Your Questions

Is the Shari’ah something that is fixed and unchanging?

Shari’ah is realized through the constant and collective effort of scholars to understand the will of God, including written works and non-binding legal decrees (fatwas), many of which are subject to reinterpretation in different times and contexts. However, shari’ah as understood as the ideal way to follow God’s will (the perfect “path”) can never be fully realized because of human fallibility. This distinction causes some confusion in terminology; what many people refer to as shari’ah, is actually fiqh, the results of fallible human attempts to determine the shari’ah. This process is known as ijtihad, or independent legal reasoning by scholars who draw upon central texts like the Qur’an and Hadith, but also maxims, human reason, analogy, and consensus, to determine how shari’ah applies to a particular situation. Unlike books on fiqh, shari’ah is NOT one book. Shari’ah is a living tradition that must adapt to different times and cultures, therefore any effort to confine it to a single book neglects the essential fluidity and adaptability of shari’ah. It can be best compared to formalized religious ethic codes like Catholic canonical law or Jewish Halakah, both of which transcend the limits of a single book and act as guides for how religious people can conduct themselves in the world—both in their relationship with the divine (worship) and their larger communities (marriage, business, etc.). To a certain extent, shari’ah can also be compared to constitutional law in that lawyers try to draw rulings from original sources and past rulings in response to the different needs of society in order to establish a common ethic.

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