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Distinctive Characteristics of Islamic Law

Anyone who follows Islamic Law or studies it carefully will find that it is distinguished by certain characteristics and unique qualities that are not shared by any other legal system. These characteristics have allowed it to enjoy stability, growth, and relevance for over fourteen centuries. It shall remain so until Allah repossesses the Earth and everyone upon it. The reason for this is that the Sharia has a permanent and global character, because it is the final, divinely revealed Sharia for the whole world, and because the religion of Islam is the last in the line of divinely revealed religions. It is, thus, necessary for the Sharia to have certain unique qualities that afford it the continuity and stability it needs to deal with the ever-changing requirements of human life over vast stretches of time and space.

Before discussing the most important of these distinguishing features, we wish to point out that Islamic Law is much broader in scope and much more complete than any man-made code of law. Islamic Law covers all aspects of Law covered by man-made “positive” law as well as other issues that such man-made laws do not touch upon. For this reason, one orientalist was of the opinion that there is no exact equivalent to the term “fiqh” in any Western language. There is nothing strange about this, because Islamic Law derives its principles and tenets from the Book of Allah that was sent down by the Most Wise, the Most Praiseworthy Creator, a Book that cannot be approached by falsehood from any angle.

Islamic Law, with its distinctive features, is unprecedented in the history of Law. Islamic Law is the broadest, most comprehensive system of legislation in the world. It was applied, through various schools of thought, from one end of the Muslim World to the other. It also had a great impact on other nations and cultures. Many nations of the world borrowed their own legal systems from Islamic Law by way of contact with Islamic Spain, Sicily, Turkestan, Bukhara, and the Balkans. In today’s time, it is considered one of the sources of world law.

Some of the unique characteristics of Islamic Law are the following:

Nobility of purpose

Every system of law has an objective behind it that it seeks to fulfill. The principles that it follows are established with the sole aim of realizing this objective. This objective varies from culture to culture. It also varies due to the changing aims and objectives of those in power who have legislative authority. For this reason, changes and amendments are commonplace, as nations employ law as a means of directing their citizenry to certain objectives.

Likewise, the state employs law as a means of achieving certain limited goals where the political authority has no other means at its disposal to bring them to realization. In short, law becomes the obedient donkey of the state, bearing its burdens and following its directions. Islamic Law, on the other hand, is not shaped by society. Quite the contrary, society is shaped by it. This is because man did not create it, but in fact, recreates himself in conformity to it.

Islamic Law is not limited to regulating the interrelationships between individuals in society. It, first and foremost, regulates the relationship between the individual and the Creator by legislating different forms of worship like prayer, fasting, zakh, and Hajj.

Moreover, it defines the rights and obligations each individual has with respect to others, so that the potential harm any individual might cause for others is effectively negated. In this regard, Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said: “There should be no harm and no harming of others.”

In short, Islamic Law aims at a great objective: that of realizing the benefits and best interests of both the individual and society and warding off what is to their detriment, giving preference neither to the needs of the individual nor to those of society as a whole.

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