. The realm of angels presents another vision of that reality. Those beings, who were created to worship, glorify and praise Allah, do not have a will like human beings have. They fulfill whatever Allah commands.

As for man, he presents a completely different view in the painting of creation. Every cell and organ of the conscious fruit of the universe that glorifies Allah continuously glorifies and worships Allah. Their management does not depend on him. He himself cannot make his liver operate; he cannot make the blood in his body circulate based on his own will. A sultan is appointed to that country of the body that obeys Allah with all of its cells: the spirit. That spirit is given a will as a great blessing and testing.

Man has choice and will. He can indicate whatever direction he wishes with his finger; he can turn his face to whatever side he wills. He can use all of the feelings present in him as he wishes. He can go wherever he wants, eat whatever he wishes and avoid whatever he does not like.

That will is faced with offer and testing, and consequently Paradise and Hell. 

Thus, Sharia is a chain of commands and prohibitions that commands the human will to stay within the bounds of the area that Allah is pleased with and that warns the human will to be away from the area that Allah is not pleased with. The slave is ordered to hold fast to that divine rope.

There are two areas in front of the human will. One is the world, the other is the hereafter. However, there are laws and rules laid down for all of the worldly affairs. If the slave obeys them, he will be regarded to have worshipped and he will lead his worldly life more easily and happily.

We observe that the discussions about Sharia usually take place in that second group. That second group is divided into two: social relations and punishment. The center of the discussions related to Sharia is the last part. There certainly are many judgments imposed by Islam in terms of penal law. They are part of the Sharia and it is necessary to believe in them. A person who does not obey them will become responsible like the other commands and judgments. Not obeying such an order makes a person a sinner if that disobedience has a kind of callousness and rebellion against Allah. If that person denies and rejects that divine command, that Quranic judgment and law, he becomes an unbeliever. However, Islam is not only those judgments and the religion does not consist of those commands only. To deal with the issue only in that field will be a vicious evaluation and a wrong understanding. 

Islamic judgments are divided into the following three main groups. The first one is the duties of an individual toward his own self. The second one is his duties toward his family. And the third one is his duties in the social life. There are criteria and judgments that Sharia has brought about them. It is regarded unbelief to deny any of them and sin to disobey any of them. However, the one that has priority is the duties of the individual toward his self. And the most important one of those duties is worshipping. There are judgments about the responsibilities of the individual toward his self and family in all of the heavenly books. Worshipping is ordered in all of them, and avoiding sins is regarded as an essential.

There are some differences in the form, time and amount of the worshipping but it is impossible to show a religion that does not order worshipping and high ethics. However, social rules, especially judgments regarding the management of the state are present in perfect form in Islam, which is the perfect and last religion.

We would especially like to express the following: The aim of the creation of man is common in all religions. That aim is expressed as follows in a verse in the Quran: “I created the jinn and humankind only that they might worship Me”. There are also some commands and prohibitions based on the realization of certain conditions. One of them is the judgments about penal law. Those judgments depend on conditions. Muslims living in Germany, England, France have no power to apply those commands. And they are not responsible for it.  

In the discussions related to the issue, it will be oppression to show a believer as someone who does not accept some of the commands of Islam and to criticize him. It is necessary to avoid those kinds of accusations that undermine Islamic fraternity and whose punishments are severe in the hereafter.

Imagine a country whose people are all poor. Can you accuse the individuals of that country of not fulfilling the obligation of zakat (alms)? Of course not. Is it not the same case for a Muslim who believes in the penal law of Islam but cannot apply them? It is the duty of the state to apply them. Therefore, the individual does not have any responsibility regarding the issue.

The basic principles of Islam are the divine commands that an individual has to obey no matter where he is.

The judgments about the management of the state are divine commands, too; it is obligatory for every believer to believe in them but he is not responsible for applying them.

“Sharia is related to ethics, worshipping, the hereafter and merits 99%. It is related to politics 1%. The administrators should think about it.” Badiüzzaman.

I would like to mention a classification related to Islamic judgments. Divine judgments are divided into two: Some of them are judgments that are applied for Muslims only; the others are judgments that are applied for everybody living in an Islamic country. The second part is judgments and laws about social relations and punishment. If a non-Muslim pays jizyah (poll tax levied from those who did not accept Islam, but were willing to live under the protection of Islam), he becomes subject to all of the judgments about social relations and punishment as a citizen of that country. If he steals something, his hand is cut off; if he slanders someone about fornication, he is punished. Some people evaluate the issue reversely and say very distracting words that makes them responsible such as, “it is meaningless to perform prayers and fasting in a country where Islamic penal law is not applied”. They accuse believers who oppose them of not heeding some of the judgments of Allah. 

As a matter of fact, that claim becomes valid for them. They make a mistake by ignoring the judgments that form ninety-nine percent of Sharia and that are the fundamentals of the religion and by giving more importance to the judgments and laws of social relations and punishments that are applied to everyone, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, and that ensure the peace and happiness of the society. 

A believer who reads the chapter al-Fatiha in each rakat of the prayers and asks Allah to guide him to “the straight path” should be very careful. All kinds of extremism, whether neglect or excess, drives man away from the straight path.

Is Sharia valid in our century?

We will mention two kinds of extremism regarding the issue here. While some people claim that it is not possible to rule with the laws of Islam in this century, others accuse everyone that does not rule with the laws of Islam of unbelief without considering their intentions. What one group does is neglect and what the other does is excess. That is, both of them are extremists; they have deviated from the straight path.

We want to mention the first mistake first. There is a famous rule. “If something becomes determined, it becomes determined with its accessories, supplies and equipment.” When we mention the hand, the fingers complete it. You cannot think the hand without fingers. You cannot benefit from a hand without fingers. When we mention the face, you cannot separate the eyes from it. A face without eyes is something incomplete. You cannot separate the white of the eye from the black of the eye, either. The finger is the complementary part of the hand; the eye is the complementary part of the face and the pupil is the complementary part of the eye.  Islamic laws are like that too. They must be thought of as a whole. Only then can it improve the individual and the society and lead them to peace and happiness. 

In a society where the fundamentals of Islam are ignored and the individual and familial life is based on wrong principles, to apply only the laws regarding the social life and punishments will not be of any use. It may not be possible to apply those laws in such a society. Even if it becomes possible, many people will obey them without believing them and unwillingly, falling into hypocrisy. A person appears like a Muslim but he lives as an enemy of Islam. 

I would like to give an example regarding the fact that Sharia must be evaluated as a whole. In Islam, interest is haram, forbidden. It is necessary to consider the verse about interest together with the following verse, “The believers are nothing else than brothers”. Then, the following truth will be manifest: “When a believer lends money to his brother who is in urgent need and who asks to borrow money from him, he cannot demand to take it back with some extra amount. It is not compatible with brotherhood.”

In a society where Islamic brotherhood has weakened, where a person tries to deceive his own brother and where the property of the state is plundered mercilessly, if the prohibition of interest cannot be applied, it is the fault of the corrupt structure, not the fault of the drug or food. 

As for the second claim that exceeds the borders of straightness, it is not fair to label someone who does not apply Islam completely and who does not or cannot rule in accordance with Islam as an unbeliever. Belief is the opposite of unbelief. If a person gives a judgment contrary to Islam or applies something contrary to Islam, he will be an unbeliever only if he does it by rejecting Islam. Otherwise, his sin or disobedience can be mentioned not his unbelief. There exists the condition of intention and will both in belief and unbelief. A man is regarded to be an unbeliever only if he says, “the judgment of Islam regarding an issue is such and such but I do not accept it and do this”. If he does not have an intention or will like that and if his wrong judgment originates from his ignorance or weakness of his will and if he knows that what he does is wrong, it is not possible to call him an unbeliever according to the creed of Ahl Sunnah. Only Kharijites, who decree that he who commits great sins becomes an unbeliever, and Mutazilah, who have the view that such a person is between belief and unbelief, can claim it. All of the Ahl Sunnah scholars agree that Kharijites and Mutazilah have deviated from what is right. 

We must be very careful. We may deviate from what is right when we think that we are defending Islam.

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