Chapter 4: What is Islam by Dr. Muhammad Sharif Chaudhry



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What is Islam

By Dr. Muhammad Sharif Chaudhry


Islamic Laws

I- Family Laws

II- Criminal Laws

III- Personal and other Laws

Islamic Laws are also called Shariah or Shariah Laws. Islam has laid down a comprehensive code of laws in civil, criminal and family matters. Many volumes can be written to discuss in detail these laws. In a single volume of an average size like the present book which is devoted to many subjects relating to Islam, it is not possible to provide much space to the discussion of Islamic laws. Therefore, we will discuss very briefly some important laws of Islam in this chapter.

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I- Family Laws


Islam considers family as cradle of civilization and marriage as the foundation of family. According to Islam marriage is essential. The Prophet of Islam is reported to have remarked: “Nikah (marriage) is my Sunnah and whosoever rejects my Sunnah is not from me.” The Qur’an says: “Marry those among you who are single” –(24:32). The Arabic word Ayyama means single or solitary. A single person, may be a man or a woman, should be married. He or she may be single on account of having not yet married or on account of dissolution of his or her marriage by divorce or by death of the other spouse. Whatever may be the reason for being single, he or she is supposed to marry or remarry. Even poverty is no excuse or justification to abstain from marriage, as the Qur’an says in this very verse “If they are in poverty, Allah will give them means out of His grace”. Monasticism which is considered to be an ideal way of life in some religions like Christianity is discouraged by Islam. Similarly life of celibacy is not encouraged as the prophet of Islam strongly objected to one of his companions living such life. According to a Hadith, one makes his religion half perfect by marrying and he would meet Allah pure and purified. There is consensus of Muslim jurists that marriage is ‘Sunnat Muwakkidah’ (recommended practice). Institution of marriage embraces in itself the character of ‘Ibadah’ as well as character of ‘Muamlat’. Marriage in Islamic society though essentially a civil contract is also devotional act.

Islam permits marriage of widows and divorced women unlike certain other religions like Hinduism which do not allow such women to remarry. However, virgins (unmarried women) may be preferred for the first marriage of a young man since virgins are generally more prolific, more affectionate and are easily satisfied with little means of income of the husband.

Islam, as the religion of nature, understands human nature thoroughly and, therefore, it allows a man and a woman, who want to marry, to look at each other before marriage. Apparently it may look rather a liberal and progressive approach which is rejected by many creeds and customs, but actually it is the correct approach. Would-be-spouses should see each other and should exercise their right of choice. On the contrary if they are herded together forcibly by their parents or guardians, their union is likely to break apart.

Islamic law has made it compulsory that a woman’s consent must be obtained before she is married. According to the Ahadith of the Prophet, the consent of the women, whether previously married or virgin, is essential for marriage. A virgin may feel shy and keep quite. If she remains silent that shall be considered her consent, but if she declines there shall be no compulsion on her. Thus Islamic law provides clearly a right to woman to exercise her choice for marriage by saying yes or no. This idea of obtaining consent has led to the legal concept that for the completion of a marriage contract there must be proposal (Ejab) from one side and acceptance (Qabul) from other side. No compulsion or coercion can, therefore, be exercised to force a woman into marriage against her will.

Marriage contract like any other civil contract is to be evidenced by two competent witnesses. This has been emphasized by the Prophet of Islam and is established by the common practice among his followers. The verse number 2 of chapter 65 of al-Qur’an also enjoins upon the believers to call to witness two just men from among them at the time of divorce.

A minor girl, when given in marriage by her guardian, has the option to repudiate the marriage when she attains puberty. The Prophet of Islam annulled the marriage of a girl who had been given in marriage by her father, since she disliked it. However, repudiation must be made immediately after she attains puberty and before cohabiting with the husband.

Females prohibited to a man for marriage have been mentioned in detail by the Qur’an in its verses 22,23 and 24 of Chapter 4. The following women are forbidden to you as commanded by the Qur’an:

  1. Your mothers (real mothers).

  2. Women whom your father married (step mothers).

  3. Your daughters.

  4. Your sisters.

  5. Your father’s sisters.

  6. Your mother’s sisters.

  7. Your brother’s daughters.

  8. Your sister’s daughters.

  9. Your foster-mothers.

  10. Your foster-sisters

  11. Your mother-in-law.

  12. Your step-daughters born of your women unto whom you have gone-in.

  13. Wives of your real sons.

  14. Two sisters together.

  15. All married women save those captives whom your right hands possess.

Certain unions have also been prohibited by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). According to the Prophet:

  1. What is unlawful by reason of consanguinity is unlawful by reason of fosterage. Foster suckling relationship is established only when milk is the only food of the child.

  2. A woman and her paternal aunt cannot be united, nor a woman and her maternal aunt.

Proclamation and publicity of marriage is very important in Islam as it dislikes secret marriage. Hosting of Waleema (marriage feast) is an obligatory Sunnah of the Prophet which should be performed by the bridegrooms to entertain their relatives and friends in order to celebrate their marriages. Even Daf beating and singing is allowed on the occasion of marriage for the purpose of celebration and jubilation.

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The Arabic word ‘Mahr’ is generally translated into English as ‘dower’. Dower has been defined in different ways. According to one definition, it is a consideration for the surrender of person by the wife. According to Ameer Ali, dower is a consideration for wife’s sole and exclusive use and benefit. D.F. Mullah defines dower’s as “a sum of money or other property which the wife is entitled to receive from the husband in consideration of the marriage”. Muhammad Asad writes: “The expression nihlah signifies the giving of something willingly, of one’s own accord, without expecting a return for it (Zamakhshari). It is to be noted that the amount of the marriage-portion or dower, which the bridegroom has to give to the bride has not been circumscribed by the Law: it depends entirely on the agreement of the two parties, and may consist of anything, even a mere token. According to several authentic Traditions recorded in most of the compilations, the Prophet made it clear that “even an iron ring’ may be enough if the bride is willing to accept it. Or, shot of that, even “the imparting to thy bride of a verse of the Qur’an”.

The payment of dower by a Muslim husband to his wife is essential obligation of marriage. The Qur’an and the Prophet of Islam have laid much stress on dower which a believer is duty-bound to pay. The amount of dower, however, has not been fixed by either the Qur’an or the Sunnah. There is no minimum or maximum limit of dower which is prescribed by Islamic Shariah. The fixation of amount of dower entirely depends on the agreement of the husband and wife. It is generally held that the amount should be fixed according to the means of the husband and keeping in view the practice in the family.

If a person divorces his wife before touching her and before appointing an amount of dower for her, he has been directed to make provision for her according to his means. But if he divorces her before touching her and after fixing the amount of dower for her, he is bound to give half of the amount of dower which has been fixed. However, if the woman agrees to forgo her rights of accepting this half dower or the man shows generosity in giving her full dower, such an accord is permitted by the Qur’an.  (Al-Qur’an 2:237)

The men should give to their wives their dower willingly. But if the women of their own accord agree to remit the whole or part of their dower, the husbands must welcome this gesture –(Al-Qur’an 4:4). Caliph Umar and Qadhi Shuraih have decreed that if a wife remits the dower but later on demands it, the husband shall be compelled to pay it because the very fact that she demands it is a clear proof that she did not remit it of her own free will.

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The Arabic word ‘Talaq’ which is translated into English as divorce means ‘freeing or undoing the knot’ or ‘dismission’ or ‘rejection’. Under Islamic Fiqh, it is a release from marriage tie. It is the dissolution of marriage between the husband and the wife by the pronouncement of certain words. Any adult Muslim of sound mind can divorce his wife whenever he desires, without assigning any reason. Under Shiah fiqh, intention and free will are necessary for valid ‘Talaq’ while these are not required under the fiqh of Sunnis.

The divorce is the most hated and unpleasant thing in Islam. According to a well reported Tradition, the Messenger of Allah said: “The most detestable of lawful things near Allah is divorce.” Despite that, Islam permits divorce because divorce becomes inevitable in some extreme situations when it is not possible for the husband and the wife to pull on together. Divorce is allowed normally when all the efforts for reconciliation have proved abortive and there are no chances left for the couple to live together amicably.

To resolve the differences between the husband and wife, resort can be made to arbitration. The Qur’an in its verse 35 of chapter 4 instructs its followers to appoint arbiters, one from husband’s family and one from wife’s family for making reconciliation and rapprochement. If the parties wish for settlement and peace, the efforts of the arbiters shall be successful and Allah would effect harmony between the spouses.

The method of divorce as propounded by the Qur’an and the Sunnah is briefly described in these words: “If the husband intends to divorce his wife, he can do so by making a single pronouncement of divorce within Tuhr during which he has not had sexual intercourse with her, and then leave her to observe Iddah. After expiry of Iddah (three monthly courses) the divorce would attain finality. The other method is that the husband would pronounce divorce thrice in three successive Tuhrs, and in this way, the divorce would become irrevocable after the third pronouncement.” In case of one or two divorces, the husband retains the right of Rajuah or reunion within period of Iddah by resuming sexual intercourse or by verbal retraction. However, after the expiry of Iddah, divorce becomes irrevocable and the husband’s right of Rajuah stands forfeited. Now, the couple has the right to remarry if they desire to live together. But when a husband has repudiated his wife by pronouncing three divorces, he has no right of revocation, neither the couple can remarry. In this situation, the parties can remarry only when the woman marries another husband and the latter dies or divorces her after actual consummation of marriage. Tuhr is period of purity between two monthly courses and Iddah is the waiting period which a divorcee has to undergo before she can contract a second marriage.

The procedure of divorce enunciated by the Qur’an and the Sunnah, as stated above, is spread over a period of almost three months, during which the husband has a right to revoke the divorce. It has been done with a view to check hasty, rash or an arbitrary action on the part of the husband and also to leave the door open for the parties to reconcile during the period. During Iddah the wife cannot be expelled from the house and she would be entitled to full maintenance and also to good treatment.

Those who pronounce three divorces at a single sitting, they have been condemned by the Holy Prophet. According to an authentic Tradition, the Prophet of Islam, when he heard of a man who had given three divorces to his wife at one time, got up enraged and said: “Are you playing with the Book of Almighty and Glorious Allah, while I am still amongst you?” So, the simultaneous pronouncement of three divorces was treated as a single divorce during the time of the Prophet and of Abu Bakr and even in the early days of the caliphate of Umar. Umar reportedly used to whip such persons who gave three divorces in one sitting. However, later on, Umar changed his mind when he found that people frequently divorced by three pronouncements. He, therefore, ordered to treat three pronouncements as three divorces and made them operative as a matter of punishment upon those who used this sinful method.

Al-Qur’an has given the right of obtaining divorce to a wife if she agrees to pay some ransom or compensation. This is called Khula. If the husband and wife are not able to keep the limits of Allah and they agree to dissolve the marriage on the condition that the wife gives some compensation, such agreement is valid under law. The jurists are generally of the opinion that such compensation should not exceed the dower given by the husband to the wife. Thus the Khula is a kind of facility provided to the woman to secure divorce from her husband by returning a part of or full amount of the bridal gift or Mahr if she dislikes her husband.

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Iddah (waiting period)

Iddah is the period of waiting or probation during which it is incumbent upon a Muslim woman, whose marriage has been dissolved by divorce or death of her husband, to remain in seclusion and abstain from marrying another man. Syed Ameer Ali calls it ‘interval which a woman is bound to observe between the termination, by death or divorce, of one matrimonial alliance and the commencement of another. Thus, Iddah is the period during which a divorced woman or a widow is not permitted to remarry.

Period of Iddah in case of a divorced woman with whom marriage has been consummated and who is still in the age of menstruation is three monthly courses while in case of a divorcee who is past the age of menstruation the period is three months. In the case of a pregnant woman the Iddah is up to her delivery. In the case of a widow, the waiting period is 4 months and 10 days. In case of a marriage which has not been consummated, there is no Iddah to be observed. In the case of a pregnant widow,  if delivery or miscarriage takes place before 4 months and 10 days, the remaining period will have to be observed, according to some jurists. The period of Iddah when husband dies after divorce would run from the day of his death. The primary purpose of the Iddah is two fold: firstly the ascertainment of possible pregnancy and thus preventing the confusion of parentage of the would-be baby; secondly to provide opportunity to the husband and the wife to resolve their differences and reconcile if the divorce is revocable. During the period of Iddah, the woman, who has been divorced by less than three pronouncements and is pregnant, shall be entitled to have both dwelling and maintenance. A woman separated by revocable divorce shall also have dwelling and maintenance, even if not pregnant, during the period of Iddah. As for a woman whose husband has died, she will have no maintenance but will have dwelling during the Iddah. In the case of a woman who has been divorced irrevocably but is pregnant, both maintenance and lodging are almost unanimously approved by the jurists.

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The meaning of ‘Nafqah’, which is the Arabic equivalent of ‘maintenance’, is what person spends on his family. Maintenance includes food, clothing and lodging. Under Islamic law, a person is bound to maintain his wife and children and in certain circumstances his parents. The law regarding maintenance is briefly discussed as below:

According to some well known Traditions reported in authentic books of Hadith, the Prophet (may Allah’s peace be upon him) required his followers to accord their wives the best possible treatment. He impressed upon men the rights of women regarding food, clothing and lodging. Even in his famous Farewell Address at Arafat, the Apostle of Allah did not forget to exhort the believers to fulfill their obligations regarding the proper maintenance of their women. The Qur’an also enjoins upon the believers to accord proper treatment to their wives.

Duty of providing maintenance to the wife is so important that the Qur’an makes even a divorced wife entitled to it during the period of Iddah when the husband would provide her food, clothing and lodging and cannot expel her from his house (Al-Qur’an 65:1 and 65:6). If she is expecting, the husband is bound to maintain her till delivery and in case she suckles the child she would be entitled to receive the due payment for this service (Al-Qur’an 65:6)

The Qur’an makes it a duty for the pious and God-fearing persons to make some provision even for those women who have been divorced by them (2:241).

No scale or standard has been fixed for maintenance by the Qur’an or by the Sunnah. However, a lot of guidance has been provided to determine it in the given circumstances. The Qur’an says: “No one should be charged beyond one’s capacity” (2:233). At another place, the Qur’an directs: “Provide for them, the rich according to his means and the straitened according to his means, a fair provision” (2:236).

Spending for the maintenance of the children and for their education and well being, carries higher merit even in comparison to spending in the way of Allah or spending in emancipating a slave. A father must provide for the maintenance of children and in the absence of a nurse, the mother is obliged to suckle her infant at breast. If the father is poor and incapable of earning, the mother, if she is rich, is bound to maintain her children. The liability of a father for the maintenance of his children is not dissolved even if the children are living with their divorced mother. In case of father’s death, the mother should bring up her children till they attain majority instead of contracting a second marriage.

Children are bound to maintain their parents when the parents have no property or due to old age or illness they are unable to earn their livelihood. If the children are prosperous and the parents happen to be poor, the children are obliged to maintain them and spend for their comforts even if the parents are capable of earning. Difference of religion does not relieve children of their obligation of maintaining the parents. Maintenance of the parents in case of absentee child may be met out of his property or effects. According to Hedaya, parents include paternal and ancestral grandfather and grandmother in the matter of maintenance.

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The revealed book of Islam, the Holy Qur’an, allows Muslims to have more than one wife (two, three or four) at a time. The relevant verse of the Qur’an reads:

“And if ye fear that ye will not deal fairly by the orphans, marry of the women, who seem good to you, two or three or four; and if ye fear that ye cannot do justice (to so many) then one (only) or (the captives) that your right hands possess. Thus it is more likely that ye will not do injustice.”    (An-Nisa 4:3)

The Qur’an in its verse 3 of chapter 4, permits polygamy and promulgates:

  1. If you fear that you would not be able to deal fairly and equitably with the orphans, you should marry the women who (have these orphans with them and) seem good to you.

  2. You are permitted to marry even two, three or four women but not more at a time provided you can treat them justly and equitably.

  3. If you have reason to fear that you cannot do justice with all of them, you should marry only one.

‘Adl or justice has not been defined in this verse. However, all the commentators of the Qur’an unanimously hold that justice in this verse means equality of treatment in food, clothing and lodgment. Mu’tazilite doctors hold that in addition to food, clothing and lodging there must be equal treatment in love and affection also.

There is almost consensus of opinion among all the scholars of the Qur’an that verse 3 of chapter 4 of the Qur’an permits polygamy. However, the injunction is in the nature of permission and not in the nature of order or command. The Qur’an simply permits its followers to contract plural marriages but it does not command them to do so. It also restricts the maximum number of wives at four and makes the permission subject to the condition that the husband must do justice with all the wives and deal with them equally. In my view there is another condition or proviso also and that is that the choice of wives for plural marriages must be from among the widows or orphan girls. It is only in this sense that the relevance of the opening sentence of this verse (4:3) is justified which reads: “And if ye fear that ye will not deal fairly by the orphans…….”. If this sentence of the verse under discussion is read and considered with the preceding verse (4:2), the meanings become more clear. “Give unto orphans their wealth. Exchange not the good for the bad (in your management thereof), nor absorb their wealth into your wealth. Lo! that would be a great sin. And if ye fear that ye will not deal fairly by the orphans, marry of the women, who seem good to you, two or three or four ….” (4:2 and 4:3). It is clear from this that the Qur’an is exhorting its followers to do justice with the orphans who are under their care. It is against this background that polygamy has been permitted so that they may be able to do justice with the orphans and treat them fairly by marrying the mothers or the sisters of the orphans and thus becoming their close relations. In that way they would feel and develop love, affection and tenderness towards the orphans and would treat them kindly as if the orphans were their own children.

The Qur’an did not, in fact, introduce polygamy. That existed in pre-Islamic Arabia and also in the neighbouring communities. Al-Qur’an actually limited the number of wives, which was unrestricted among the pagans, to four and also subjected polygamy to a very strict condition of doing justice between the wives. Traditions of the Prophet of Islam also support this interpretation. It is reported that Gailan, the chief of Ta’if had ten wives when he accepted Islam. The Prophet (Peace be upon him) allowed him to keep four wives and divorce the rest. The Prophet (Peace be upon him) also declared: “When a man has two wives and he does not deal equitably between them, he will come on the Day of Judgment with a side hanging down.” Thus, he enjoined upon his companions and followers who indulge in polygamy to deal equitably with their wives. Polygamy is justified in exceptional circumstances and in the following situations:

a)       First such exception is war. In case of war men are generally killed in large numbers. Thus the number of men is decreased while the number of females increases specially of helpless widows and orphans. If polygamy is not permitted to support the widows and the orphans and also to bring the unmarried women into marriage bond, it would lead not only to economic misery of many families but also to immoral practices like prostitution, adultery, sexual anarchy etc. Such a social disintegration can be averted only if a man is permitted by law to have more than one wife.

b)       The wife may be sterile and the natural desire for progeny may lead the husband to contract another marriage, who does not want to divorce the first wife but at the same time wants to have children.

c)       Some men may, by nature, be sexually very strong. So they cannot remain content with one wife. A woman is disabled on account of menses for almost a week in every month and besides that, pregnancy, delivery and weaning of the child is spread over almost a period of more than two years. During these periods, she is unable to meet the husband’s biological needs. Hence the need of the husband for the second wife.

d)       The wife may be chronically diseased and unable to satisfy the sexual urge of her husband. In certain cases she may be able to perform marital obligations but her fragile health may not withstand pregnancies and child births. Hence a second marriage in such a situation may become a necessity.

e)       Dr. Hamidullah offers yet another interesting situation which justifies Islam’s permission of polygamy. He says: “Supposing there is a case, in which a woman has young children, and falls chronically ill, becoming incapable of doing the household work. The husband has no means of employing a maid-servant for the purpose, not to speak of the natural requirements of the conjugal life. Supposing also that the sick woman gives her consent to her husband to take a second wife, and that a woman is found who agrees to marry the individual in question. Western law would rather permit immorality than a legal marriage to bring happiness to this afflicted home.”

f)       It is also said that prostitution can be controlled by the introduction of polygamy.

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The term ‘guardianship’ means the guardianship of a minor regarding his person or his property. Islamic Law of guardianship has been developed by the jurists in the light of the verses of the Qur’an, the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and the practice of companions of the Prophet. The law recognises three types of guardianship:

1)       Guardianship of the minor in marriage: According to Islamic law, a boy or girl who is minor is not competent to enter into a contract of marriage, but he or she may be contracted into marriage by his or her guardian like father, grandfather, brother or mother.

2)      Guardianship of the person of the minor: The mother is entitled to the custody of her male child until he has completed the age of seven years and female child until she has attained puberty. The right normally continues though she is divorced by the father of the child unless she marries a second husband in which case the custody shall belong to the father. A father is entitled to the custody of a boy over seven years of age and of an unmarried girl who has attained puberty.

3)      Guardianship of the property of the minor: There are three class of the guardians of the property of the minor, namely: Legal or natural guardians; guardians appointed by the court, and de-facto guardians.

Age of puberty or the age when a minor attains majority has not been fixed by the Qur’an or the Sunnah. Views of the jurists differ a lot. Generally the age of puberty for the purpose of marriage is considered to be the age of fifteen years while for other purposes it is eighteen years.

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II- Criminal Laws


Life is a trust of Allah and Allah has made it the most sacred. Therefore, the Qur’an regards the murder of one individual (save in the course of justice) as the murder of all mankind. The Qur’an says: …. Whosoever kills a human being for other than man- slaughter or corruption in the land, it shall be as if he had killed all mankind and whoso saves the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind – (5:32). The security of life is the most fundamental right of every human being. Human life is so sacred that it cannot be taken for any reason except in course of justice for manslaughter or for corruption (fitna) in the land. According to the Prophet of Islam, life of a man cannot be taken except for one of three reasons, namely: life for life, adultery by a married person and apostasy from religion.

The murder of human being is the greatest sin after the sin of ‘shirk’ (assigning partners with Allah) and is, therefore, unpardonable. It is the crime against humanity and it is the most heinous offence. The first of what will be decided on the Resurrection Day among the people will be about murder. Islam not only forbids committing of murder but has also forbidden committing of suicide with equal stress.

Islam has established perfect equality in the matter of punishment for the offence of murder. Punishment is equal for all irrespective of the status of the murderer or the murdered. Though, retaliation (Qisas) is prescribed in the matter of murder and physical injuries, yet the acceptance of blood money or giving pardon (afw) is also recommended.

For accidental murder or murder by mistake, there is no capital punishment. The murderer would, however, pay diyat (blood-wit or blood-money) to the heirs of the murdered and also free a believing slave. But if the offender cannot find a slave, he should fast for two consecutive months. Islamic law empowers the heirs of the victim to remit blood-money and pardon the assassin.

For intentional murder, Qisas or retaliation is allowed. In fact, for such murder, the heirs of the slain have three options, i.e. either to take Qisas and slay the murderer or to take diyat and accept blood-wit or to pardon and remit blood-wit as charity.

Where the murderer cannot be detected or found, blood-money shall be paid by the state from public treasury. Blood-wit is the same in case of intentional or unintentional murder.

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The term ‘theft’ has neither been defined by the Qur’an nor by the Sunnah. In the common parlance, theft means the act of depriving a person of his property dishonestly, stealthily and illegally. It is, thus, an act of taking other’s property without any lawful claim to it. Protection of property is one of the fundamental rights of a citizen and the state is duty-bound to safeguard it from the encroachments of others. A thief infringes the right of a citizen with regard to his property and deprives him permanently of his hard-earned belonging. The Qur’an has prescribed very severe punishment of cutting off the hands of a thief to make him an example for others and thus create a deterrent effect.

The Qur’an has not prescribed any value of property the theft of which makes a culprit liable for the punishment of amputation of hands. However, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) has fixed minimum value of property at one-fourth of Dinar or at three Dirhams for which the hands of a thief can be cut off. According to another version, the Prophet decreed that the hand of a thief shall not be amputated for a thing whose value is less than that of a shield. At that time the price of a shield, according to Ibn Abbas, was ten Dirhams, according to Ibn Umar three Dirhams, and according to Ayesha one-fourth of a Dinar.

Generally the punishment of amputation of hands is not given for theft of food items, fruits, vegetables, eatables, dry wood, grass, hay, fish, milk, meat, cooked food, birds, animals grazing in forest, etc. No such punishment is awarded normally to one who steals in a journey, expedition or Jihad or to one who commits theft during a famine. A servant or slave who steals anything belonging to his master or a person guilty of stealing something from the house of a relative within prohibited degrees is not awarded punishment of cutting of limbs. Person guilty of stealing from public treasury or of misappropriation or of embezzlement or of corruption is also not liable for this punishment. Needless to say that such offences and such persons are, however, liable for Taazir (discretionary) punishment by the judge according to circumstances.

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The Arabic word ‘Zina’ is used for illicit or unlawful sexual intercourse between a man and a woman who are not married to each other. This term stands both for adultery and fornication and does not make any difference between the two. In English language there is difference between adultery and fornication. Fornication stands for illicit relations between two unmarried persons; while adultery denotes unlawful sexual relationship between the persons, one or both of whom are married to other or others.

Zina (adultery and fornication) is the most abominable act and has been expressly made unlawful by the Islamic penal code. It is one of the gravest sins and one of the greatest crimes. The revealed book of Islam strictly prohibits its followers even from going near it because it is an abomination and evil way. It is one of the crimes liable for hudood, the punishment for which has been prescribed in the Holy Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet (PBUH).

The punishment for the offence of Zina has been prescribed by the Holy Qur’an (in its chapter 24 verse number 2) at one hundred stripes for each of the guilty parties. Thus the Holy Book of Islam has not made distinction between fornication and adultery and has laid down the punishment of one hundred lashes for a Zani (Adulterer) and for a Zaniah (Adultereress) who are guilty of this offence. The Sunnah of the Prophet (PBUH), however, makes distinction between fornication and adultery by treating the guilty persons differently on the basis of marital status. If person involved in Zina is unmarried, he or she is to be punished by one hundred lashes. But if a person guilty of this offence is married, he or she will be awarded punishment of stoning to death (rajm).

In case of rape, the man guilty of forcing the woman is punished while the woman subjected to rape is let off without any punishment.

For establishing the offence of Zina, the Qur’an stipulates (see verse 15 of chapter 4, and verse 4 and 13 of chapter 24 of the Holy Book) the direct evidence of four competent witnesses instead of the two required in all other judicial cases. The confession of a person four times is sufficient evidence for his conviction provided the confession is being made without any external pressure, coercion or duress, and also, provided the person making confession is not mad nor he is in the state of intoxication.

Once the offence of Zina is established beyond any doubt, punishment has to be awarded to the guilty parties. No compromise among the parties, no ransom or expiation, nor remorse or repentance, no pardon or reprieve, and no promise of good behaviour in future can avert punishment. It has, therefore, been recommended that this offence should be concealed, if possible, not only by the persons involved but also by the people who know about it. Publicity of this evil in any case is undesirable.

When the offence of Zina is proved or established and decree of Hadd is issued, then the prescribed punishment against the culprits shall be executed publicly. No pity for the guilty parties can withhold the executioners of punishment from enforcing Hudood of Allah in accordance with the law.

A minor or mad or insane person or a lunatic, if involved in fornication, is not liable for Hadd.

To punish a married person guilty of adultery some additional conditions have to be fulfilled. The offender must have been legally married and must have consummated the marriage. It is also essential that the offender must have done the act of Zina under his own free will and not under pressure.

In case the adulteress is pregnant, she will not be punished till delivery. Even her punishment shall be postponed till the time when she has weaned her child and the child is no longer dependent on the milk of the mother only.

If the culprit is sick and he is likely to recover, then the punishment of flogging shall be postponed till his recovery. But in case the disease is incurable, then a bunch of one hundred twigs will be struck on his body in one go to absolve him of the liability of Hadd.

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Wine and other intoxicants have been prohibited by the Qur’an. The word used by the Qur’an in its verse 219 of chapter 2 and verse 90 of chapter 5, is Khamr. The word ‘Khamr’ is derived from ‘Khamara’ which means ‘he concealed’ or ‘obscured’. The ‘Khamr’ thus denotes every substance or intoxicating thing the use of which obscures or covers the intellect. Hence, the prohibition of intoxicant promulgated by this verse is not restricted merely to alcoholic drinks but also includes drugs which have a similar effect. This is the view based on many authentic traditions according to which the Prophet is reported to have declared: “Every intoxicant is unlawful”. “Every liquor which intoxicates is forbidden”. Every intoxicant is Khamr and every intoxicant is forbidden”. The Prophet of Islam is also reported to have said: “Wine is made from grape-syrup, raisins, dried dates, wheat, barley, millet, and I forbid you from every intoxicant”. According to another tradition, the Messenger of Allah forbade every intoxicant and everything which produces languidness. The Prophet also closed the door of taking wine calling it by another name when he said: “Some of my people will assuredly drink wine calling it by another name”. The wine cannot be converted into vinegar and used. Umar is reported to have defined Khamr as everything that dulls the faculty of thinking.

Wine is the mother of many evils (Umul Khabaith). It is one of the major sins to drink it. According to a tradition of the Prophet of Islam, a person is not a believer at the time of drinking wine. Paradise has been prohibited for a habitual drinker. God accepts repentance of a drinker only for three times and when he takes wine for the fourth time after repentance, neither his prayer is accepted nor his repentance is accepted.

Despite condemning wine-drinking in unequivocal terms, the punishment for drinking has not been prescribed by the Holy Qur’an. In the Sunnah also, we do not find any definite punishment for this offence. In almost all cases of wine-drinking which came to the notice of the Prophet, the Prophet ordered for beating of the offenders with shoes, sticks and hands. This punishment of beating of the culprit remained in force during the rule of Abu Bakr and early part of the caliphate of Umar. But according to another version, the sentence of 40 stripes was awarded during the times of Prophet Muhammad and Abu Bakr.

Umar, the second right-guided caliph of Islam, held consultations with the companions for fixing the punishment of wine-drinking as the incidence of such cases was rising. Ali said: My decision is that you should flog such a person by 80 lashes, for when he drinks, he becomes intoxicated, and when he becomes intoxicated, he muses, and when he muses, he tells lies. Umar agreed with Ali and thus punishment of 80 lashes was prescribed for wine-drinking.

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The word used by the Qur’an for gambling is ‘maisir’ which literally means ‘getting something too easily’ or ‘getting a profit without working for it’. Originally, it stood for a game or play with unfeathered or headless arrows. Gambling can briefly be defined as wagering money or other valuable things upon the outcome of an event or making money upon some chance. Thus it is a game of chance by which you either win or lose. The evil of gambling is in vogue since the time immemorial. According to a writer: ‘Games of chance’ are as old and as wide-spread as humanity…..”

The extent to which gambling prevails in the modern world is difficult to assess. Most of it is centred in the horse racing. Dice and wagering are rightly included in the definition of gambling. Modern forms of gambling are lottery, betting, cross-word puzzles, card-playing (with bets), prize schemes, etc.

Gambling and all games of chance have been strictly prohibited by the Qur’an. According to the Qur’an, gambling, as wine-drinking, is devil’s handiwork through which he seeks to cast enmity among the people and turns them away from remembrance of God. Gambling, like drinking, has been declared a major sin and followers of Islam have been enjoined to refrain from these evils. Thus gambling and all other games of chance are illegal in an Islamic society.

Although Islamic penal code recognizes gambling as an offence but no prescribed punishment (Hadd) has been fixed by the Qur’an or the Sunnah. Gambling is a crime and is cognizable by the courts of law in an Islamic state. Since no prescribed (Hadd) punishment has been fixed, therefore, according to the jurists, punishment for this offence is discretionary (Tazir). The judge (Qadhi) would award suitable punishment to a culprit keeping in view the nature and extent of crime by exercising his discretion judiciously.

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III- Personal and Other Laws


Islam’s law of inheritance is very detailed and sometimes very complicated. It is not possible to do justice with it in a short space. In this section, therefore, only fundamental principles of law of inheritance, as laid down by the Qur’an and the Sunnah, are described.

1.  It has been ordained by the Holy Qur’an in its verse number 7 and 8 of chapter 4, that the male as well as the female heirs are entitled to inherit the estate (according to their prescribed shares) left by their deceased parents and near kindred. It has been further enjoined upon the believers to bestow something on the kinsfolk, orphans and the needy who are present at the time of division of the heritage.

2.   The verse number 11 of chapter 4 of the revealed book of Islam prescribes the shares of the children (descendants) and parents (ascendants) of the deceased. These shares are:

  1. Share of the male child would be equal to the shares of two female children.

  2. If there are two or more daughters but no son, the daughters would inherit two-third of the estate.

  3. If there is one daughter and no son, the daughter would get one half of the heritage.

  4. If the deceased has a son, his father and mother (each) would have one-sixth of inheritance.

  5. If the deceased have no son and (only) his parents are his heirs, then mother would get one third and the remaining portion would go to his father.

  6. If the deceased has brethren (but no children) then his mother would get one-sixth and the balance would be inherited by his father.

3.  Verse No. 12 of chapter 4 of the Holy Book of Islam prescribes shares of the husband and the wife. It also prescribes the shares of the distant kindred in case the deceased has no children and parents to survive him. These shares are mentioned as under:

  1. If the wife dies and leaves no child, the husband would inherit one half of her heritage.

  2. If the wife dies and leaves a child or children, then the share of the husband would be one fourth.

  3. If the husband dies and leaves no child, the wife or the wives would get one fourth of his estate.

  4. If the husband dies and leaves a child or children, then the wife or wives shall get one eighth of his heritage.

  5. If the deceased leaves neither parents nor children to inherit him, then his distant heirs shall inherit him.

  6. If such a deceased is survived by a uterine brother or a uterine sister, then each of them shall get one sixth in his or her heritage.

  7. If such a deceased is survived by more than two brothers and sisters on mother’s side, then they will be sharers in one third of his or her heritage.

4.   Verse No. 176 of chapter 4 deals with the division of inheritance of a person who is not survived by any child (and not survived by parents). In that situation, the distant kindred of the deceased would succeed him. The estate of such a person shall be divided as under:-

  1. If a man dies childless and has a sister, her’s is half the heritage.

  2. If such a man has two sisters, then they would inherit two-third of the estate.

  3. If such a man is survived by more brothers and sisters, then the heritage shall be divided among all on the basis of the principle that the share of one male would be equivalent of the shares of two females.

5.   The heritage of the deceased, which is to be divided among his legal heirs, is what remains after the payment of his debt and the legacy which he has bequeathed. However, the debt or the legacy should not be injurious to the rights of the heirs. It means that the deceased must not deliberately have contracted debt injuring the rights of the heirs or he must not have made a will of more than one third of his property or a will in favour of any legal heir without the consent of his legal heirs or other legal heirs as the case may be.

6.   The rules of inheritance as laid down by the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) are:

  1. Pay the fixed shares of inheritance to the persons entitled to them. What remains thereafter is for the nearest male person.

  2. No Muslim inherits a non-Muslim nor a non-Muslim inherits from a Muslim.

  3. The murderer shall not inherit (from one who has been murdered by him).

  4. An illegitimate child will neither inherit from his (illegitimate) father, nor he will be inherited by him.

  5. Wife of the slain would be entitled to get her prescribed share in the blood-money of her husband.

  6. When an infant child raises its voice, it will be treated as an heir.


The Arabic terms used in connection with the law of will are ‘Wasiyyah’ ‘Musi’, ‘Musa lahu’ and ‘Wasi’. ‘Wasiyyah’ means will or bequest, ‘Musi’ means the testator who makes the will, ‘Musa lahu’ is the legatee in whose favour the will is made, and ‘Wasi’ stands for the executor who is charged with the responsibility of executing the will. The jurists have defined will as an endowment of property to a person (legatee) which takes effect after the death of the testator (maker of will). It may be made either verbally or in writing.

According to verses from 180 to 182 of chapter 2 of the Holy Qur’an, it is obligatory on every Muslim to make a will. It is a great sin that the executor or the hearers of will should change it. But if a person fears that the testator has made some injustice in the will and he makes some change or modification in the will with a motive to make peace between the concerned parties, then there is no sin for him. Before the revelation of the verses regarding the division of inheritance, it was prescribed that the will should be made in favour of parents and the near relations. It was also required that the will should be made regarding the wives that they should not be expelled from the houses of their husbands and they should be provided maintenance for an year after the death of their husbands.

At the time of making of the will, presence of two witnesses, who are from tribe of the testator and are just men, is essential. However, if the maker of will is away from home being on a journey or in Jihad and his death approaches he is allowed to make others as witnesses. But if such witnesses are later on suspected to be liars, then they can be replaced by another two witnesses who are more truthful.

The Qur’an has not fixed any upper or lower limit upon the quantity or amount of property which can be willed. However, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) prescribed that one should not make a will for more than one-third of his property. But there is no minimum limit. In view of the Sunnah of the Prophet, the Shariah has laid down that none should make a will of more than one-third of his property so that the rights of his legal heirs may not be adversely affected. It has been also laid down that will cannot be made in favour of an heir to the exclusion of other heirs. Thus, will is generally made in favour of strangers i.e. in favour of those who are not otherwise entitled to inherit the property of the testator.

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The Arabic word for contract is ‘Aqd’ which literally means conjunction or tie. In the language of law it signifies conjunction of elements of disposition i.e. proposal (ejab) by one party and acceptance (Qabul) by the other. For validity of the contract, the conditions are: the persons who enter into contract should be legally competent; there should be free consent of the parties to contract; consideration is an important factor in a contract, and physical transfer of the thing involved from one party to the other is essential. Evidence of two witnesses is also a basic requirement of a valid contract. Islamic law of contract has been laid down in detail by the Holy Qur’an in its verse 282and 283 of Chapter 2. Although the Holy Qur’an mentions in these verses only those contracts which relate to debt and exchange of merchandise, yet the law laid down in the said verses is general in nature and embraces all lawful contracts executed between the parties relating to various activities. The main points of the law of contract in the light of the teachings of the Qur’an and the Sunnah are:

  1. When you contract a debt for a fixed term, record it in writing.

  2. Let a scribe, whom Allah has taught how to write, record it in writing with equity for the parties concerned. He should not refuse to write.

  3. Let the one who incurs the debt give dictation to the scribe for writing down the documents. He should fear Allah and should neither omit nor add anything to the terms which have been settled between him and the creditor. While giving dictation to the scribe, he should act fairly and honestly.

  4. If the debtor is of low understating or is unable to give dictation for any other reason, then his guardian shall honestly dictate the terms which have been settled between the parties.

  5. The documents of contract should be testified by two male witnesses or by one man and two women. The witnesses should be from among you i.e. they should be Muslims. They should be of  good moral character, reliable, steadfast and honest. When the witnesses are asked to testify, they should not refuse.

  6. The scribe and the witness should not be harassed.

  7. In verse 283 of its chapter 2 the Qur’an lays down law of mortgage. If you are on a journey and cannot find a scribe to write down the contract, then get loan or debt against the security or pledge of something in hand such as some goods or belongings. But if one does some business or gives some loan without any pledge in hand merely on the basis of trust, then the one who is trusted should fulfil his trust and fear God.

  8. Writing down of contracts of loan is so much important that the Prophet of Islam is reported to have said that those who lend money to others without any document or evidence are not helped by Allah when they cry for help in case of non-recovery of such loan.

  9. The Prophet (PBUH) has enjoined upon those who enter into some agreement, pact, pledge or covenant that they should fulfil the terms thereof. Those who do not fulfil their trusts or promises are not reliable and have no religion.

  10. The Prophet (PBUH) has forbidden the creditor to accept any gift or any favour from the debtor after giving him loan as it would be considered usury unless the practice of exchanging gifts or accepting favour was prevalent between them previously.

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Food Laws

According to Islam it is the exclusive prerogative of God to declare a food item as lawful and permitted (Halal) or as unlawful and forbidden (Haram). All pure and wholesome food lawfully earned such as sea food, fruits, vegetables, pulses, corn, meat of permitted (Halal) animals slaughtered in the name of Allah, is allowed. Forbidden items of food have been clearly mentioned by the Qur’an in some of its verses and by the Prophet of Islam in some of his traditions. The Holy Qur’an for example, says: “O ye who believe! Eat of the good things wherewith we have provided you, and render thanks to Allah if it is (indeed)  He whom ye worship. He hath forbidden you only carrion, and blood, and swine flesh, and that which hath been immolated to (the name of) any other than Allah. But he who is driven by necessity, neither craving nor transgressing, it is no sin for him. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful” (2:173-174).

Following items of food have been forbidden by the Qur’an and the Sunnah:

  1. All animals and birds which die of themselves without being slaughtered in the name of Allah. These include animals strangled to death, or beaten to death or killed by a fall or attacked by horns and killed, or torn to death by beasts.

  2. Blood

  3. Swine – flesh.

  4. Food on which Allah’s name is not taken or meat of even lawful animal which is not slaughtered in the name of Allah, or which is slaughtered in the name of other than Allah.

  5. Everything which is offered to idols.

  6. All beasts and birds of prey i.e. all quadrupeds that seize prey with teeth such as lions, tigers, leopards, jackals, etc, and all birds such as hawks, kites, crows, raven, etc. which attack with claws.

  7. All unclean things repugnant to health and morality. These include dogs, cats, mules, horses, asses, lizards.

  8. Wine and all other intoxicants.

  9. All the food items though lawful but acquired by unlawful means.

Principle of necessity, however, makes temporarily an unlawful thing lawful. However this principle can be applied only where there is real necessity and not merely an excuse. For example if someone is dying of hunger and he has nothing to save his life except a dead animal or swine-flesh to eat, then he can take it. Similarly a sick person can take alcohol or wine provided a doctor certifies that he would die if he is not instantly given that. According to the Qur’an following two conditions should be kept in view while making use of a haram thing:

  1. that it should not be taken with a view to rebel against Allah or to break the law of Allah and

  2. that it should be taken only in a minimum possible quantity just with a view to save life.

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