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International Alliance for Advanced Judicial Studies (IAAJS)

Sharia

 

In the modern era, traditional laws in the Muslim world have been widely replaced by statutes inspired by European models. Judicial procedures and legal education were likewise brought in line with European practice. While the constitutions of most Muslim-majority states contain references to sharia, its classical rules were largely retained only in personal status (family) laws. Legislators who codified these laws sought to modernize them without abandoning their foundations in traditional jurisprudence. The Islamic revival of the late 20th century brought along calls by Islamist movements for full implementation of sharia, including hudud corporal punishments, such as stoning. In some cases, this resulted in traditionalist legal reform, while other countries witnessed juridical reinterpretation of sharia advocated by progressive reformers. Some Muslim-minority countries recognize the use of sharia-based family laws for their Muslim populations. Sharia also continues to influence other aspects of private and public life.

According to the traditional Muslim view, the major precepts of sharia were passed down directly from the Islamic prophet Muhammad without "historical development," and the emergence of Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) also goes back to the lifetime of Muhammad. In this view, his companions and followers took what he did and approved of as a model (sunnah) and transmitted this information to the succeeding generations in the form of hadith. These reports led first to informal discussion and then systematic legal thought, articulated with greatest success in the eighth and ninth centuries by the master jurists Abu Hanifah, Malik ibn Anas, Al-ShafiŽi, and Ahmad ibn Hanbal, who are viewed as the founders of the Hanafi, Maliki, Shafii, and Hanbali legal schools (madhhabs) of Sunni jurisprudence.

While the origin of hadith remains a subject of scholarly controversy, it is generally accepted that early Islamic jurisprudence developed out of a combination of administrative and popular practices shaped by the religious and ethical precepts of Islam. It continued some aspects of pre-Islamic laws and customs of the lands that fell under Muslim rule in the aftermath of the early conquests and modified other aspects, aiming to meet the practical need of establishing Islamic norms of behavior and adjudicating disputes arising in the early Muslim communities. Juristic thought gradually developed in study circles, where independent scholars met to learn from a local master and discuss religious topics. At first, these circles were fluid in their membership, but with time distinct regional legal schools crystallized around shared sets of methodological principles. As the boundaries of the schools became clearly delineated, the authority of their doctrinal tenets came to be vested in a master jurist from earlier times, who was henceforth identified as the school's founder. In the course of the first three centuries of Islam, all legal schools came to accept the broad outlines of classical legal theory, according to which Islamic law had to be firmly rooted in the Quran and hadith.

The classical process of ijtihad combined these generally recognized principles with other methods, which were not adopted by all legal schools, such as istihsan (juristic preference), istislah (consideration of public interest) and istishab (presumption of continuity). A jurist who is qualified to practice ijtihad is known as a mujtahid. The use of independent reasoning to arrive at a ruling is contrasted with taqlid (imitation), which refers to following the rulings of a mujtahid. By the beginning of the 10th century, development of Sunni jurisprudence prompted leading jurists to state that the main legal questions had been addressed and the scope of ijtihad was gradually restricted. From the 18th century on, leading Muslim reformers began calling for abandonment of taqlid and renewed emphasis on ijtihad, which they saw as a return to the vitality of early Islamic jurisprudence.

The transformations of Islamic legal institutions in the modern era have had profound implications for the madhhab system. Legal practice in most of the Muslim world has come to be controlled by government policy and state law, so that the influence of the madhhabs beyond personal ritual practice depends on the status accorded to them within the national legal system. State law codification commonly utilized the methods of takhayyur (selection of rulings without restriction to a particular madhhab) and talfiq (combining parts of different rulings on the same question). Legal professionals trained in modern law schools have largely replaced traditional ulema as interpreters of the resulting laws. Global Islamic movements have at times drawn on different madhhabs and at other times placed greater focus on the scriptural sources rather than classical jurisprudence. The Hanbali school, with its particularly strict adherence to the Quran and hadith, has inspired conservative currents of direct scriptural interpretation by the Salafi and Wahhabi movements. Other currents, such as networks of Indonesian ulema and Islamic scholars residing in Muslim-minority countries, have advanced liberal interpretations of Islamic law without focusing on traditions of a particular madhhab.

If an accusation did not result in a verdict in a qadi's court, the plaintiff could often pursue it in another type of court called the mazalim court, administered by the ruler's council. The rationale for mazalim (lit. wrongs, grievances) courts was to address the "wrongs" that sharia courts were unable to address, including complaints against government officials. Islamic jurists were commonly in attendance and a judge often presided over the court as a deputy of the ruler. Mazalim verdicts were supposed to conform to the "spirit" of sharia, but the they were not bound by the letter of the law or the procedural restrictions of qadi's courts.

Sharia was intended to regulate affairs of the Muslim community. Non-Muslims residing under Islamic rule had the legal status of dhimmi, which entailed a number of protections, restrictions, freedoms and legal inequalities, including payment of the jizya tax. Dhimmi communities had legal autonomy to adjudicate their internal affairs. Cases involving litigants from two different religious groups fell under jurisdiction of sharia courts, where (unlike in secular courts) testimony of non-Muslim witnesses against a Muslim was inadmissible in criminal cases or at all. This legal framework was implemented with varying degree of rigor. In some periods or towns, all inhabitants apparently used the same court without regard for their religious affiliation. The Mughal emperor Aurangzeb imposed Islamic law on all his subjects, including provisions traditionally applicable only to Muslims, while some of his predecessors and successors are said to have abolished jizya. According to Ottoman records, non-Muslim women took their cases to a sharia court when they expected a more favorable outcome on marital, divorce and property questions than in Christian and Jewish courts.

Aside from the radical reforms of Islamic family law carried out in Tunisia (1956) and Iran (1967), governments often preferred to make changes that made a clear break from traditional sharia rules by imposing administrative hurdles rather than changing the rules themselves, in order to minimize objections from religious conservatives. Various procedural changes have been made in a number of countries to restrict polygamy, give women greater rights in divorce, and eliminate child marriage. Inheritance has been the legal domain least susceptible to reform, as legislators have been generally reluctant to tamper with the highly technical system of Quranic shares. Some reforms have faced strong conservative opposition. For example, the 1979 reform of Egyptian family law, promulgated by Anwar Sadat through presidential decree, provoked an outcry and was annulled in 1985 by the supreme court on procedural grounds, to be later replaced by a compromise version. The 2003 reform of Moroccan family law, which sought to reconcile universal human rights norms and the country's Islamic heritage, was drafted by a commission that included parliamentarians, religious scholars and feminist activists, and the result has been praised by international rights groups as an example of "progressive" legislation achieved within an Islamic framework.

The rules of evidence in sharia courts traditionally prioritize oral testimony, and witnesses must be Muslim. Male Muslim witnesses are deemed more reliable than female Muslim witnesses, and non-Muslim witnesses considered unreliable and receive no priority in a sharia court. In civil cases in some countries, a Muslim woman witness is considered half the worth and reliability than a Muslim man witness. In criminal cases, women witnesses are unacceptable in stricter, traditional interpretations of sharia, such as those found in Hanbali jurisprudence, which forms the basis of law in Saudi Arabia.

 
 

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