Islam






'ulama


Islam
The Qur'an

Islam Glossary
Shari'ah
   Islam as a religion focusses both on the relationship of God to humanity and on the mechanics of society and individual ethics. Like Christianity, it is a mystical salvation religion; like Judaism, it is a nomistic religion, that is, a religion of the law. The combined set of individual and social duties prescribed on every believer by the Islamic faith is Shari'ah, or the sacred law, which is based primarily on the revelations in the Qur'an and in the life and actions of the prophet Muhammad (the Sunnah). The Shari'ah consists of prohibitions and commandments that were laid down by several schools (madhabs) in the eighth and ninth centuries; these commandments and prohibitions cover a large part of the believer's social, individual, and economic life.


   Shortly after the death of Muhammad, it became apparent to the Muslim community that they needed to turn to the wisest and most learned members of society to settle matters of community life, legislation, and jurisprudence. These individuals, remarkable for their intimate knowledge of the Qur'an and the Sunnah became known as the 'ulama, or "religious scholars." While the 'ulama occupied an important position in early Islamic communities, during the Abassid dynasty they became an integral part of government. Legislation and adjudication became the official province of the 'ulama; they would occupy a central role in legislation, adjudication, and jurisprudence in all Islamic governments up until the twentieth century.

   While all members of the 'ulama are admitted on the basis of their life-long learning in the Qur'an and the legal traditions of Islam, they end up serving one of three functions. The qadis deliver legal judgements in specific matters in much the same way judges and juries function in the Western legal tradition. The muftis produce legal opinions (fatwas), similar to both legislation in the Western tradition and the functions of appeals and supreme courts. The fuqaha' produce legal and jurisprudential opinions (fiqh)—they are the Islamic equivalent of legal scholars or theorists. They, too, function in much the same way as courts operate in the Western tradition when they rule on the constitutionality of certain legislation—fiqh deals less with constitutionality than it does with the consonance of legislation with the Shari'ah .


Islam Glossary
Velayat i-faqih
   The introduction of European-style constitutional governments and secular law has produced permanent tensions in Islamic communities. While the Shari'ah concerns itself with both the social world and the salvation of the individual, Western legal traditions concern themselves only with the social world. The 'ulama has been in regular conflict with secular Islamic governments all throughout the twentieth century; the revolution in Iran was largely about replacing a secular, Western-style government with a government whose constitutionality is based on the Shari'ah and whose governors are drawn from the 'ulama. This new form of government, called velayat i-faqih ("rule by jurisprudence") in the Islamic world and "Islamic Republicanism" in the Western world, is one result of this tension between two mutually incompatible theories of government and law.

Richard Hooker



World Cultures

World Cultures Home Page


1998, Richard Hooker
Updated 1-18-98