Shari'a comes from an Arabic word meaning "path to the water." Shari'a is often translated as "Islamic law," which is not wrong, but incomplete.
Shari'a is divine guidance that is drawn from the Qur'an and Sunna for the purpose of helping humanity worship and draw close to God and live with kindness and justice towards His Creation.
The American Muslim academic Dr Jonathan Brown once summarised it as follows:
The Shari'a is not a law code, printed and bound in volumes. It's the idea of God's law. Like other broad legal concepts like 'American law' or 'international law,' the Shari'a is a unified whole that contains within it tremendous diversity. Just as American law manifests itself as drastically different traffic laws or zoning codes in different states or locales, so too has the Shari'a's application varied greatly across the centuries while still remaining a coherent legal tradition.
Whilst Olivier Roy observed:
The shari'a is never closed, for it is based not on a core of concepts, but rather on an ensemble of precepts which is at times general, at times precise, and which expands to include the totality of human acts through induction, analogy, extension, commentary, and interpretation. While the basic precepts, as they are explicitly formulated, cannot be called into question, their extension is a matter of casuistics. The work of the judge is not to apply a principle or a concept, but to bring the case before him back into the realm of what is already known.
The human effort to mine these sources and construct concrete, applicable rules from the abstraction of the Shari'a is known as fiqh. If Shari'a is the idea and ideal of God's law, then fiqh is its earthly - and thus its inevitably fallible and diverse - manifestation.
Shari'a has five main objectives: to protect life, property, lineage, religion and intellect. The overarching objective is to establish social justice, fairness, mercy and security in societies.
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