What Are the Sources of Legislation in Islam?
By Marzieh Khoshdouz
Man naturally lives and acts within a society and satisfies his needs through social interaction
with other individuals. Because of this interdependent nature, human beings cannot survive
unless through conducting their lives in a society. A society also needs regulations and laws to
live in peace; otherwise, it would be overtaken by the law of jungle.
Because of this imperative need of human societies for law and legislation, from the very first
day of creation, God sent a number of messengers and prophets to teach and explicate divine
laws to people according to the requirements of time. In this chain, the last messenger was the
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) who taught the set of laws which God legislated in the book of
Quran.1 Among the most fundamental characteristics of Divine Laws embodied in The Quran is
their comprehensiveness. They not only deal with human being's material needs, but they also
deal with his spiritual desires and so The Quran embraces human being's needs in its entirety.
The Quran does not take a narrow approach in taking care of the needs of the individual and
ignoring the right of the community, or vice-versa; instead, it creates a balance by taking into
consideration the needs of both the individual and the community. For example, The Qur’an
takes both the intellectual and emotional needs of human beings into consideration and does not
neglect or lay excessive emphasis on either one.2
In this sense, divine laws are incomparable
with man-made laws and have sovereignty over them.
Although God has legislated the laws of the Quran for all human beings till the end of time,
The Quran cannot be consider as sufficient on its own. The reason for this is that the Quran only
deals with general issues and mentions only basic principles underlying a successful way of life.
The Quran is not only silent on the details of things which can change over time, it is also silent
on the rules of worship which can never change. For example, in twenty-five different places
The Qur’an orders Muslims to recite the daily prayers (salat), but not once has it mentioned how
Muslims are supposed to perform it. (The only exception for this statement is the prayer of fear
(salatu l-khawf), the prayer said in the battle-field or when one is in danger).3
This lack of clarification and specification in the Quran implies the fact that Prophet
Muhammad (PBUH) was not merely the messenger of God and a ‘mail-man’; but he was in
charge of enlightening the people of his time by shedding light upon the hidden meanings of The
Quran. The Quran describes this prophetic career of Muhammad (PBUH) by regarding him as a
teacher and commentator of itself.
“And we have revealed to you (O Muhammad) the reminder (that is, The Quran) so you may
clarify to the people what has been revealed to them, and so that they may reflect”. (16: 44)
Since elaborating and commenting on the Quran was left to The Prophet, therefore, Muslims in
the absence of explicit command in the Quran, referred to the example of the Prophet (Sunnah:
words, actions and assertions of the Prophet).4
In this sense, the identification of the example of
the Prophet (Sunnah) as an authentic source for Islamic legislation goes back to the very
beginning of Islam.
However, after the demise of the Prophet, Muslims required another source to guide them in
the changing circumstances of time. Islam as an everlasting religion has very beautifully
responded to this need by bringing up the principal of Ijtihad. Ijtihad in its current sense means
making the utmost effort in deducing rules of the Sharia
from the related sources like The
Quran and the example of the Prophet (Sunnah). The necessity for Ijtihad arises when there is no
indication of relevant dictation in any of these two sources. Ijtihad thereby provides the Islamic
legal system a high degree of flexibility and enables it to confront new situations.6
In conclusion, the living character of Islam has this ability to regard invariable needs of
Muslims and envisages unchanging laws; but by changing circumstances of time, it can be
harmonized and made flexible.
1. Rezvi, Muhammad. Islam, Faith, Practice and History. Ansariyan Publication, Qum, 2010, p. 154.
2. Ad-Dausaree, Mahmood bin Ahmad bin Saaleh. The Magnificence of the Quran. Maktaba Dar-us-Salam, Riyadh,
2006, pp. 173-174.
3. Islam, Faith, Practice and History, p. 160.
4. Mutahhari, Murtadha, The Role of Ijtihad in Legislation, This book is available at: http://www.al-islam.org/.
5. The body of Islamic Laws