Understanding what is Sharia By Dr Riffat Hassan
Dawn, 14 Aug, 2009
What is Sharia is the subject of an intense debate going on not only in Pakistan but globally, both amongst Muslims and between Muslims and non-Muslims. This, while the majority of those who are engaged in the debate do not often know the original or the classical meaning of Sharia.
Given the importance of Sharia in the lives of millions of Muslims, it is critical that the term be correctly understood. Explaining this term, Dr Gamal Solaiman, a notable Egyptian scholar educated at Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, observes that ‘the word ‘sharia’ literally means a way leading to a watering place where people have access to indispensable life ingredients’.
He refers to Surah 21:31 which states: ‘We made out of water every living thing.’ As water is the essence of all living things, so Sharia represents what is essential for a human being’s spiritual and social development.
Dr Solaiman has pointed out that the word is used in the Quran in three places. One reference is in Surah 42:13 which states: ‘In matters of Sharia, He (God) has ordained for you that which He had enjoined upon Noah — and into which We gave thee (O Muhammad) insight through revelation — as well as that which We had enjoined upon Abraham and Moses and Jesus: Steadfastly uphold the (true) faith, and do not break up your unity therein.’
Here, Sharia ‘stands for the essence of all revealed religions with regard to acknowledging God, being obedient to Him and guided by Him’.
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