Based on one or a combination of the sources discussed previously, shari’ah regulates all human actions both at the individual level as well as social level.
The collective human behaviour both in terms of action and inaction, according to fiqh (jurisprudence) classification, falls under one of the following five categories:
i. fard (obligatory) – acts that are commanded, for example, five ritual prayers obedience of which are rewarded in this life or in the next or both and any disobedience is punishable either in this life or in the next or both,
ii. mustahab (recommended) – commendable acts such as optional charity that are worthy of reward but failure to accomplish them doesn’t attract punishment,
iii. mubah (permissible) – acts that are value-free attracting neither reward for accomplishing them nor punishment for neglecting them, for instance, walking or driving to work,
iv. makrooh (repugnant or reprehensible) – acts abstinence from which are encouraged and are reward but non-abstinence is not considered a sin, for example, divorce, and
v. haram (prohibited) – forbidden acts such as consumption of alcohol which are considered a sin and are punishable in this life or in the next or both.
When it comes to human conduct, sources of shari’ah, particularly the Qur’an make numerous references to evil conduct that are reprimanded and made punishable in order to prevent injustice, corruption, and prejudice and references to righteous behaviour are praised and rewards are promised in an attempt to promote good, justice, and harmony.
Thus, the shari’ah is founded on the benefits of the individual and the community designed to guard these benefits and enable betterment and perfection of the conditions of human life.
The basic purpose of shari’ah is to protect the interest of people against harm and, therefore, benefits are harmonised with the objective of shari’ah.
Muslim scholars have classified the entire range of benefits or interests into three categories. In a descending order of importance they are:
i. daruriyyat (necessary) which are enumerated at five, namely protection of faith, protection of life, protection of progeny, protection of intellect, and protection of property,
ii. hajiyyat (complementary), and
iii. tahsiniyyat (embellishments).
Unlike understandings of law in the secular modern context or in the Western sense, shari’ah is much more than law.
This is because it not only covers dogma, rituals, ethics, and morality, but also deals with “purity” concerning ritual washing and bodily functions and, further, includes laws relating to civil, commercial, criminal, administrative, and other matters. Malise Ruthven elaborates:
By common consent the Shari’a or holy law represents the greatest historic achievement of Islam as a religious cultural system, providing Muslim societies with a degree of order and authority under the “rule of God” that counterbalanced the instability that often prevailed at the political level (Ruthven, 2006: 135).
Mohammad Kamali (2006) further elucidates that shari’ah relates not only to a “code of law” but to religion as a way of life—din—based on the idea of the unity of God, prayer, charity, fasting, and pilgrimage.
He contends that the fundamental focus of the shari’ah is the five pillars of Islam. Moreover, shari’ah offers protection of five pivotal values of Islam:
i. protection of religion/faith,
ii. protection of life,
iii. protection of offspring,
iv. protection of intellect/dignity, and
v. protection of property/wealth.
The shari’ah is then understood as a corpus of rules of divine origin implemented by human agency to govern private worship and social relations.
Muslims find that it specifies the rules and regulations governing the lives of the faithful believers. For them it is a way of life, a “complete exchange,” in which all important religious, legal, moral, ethical, social, cultural, economic, and political institutions find simultaneous expression.
From a Weberian perspective, it exhibits a “substantive rationality” within which morality, ethics, law, religion, economy, and politics are enmeshed, in contrast to a “formal rationality” (which Weber associates exclusively with Western capitalism), within which law is separate from other parts of societal structure and operates under its distinct code of conduct and conventions (Weber, 1978).
Izzi Dien (2004) sheds further light on the construction and concept of shari’ah, arguing that it covers all aspects of human existence, including life after death.
It does not represent a set of theories and rules to be utilised within the limits of social government, but signifies a comprehensive way of life, which is similar to a path leading to water, as the word shari’ah implies.
The law is inextricably bound with the faith, following its route and regulating its orders and directives (Izzi Dien, 2004).
Shari’ah, it may be said, constitutes a code of behaviour divinely decreed to guide the believer in his or her literal execution of religious duties in this world and quest for divine favour in the Hereafter.
Due to the centrality of shari’ah in Islam since its systematization during the second and third Islamic centuries, it has remained pivotal in the mainstream discourses and institutions of Muslim societies.
Shari’ah is better understood with the help of an Islamic jurisprudential tool known as fiqh. Fiqh, which literally means “understanding” or “knowledge,” is Islamic jurisprudence used to define rules and methodologies of law.
It is the methodology employed to work out and apply the law. Fiqh is a jurisprudential corpus mainly produced in the second and third centuries of Islam by the ulama (Muslim scholars), with unique methods of reasoning and argument (Hussain, 2011).
It effectively became the corpus of the shari’ah as developed from the canonical sources and implemented to address issues facing Muslims relating to their practices of worship and social relationships (Philip, 1996).
In essence then, fiqh is a science of ascertaining a wholesome understanding of Shari’ah and is a discipline that permits academic discussion and exegetical analysis of Islamic practice (Hussain, 2011).