Table of Contents
THE PRESCRIBED [SHARIA] PATH
The Arabic word Sharia, شريعة, is derived from shara‘a, شرع, meaning “an open and straight path; a clear, open highway; a well-defined way; a well-trodden path to water.” Shara‘ شرع is a command word and means “to ordain an open and straight path” (see Lane’s Dictionary of Arabic and English, Lisȃn al-‘Arab, Tȃj al-‘Arûs). You read in the Holy Qur’ân:
شَرَعَ لَكُم مِّنَ الدِّينِ مَا وَصَّىٰ بِهِ نُوحًا وَالَّذِي أَوْحَيْنَا إِلَيْكَ وَمَا وَصَّيْنَا بِهِ إِبْرَاهِيمَ وَمُوسَىٰ وَعِيسَىٰ ۖ
“He has ordained for you the same course of straight, open, welltrodden path [شَرَعَ] as He enjoined on Noah (to adopt), and which We have revealed to you, and it is that (same path) which We enjoined on Abraham, Moses, Jesus, . . .”(42:13).
Thus, the prescribed straight and open path is the path that was enjoined upon the Prophets. The Sharia path is not a new path; rather, it is a “well-trodden path to divine water”. The draconian so-called Sharia Laws that we are familiar with today were definitely not ordained to Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. The following verse is addressed to the people of all faiths:
لِكُلٍّ جَعَلْنَا مِنكُمْ شِرْعَةً وَمِنْهَاجًا ۚ وَلَوْ شَاءَ اللَّهُ لَجَعَلَكُمْ أُمَّةً وَاحِدَةً وَلَـٰكِن لِّيَبْلُوَكُمْ فِي مَا آتَاكُمْ ۖ فَاسْتَبِقُوا الْخَيْرَاتِ ۚ
“For each one of you did We prescribe a spiritual law and a well-defined way [shir‘a, شِرْعَةً] (- a code in secular matters). And if Allâh had so willed He might have made you all one community (by force), but He wishes to show your perfection (the capacities and capabilities) that He has endowed you with. Therefore vie one with another in (doing) good deeds.”(5:48)
Imȃm Rȃghib, referring to Ibn ‘Abbȃs, says that shir‘a, شِرْعَةً is that Divine Law that is mentioned in the Holy Qur’ân, which is its only source, and that Minhȃj – مِنْهَاجً is the law that can be inferred from traditions (Ahadith) according to the needs of time. Minhȃj cannot contradict or stand in contrast to what the Qur’ȃn prescribes. The Divine words “For each one of you did We prescribe a spiritual law and a well-defined way [shir‘a]” inform us that every person carries obligations according to his or her faith, capabilities and capacities, and these vary according to the person’s intellect and power of reflection. Therefore, there are no rigid Sharia laws for everybody. The Divine Laws are imposed only on persons who are physically and mentally in the position of accepting such obligations. The Holy Qur’ân reminds us of this limitation repeatedly (2:233; 6:152; 7:42; 23:62). In the words “And if Allâh had so willed He might have made you all one community,” there is a negation of force in implementing God’s own law (that is, Allâh did not in fact so will it). The words that follow—“He wishes to show your perfection (the capacities and capabilities) that He has endowed you with.”—inform us of the Divine Purpose behind these laws. In the words therefore vie one with another in (doing) good deeds, there is clearly a freedom of choice. Verse 45:18 reads: ثُمَّ جَعَلْنَاكَ عَلَىٰ شَرِيعَةٍ مِّنَ الْأَمْرِ فَاتَّبِعْهَا وَلَا تَتَّبِعْ أَهْوَاءَ الَّذِينَ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ, “Then We (gave you a system of law and) set you on a clear highway [Sharia, شَرِيعَة] regarding this affair. Follow it and do not follow the caprices of those who have no knowledge.” This verse is a hidden prophecy and a warning that people with less knowledge will try to mislead you from this path by showing you another way that they claim to be the right Sharia path. Verse 42:13 refers to the Sharia path without specifying it, enjoining us not be divided in sects therein.
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