The First Source of law in Islam The Quran


This book on Islamic Jurisprudence (Usul Al Fiqh) was prepared as an aid to a course on this subject conducted through internet in 1999 to an International Student Population on the request of Witness-Pioneer (an internet based Islamic International Intellectual Movement). The book has been modelled on classical ‘Usul’ books, the chapter planning has been done on the lines of the book ” Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence” by Dr. Hashim Kamali. This book will help in understanding the essentials of ‘Usul’. However, to master the subject and get the details, the reader has to turn to the old and new ‘Usul’ works. Names of old and new Usul Books have been mentioned in the Introduction and in the Bibliography.

I am indebted for this work to Witness-Pioneer movement, to Wohidul Islam (a Harvard Student), who was my Teaching Assistant, Mr. Shafiquer Rahman, a Pioneer member who helped me in conducting the course and to my students of the course who helped me to improve the course through their questions. Knowledge of ‘Usul’ is essential to save us from mis-interpretation of the ‘Quran’ and the ‘Sunnah’. I pray to Allah that He may accept this book for the benefit of “Ummah’.

Shah Abdul Hannan


Usul al Fiqh discusses both the sources (Adillah) of Islamic law and the law (Fiqh). This view is held by a group of jurists, according to Nurul Anwar written by Sheikh Ahmad Ibn Abu Sayiid, known as Mullah Jaiun, who was the house tutor of Aurangzeb, the Mughal emperor. However, primarily Usul al Fiqh deals with the sources or roots of Islamic law.

Usul al Fiqh (Usul is plural of Asl) the bases or roots of Islamic Law, expound the methods by which Fiqh (detail Islamic law) is derived from their sources. In this view, Usul is the methodology and the Fiqh is the product.

Usul deals with the primary sources of Islamic law, the Quran and the Sunnah, i.e. Usul discusses the characteristics of the Quran and Sunnah, and what are the methods of deduction of law from the Quran and the Sunnah. In doing that, Usul discusses various kinds of words used in the Quran and the Sunnah in particular and Arabic language in general such as the Amm (general) and the Khass (particular), Mutlaq (unconditional) and Muqayyid (conditional), Haqiqi (literal) and the Majaji (Metaphorical), various types of clear words and unclear words. Methods of deductions from the legal verses of the Quran and the legal Ahadis (singular Hadis) are what the Fuqaha (jurists) have called Ibarah al Nass (whereby Ahkam or rules are derived from the obvious words and sentences themselves), Isharah al Nass (where Ahkam are inferred from signs and indications inherent in the text) Dalalah al Nass (where Ahkam are derived from the spirit and rationale of a legal text) and Iqtida al Nass (whereby Ahkam are derived as a requirement of the provision of the text though the text is silent on the issue). For details, please read the chapters on Interpretation in Hashim Kamali’s book “Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence”

Usul al Fiqh also discusses the secondary sources of Islamic law, the Ijma (consensus), Qiyas (analogical deduction), Istihsan (Juristic preference) and other methods of Ijtihad (reasoning and investigation). All the secondary sources are either directly or indirectly based on the primary sources of Islamic law, the Quran and the Sunnah. For instance, three main elements of Qiyas, that is Asl (original case), Hukm (ruling on asl) and the Illah (effective cause ) are based on primary sources. Usul al Fiqh also discusses other main issues involving Islamic law such as the effect of custom on law or custom as a source of law, and grades of the Islamic legal provision (i.e. what is Haram, what is Maqruh; what is Farz, what is wazib and what is Mandub (recommended) and also the methods of removal of conflict (i.e. Taa’rud).

In some books of Usul, grammar of Arabic language is discussed at length. Of course the knowledge of Arabic language and grammar is a must for one who wants to be a Usuliuun or a jurisprudent. However, this is not really a subject matter of Usul.

The benefits of the study of Usul al Fiqh are many. From a study of Usul, we come to know the methods of interpretations of the Quran and Sunnah, all the secondary sources of Islamic law, the views on Usul of major scholars of the past and present, the rules of Qiyas and other methods of Ijtihad, the history of development of Islamic law and legal theory. All these make anybody who studies Usul cautious in approach to Islamic law. He develops respect for the methodology of past masters and becomes aware of the need to follow rules in the matters of deduction of new rules of Islamic law. He then is likely to avoid careless utterance and action. Ummah can produce great mujtahid only by study of Usul in addition to other sciences. The principal objective of Usul is to regulate Ijtihad and guide the jurist in his effort at deducing the law from the sources.

Imam Shafii is considered to be the father of the science of Usul. This is true in the sense that the systematic treatment of the principles of Usl al Fiqh was first made by him. Before him, the jurists of course followed some principles in the deduction of law but these principles were not integrated and systematized. After Shafii, many scholars have contributed in the study of Usul, of them, the most famous are : Abul Hasan al Basri (d. 436), Imam al Haramayn al Juwayni (d.487), Abu Hamid al Gazali (d.505), Fakhruddin al Razi (d. 606), Saifuddin Al Amidi, Abul Hasan Al Karkhi (d.349), Fakhruddin Al Bazdawi (d. 483), Abu Bakr Al Jassas (d. 370), Sadr Al Shariah (d. 747), Tajuddin Al Subki (d.771), and Al Shatibi. There have been many writers on Usul in modern times, particularly in Arab lands.

Initially two approaches developed in the study of Usul, the theoretical and the deductive. The theoretical approach was developed by Imam Shafii who enacted a set of principles which should be followed in the formulation of Fiqh. On the other hand primarily the early and later Hanafi scholars looked into the details of law given in the Quran and Sunnah and derived legal rules or Usul principles therefrom. However, the later scholars combined the two approaches and presently the subject essentially follows the some format.

The Quran

In some classical books of Usul (such as Nurul Anwar by Sheikh Ahmad Ibn Abu Said or Manar by Sheikh Abul Barakat Abdullah Ibn Ahmad Nasaki) most of the discussion of Usul have been made under the heading “Kitabullah” (that is the Quran). Such discussion include discussion on the classification of words in the Quran (or Arabic language), grammatical issues pertinent to interpretation of the Quran and Sunnah, such as Haruful Maa’ni (words with meaning), Haruful Atf (conjunction), Haruful Zar, (which gives Kasra to the noun when it is used before noun), Haruful Asmauz Zaruf (Haruf which indicate time, place, etc.) and Haruful Shart (haruf which indicates conditions). Discussion under Kitabullah also include the methods of interpretation such as Ibaratun Nass, Isharatun Nass, etc.

However, in our discussion on Usul under the “Quran” we shall not discuss any of the aforesaid things. In following some modern Usul scholars we shall take the discussion on the methods of interpretation and classification of words under “Methods of Interpretation” We shall not discuss rules of grammar in Usul and ask the readers to study Arabic language and its grammar separately. In this part we shall discuss some of the characteristics of Quran as its introduction.

Quran is the book which Allah revealed in His speech to His Prophet Muhammad (SM) in Arabic and this has been transmitted to us by continuous testimony or tawatur.

There are 114 suras of unequal length. The contents of the Quran are not classified subjectwise. The Quran consists of manifest revelation (‘Wahy Zahir) which is direct communication in the words of Allah. This is different from Wahy Batin (non-manifest revelation) which consists of inspiration and concepts. All the Ahadis of the prophet fall under this category.

Hadis Qudsi, in which the Prophet (SM) quotes Allah in the Hadith, is also not equivalent to the Quran. In fact, this kind of Hadith is also subject to examination of Isnad (chain of narrators from the Prophet (SM) to the compiler of the Hadith compilation). If the sanad (chain) is weak, the hadith will be treated as weak, even though it is Hadis Qudsi. It should be noted that the Prophet (SM) did not make any distinction between Hadis Qudsi and other Hadis.

Only meaning (Maa’ni) or text (Nazm) is not the Quran. The jurisprudents agree that text and meaning together constitute the Quran.

Quran was revealed in stages (Bani Israil, 17:106), and gradually (Al-Furqan,25:32). Graduality in the revelation afforded opportunity to reflect over it and memorize it. The Ulama are in agreement that the entire text of the Quran is “Mutawatir”, i.e. its authenticity is proven by universally accepted testimony.

The larger part of the Quran was revealed in Mecca (about 19/30th part) and rest in Madinah. The Meccan revelations mostly deal with beliefs, disputation with unbelievers and their invitation to Islam. But the Madinan suras, apart from the aforesaid, deal with legal rules regarding family, society, politics, economics, etc. The sura is considered Meccan if its revelation started in Mecca, even if it contains Madinan period Ayats. The information regarding which one is Makki or Madani are Sbased on the sayings of the Sahabis or the following generation.

The legal material of the Quran is contained in about 500 Ayats, according to various estimates. These injunctions were revealed with the aim of repealing objectionable customs such as infanticide, usury, gambling, unlimited polygamy; prescribing penalties and core Ibadah like Salat, Siam, Zakat, Hajj. Other legal Ayats deal with charities, oaths, marriage, divorce, Iddah, revocation of divorced wife (Rijah), dower, maintenance, custody of children, fosterage, paternity, inheritance, bequest; rules regarding commercial transaction such as sale, lease, loan, mortgage, relations between rich and poor, justice, evidence, consultation, war and peace.

One of the things that has been discussed is about Qati (definitive) and Zanni (speculative). Qati and Zanni concepts have been discussed in terms of text and in terms of meaning. The whole of the Quranic text in Qati (definitive) that is its Riwyah (report) is conclusive and beyond doubt. Only other text, which has been considered Qati is only Mutawatir Sunnah or Hadith (at least in essence). Other Hadith and Ijtihad are Zanni material.

The text of the Quran which has been reported in clear words (Alfaz al Waziha) which has only one meaning are considered Qati also in terms of meaning (Dalalah). Qati and Zanni have significance in the matter of belief and in the gradation of Ahkam into Farz, Wazib, Sunnah, Haram, Makruh, etc. Articles of faith can be determined only by Qati text with Qati meaning. A person can be declared Kafar if he denies the Qati text of the Quran or Mutawatir Sunnah. Otherwise not. Similarly Farz is determined only by Qati text with Qati meaning (please see chapter 17 of Kamali’s book).

Most of the text of the Quran are Qati in meaning. Example of Zanni in meaning are the words “banatukum” in Nisa : 23 and “yanfaw minal ard” in Maida : 33.

In the discussion on Qati and Zanni, Quran and Sunnah are integral to one another. Zanni of one verse can be made Qati by another verse or definitive Sunnah. Similarly, the Zanni Sunnah can be elevated to Qati by Qati Ayat of the Quran or by other corroborative evidence of Qati Sunnah.

By far, the large part of the Quranic legislation have been given in broad outlines, only in a few area, the Quran has given instruction in considerable details. Hardly there is anything where Quran has given all details. We are dependent on Sunnah and Ijtihad to fill up the gaps or for explanations.

One issue of concern is whether it is permissible to research the cause (talil) of Ahkam. Majority of scholars hold that this is permissible, indeed a must for development of Islamic law through Ijtihad (primarily Qiyas).

However, a few hold, talil is not permissible and as such deny legality of Qiyas. This view is weak and appears to have been born out of misunderstanding the purpose of talil.

Another issue is Asbab al Nazul or events which are related to revelation of the Ayats. The Hakm (law) is not limited to the events or circumstances. However Asbab al Nazul helps to understand the Quran and its law.

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