The Sunnah: Practice and Law(shari'ah
Introduction to Islamic
The Five Pillars of
w Fasting (in
Law (shari'ah) and Schools of Law or Jurisprudence
Introduction to Islamic
Law and Madh'habs (Schools of Jurisprudence)
(neither Sunni nor Shi'i)
Islamic PracticeThe bare minimum that a Muslim
must do and believe in order to rest assured of his or her salvation is
quite simple, although the faith and practice of many Muslims may often be
complex and elaborate, reminding students of the detailed and scrupulous
observance of Rabbinic law in Orthodox Judaism and the precise doctrinal
formulations of Catholicism.
Basic, rudimentary Islam is clearly stated in the following "sound"
A Bedouin came to the Prophet and said, "Tell me of a deed such that
if I were to do it, I would enter Paradise (as a result)." The Prophet
said, "Worship God (Allah) without worshiping anything along with Him,
offer the (five daily) prescribed prayers, pay the compulsory
alms(zakat), and fast the month of Ramadan." The Bedouin said, "(I
swear) by Him in whose hands my life is, I will not do more than this."
When he (the Bedouin) left, the Prophet said, "Whoever would like to see a
man of Paradise should look at this man." Narrated by Abu Hurayrah in the
Sahih of Bukhari, Volume 2, p. 272-73, book 23, #480.
Although the hadith noted above indicates four practices (worship of
God alone, prayer, almsgiving, and fasting), the core of Islamic practice
(which is the concrete or outward manifestation of the inward attitude of
surrender to God) is expressed in the well-attested hadith, "Islam is
based upon five [practices]..." which are also called the "five pillars."
(This is also confirmed in the well-attested and well-known hadith involving
Gabriel.) These five practices are as follows:
shahada,bearing witness that there is nothing worthy of worship
but God and that Muhammad is God's messenger;
salat, performing the prescribed Islamic prayer;
zakat, almsgiving of a 2 1/2 % tax on one's asests;
sawm, fasting from sunrise to sunset during the month of
hajj, performing the pilgrimage to Mecca.
These are discussed below:
Articles of Faith" and the "Pillars of Islam" The "Articles of Faith"
consist of the primary beliefs of Muslims and the "Pillars of Islam"
consist of the essential actions of a Muslim.
Adhan and Salat
This link includes a number of examples of the call to prayer, the
adhan (the "dh" is pronounced like the "th" in "this") as well as
each of the five daily prayers (salat) recited outloud.
A Beginner's Guide to
Performing Islamic Prayers is a thorough explanation of the various
components of the daily prayers of Muslims. (Back on-line 4/28/98)
consists of two rak'ahs (sequences) and is performed from the
beginning of the daily change from darkness to light until the sun begins
to appear above the horizon. Here you can listen to the entire Fajr
prayer, including the parts that should be done silently.
CyberSalat is a
free downloadable multimedia software package for Windows designed to
teach salat, the Islamic prayer.
Times Wherever you are in the world, you can use this online utility
to find the prayer times for whatever month you want. If you are in the
U.S., when you are asked to select a city, if you do not find your city
listed, scroll down to the bottom of the city list and choose "somewhere
else" and OK. Then, to find your latitude and longitude, click on the Geographical Name Server at MIT or
here, and put your city and state in the box as indicated and hit "enter"
on your keyboard. And then, click here to find the difference between your
time zone and Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), which is what is meant on the
Prayer Time site by hours
difference from GMT.
Daily Prayer Schedule Find
out the times of the daily prayers by putting your zip code in the
appropriate box on this link and selecting your time zone. (Offline as of
Nov. 26, 2000)
al-Salah is a well-organized and detailed explanation of certain
aspects of Salat from the perspective of the Hanafi madh'hab.
Evidence for various Hanafi practices in Salat are provided by
hadith and reports of the sahabah (companions of the
Prophet). The author is Muhammad Ilyas Faisal, a Hanafi shaykh in Madinah.
Prophet's Salat (Ritual Prayer) This link is an on-line book
written by Shaykh Albani, who brings numerous references from the hadith
to describe how the Prophet prayed and who argues for a greater reliance
upon Qur'an and "sound" hadith as opposed to the opinions of the various
"schools of law" (madh'ahib).
Unveiled: Important Issues of Fiqh critiques Al-Albani's The
Prophet's Salat,refuting a few of al-Albani's contentions in the
previous article, contentions that negate various aspects of the accepted
practice of prayer as performed according to some of the madh'habs.
This is a specialized article not intended for novices.
The Purification Tax (Zakat)Each year Muslims
who have assets over and above their outstanding debts, assets of roughly
$1400 in cash or commercial goods and commodities, must voluntary pay two
and one-half percent of such assets to the poor. See the following links:
Introduction to Zakat, written by the Zakat Society.
written by the UNN Islamic Society, contains an especially useful section
on how zakat is calculated. (Link fixed, December 2, 2000.)
Fasting (Sawm) during the Month of RamadanThe
month of Ramadan, during which Muslims must fast, will begin in the US on
Monday, October 27, 2003, since the new moon (hilal) was not
sighted in the US on Saturday, October 25. See data from Khalid Shaukat of ISNA
for the citing of the new moon indicating the Eid (with maps using
MoonCalc 6 by Dr. Monzur Ahmed and criteria developed Yallop, criteria
similar to that of Shaukat) and Mohib Durrani's
Data for the Sighting of the New Moon (hilal) (offline Dec. 4,
2002). Most probably, Ramadan will in the US end on Monday, November 24,
2003 (when the hilal should be sited in the US). Hence the 'Eid
al-Fitr (the festival of the breaking of the fast) will probably occur in
the US on Tuesday, November 25, 2003. Mr. Shaukat does note, however, that
if conditions are particularly good in the Southern part of North America,
the moon might be sighted there on Sunday, November 23, 2003. If this is
the case, the 'Eid in the US will be on Monday, November 24, 2003. The
reason for the uncertainty is that the Islamic calendar is lunar, and
hence the new moon must be sighted on the evening before the month and the
fasting begins as well as before the month (and the fasting) ends.
In Ramadan, Muslims (with certain exceptions) must refrain during the
daylight hours from eating, drinking, smoking, and sexual intercourse. See
Muslims Fast? by Prof. Seyyed Hossein Nasr (link fixed June 9, 2003) .
The "outer" aspects of fasting mentioned above are relatively easy to
accomplish, since they involve clear actions. There are, however, "inner"
aspects of fasting, which are discussed by one of the foremost Muslim
thinkers, Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (d. 1111), in the excerpt from his book
found at the link Inner Dimensions of
Fasting. In addition to fasting during Ramadan, the Prophet Muhammad
encouraged (but did not require) Muslims to perform additional prayers
after the night isha' prayer called tarawih
prayers. These consist of two prayer-sequences rak'ah done
either 4 or 10 times, totalling either 8 or 20 prayer-sequences,
respectively. A short pause is observed after every 4th sequence. More
details about Ramadan can be found at the following links:
for Teachers Compiled by the Council for Islamic Education, a national
American educational resource.
of Ramadan, The Fasting Month a detailed and well-organized on-line
book written by the respected Muslim scholar Tajuddin B. Shu'aib.
of Ramadan Fasting Research See especially the article Dietary fat, blood cholesterol
and uric acid levels during Ramadan fasting by Dr. Muhammad Zafar
Nomani(Professor Emeritus of Nutrition, West Virginia University), in
which he reviews the scientific studies to date on fasting during Ramadan
(vol. 1, number 1, 1997).
During Ramadan by Dr. Muhammad Zafar Nomani, who in this article
(originally published in the International Journal of Ramadan Fasting
Research, 3:1-6, 1999) and in a number of scientific studies has shown the
physiological benefits of fasting during Ramadan.
Ramadan and Eid ul-Fitr is
a comprehensive page of articles related to Ramadan. In order for Ramadan
to begin and end, the crescent moon must be seen. Dr. Monzur Ahmed's
program MoonCalc can
be used to generate maps indicating the locations from where the moon may
possibly seen. See the large-scale
moon-sighting map which contains a color-coded key as to when and
where the moon will most likely be seen. UNFORTUNATELY, this website has
not been updated for Ramadan of 1422 AH/ 2001 CE.
The colors indicate the age of the moon at the time of the local
sunset. The area in red is where it will easily visible; the purple area
is where it may be seen if conditions are perfect. In the the yellow area,
an optical aid will be needed to find the moon; and the the area of yellow
and black cross-hatching, it will only be able to be seen with an optical
The key in the bottom right hand corner of the map tells you how many
hours old the moon will be at sunset relative to viewers located in the
colored areas. Hence for viewers in the purple area, the moon will be
20-25 hrs. old at the time of their sunset. But for viewers in the
reddish-pink area, the moon will be 25-30 hours old at the time of their
sunset. Since an older moon can be seen more easily, viewers in the
reddish-pink area will be more likely to see the moon than viewers in the
The Pilgrimage (Hajj)At least once in their
lifetime, Muslims who are financially able must travel to Mecca and
perform the rituals of the Hajj, most of which reenact certain spiritually
significant events related to the life of the Prophet Abraham (Ibrahim).
For details see the following links:
Hajj Resources for
Teachers compiled by the Council on Islamic Education and including
Center is a comprehensive site on the Hajj. It includes, among other
things, descriptions of the various rituals, graphics, images, notes for
teachers, and first person accounts.
A Handbook of Umra and
Hajj compiled by the Muslim scholars at Sound Vision.
Rituals, a nicely formatted exposition of the types of Hajj and the
rituals that comprise the Hajj. This page is part of a larger site Hajj and
'Umrah, which includes additional pages on 'Umrah rituals, the
Prophet's "Farewell Hajj," a vitual tour through the history of the Ka'ba
(lit. "cube," the cube-shaped shrine at the center of the sacred mosque in
Mecca), a tour of the history of the Prophet's mosque in Madina, and a
tour of places of significance in Madina.
This site deals with all of the aspects of the Hajj and
includes useful graphics. (Off-line 4/27/98)
Pilgrimage to Mecca is an excerpt from a recent book by the
Anglo-American convert Michael Wolfe.
The SunnahGod, in one place in the Qur'an
commands Muhammad in the following manner: "Say [to people], 'If you love
God, then follow me [the Prophet]; God will [then] love you [people] and
forgive your sins' " (Qur'an, 3:31). Hence not only do pious Muslims
follow the previously discussed "five pillars of Islam," but they
generally have attempted to follow the words of Muhammad and to model
their actions after his customary practice. The Arabic term that stands
for the Prophet Muhammad's customary practice, is the sunnah. See
the Encyclopedia Britannica's pithy article on the sunna.
Those Muslims who also have attempted to emulate not only the prophet's
actions but also the quality of his heart and mind, namely his
consciousness, have generally but not solely been Sufis. While
popular contemporary criticism of Sufism condemns it as something alien to
acceptable Islamic practice, a non-Islamic "innovation" (bid'a),
traditional critics such as Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziya generally criticized
later developments in Sufism, not those Sufis whose Sufism consisted of
striving to follow the whole of the Prophet's being. repentance),
prophecy, and eschatology.
Islamic Law: Sunnis and IbadisIslamic
law contains guidelines and rules for all aspects of a Muslim's life, such
as how to pray, the proper way to conduct a business transaction, how to
bury the dead, as well as crimes and punishments. Traditionally, these
laws were based largely upon the Qur'an and the sunnah, which is
the practice of the Prophet. These clear principles were applied to new
circumstances that later Muslims encountered. Over the course of a few
centuries the ways in which these principles should be interpreted
crystallized in the form of the four major Sunni "schools of law or
jurisprudence" (madh'hab) in addition to the Shi'i schools, the
most dominant of which is the Ithna 'Ashari (12 Imam) or Ja'fari
madhhab. The issue and importance of the Sunni schools is clarified
in the article Understanding
the Four Madh'habs, by 'Abd al-Hakim Murad, a British Muslim and
Professor of Islamic Studies at Cambridge. (Link fixed, Nov. 27, 2000.) A
little known but nevertheless significant third Islamic sect is the Ibadi school.
Although both anti-Islamic polemicists and many Muslim legalists
emphasize the fact that Islam prescribes clear punishments for breaking
certain laws, it is often overlooked that the application of a punishment
is not necessarily absolute. The following well-attested hadith
narrated by Anas ibn Malik and included in the Sahih of Bukhari
illustrates the principle for not demanding the application of punishment
for a legally punishable offense:
While I was with the Prophet a man came and said, "O Allah's Apostle! I
have committed a legally punishable sin; please inflict the legal
punishment on me." The Prophet did not ask him what he had done. Then the
time for the prayer became due and the man offered prayer along with the
Prophet , and when the Prophet had finished his prayer, the man again got
up and said, "O Allah's Apostle! I have committed a legally punishable
sin; please inflict the punishment on me according to Allah's Laws." The
Prophet said, "Haven't you prayed with us?" He said, "Yes." The Prophet
said, "Allah has forgiven your sin." Or he said, "....your legally
punishable sin." (From Sahih of Bukhari, vol. 8, book 82,
The four Sunni madh'habs are the Maliki, Hanafi, Sha'fi'i, and Hanbali
is a brief overview of the Maliki madh'hab written by Bulend Shanay
of Lancaster University (UK) as part of the Philtar online encyclopedia of
the world's religions.
The Maliki school of law is named after its
leading figure (imam) Malik ibn Anas (d. 179 AH/ 795 CE). See this
of Imam Malik written by the highly regarded Muslim scholar Muhammad
Abu Zahra and translated by A'isha Bewley.
Muwatta' of Imam Malik (d. 179/795) is a hadith collection that
is at the foundation of the Maliki "school of jurisprudence"
of 'Abdullah ibn Abi Zayd al-Qayrawani (922-996 CE), translated here
by the scholar 'Ayesha Bewley, represents a further crystallization of the
understanding of law according to the Maliki school of Jurisprudence.
The People of
Knowledge; and Fatwas is a section of the newly translated book, A
Madinan View, also by the Maliki scholar, 'Abdullah ibn Abi Zayd
al-Qayrawani. The passages linked here consist largely of the views of
Imam Malik himself. The book is available from TaHa Press. Its US
distributor is Arshad Khan, The Bestsellers; 61-38 168th Street; Fresh
Meadows; NY 11365; 718-359-4446.
Fundamental Principles of Imam Malik's Fiqh by the well-known
contemporary Muslim scholar Muhammad Abu Zahrah and translated by A'isha
Bewley. This is a detailed and lucidly translated on-line book that will
make the foundation of the Maliki madh'hab accessible to English
a brief summary of Hanafi school of jurisprudence written by Bulend Shanay
of Lancaster University.
Named after its leader (imam) Abu Hanifa,
whose full name was al-Nu'man ibn Thabit ibn Zuta (d. 150 AH/ 767 CE),
today the Hanafi madh'hab is prominent in former Ottoman countries
(especially Turkey), Central Asia, and India.
The Hanafi Madh'hab:
My Love and My Choice is a lengthy article about the principles of the
Hanafi madh'hab written by the well-known scholar Allamah Shibli
Nu'mani and edited by Syed Mumtaz Ali. (Link fixed, Nov. 27, 2000.)
Imam Abu Hanifah:
His Life and Work is an excerpt from the English translation of the
Sirat-i Nu'man by the well-known scholar Allamah Shibli Nu'mani.
al-Azam Abu Hanifa is a detailed biography of Imam Abu Hanifa based on
traditional biographical sources and published by Waqf Ikhlas, which is
based in Turkey. It contains a number of untranslated transliterated
Arabic words and hence will be difficult reading for novices.
A brief overview of the Shafi'i school, written by Bulend Shanay of
Lancaster University as part of the Philtar online encyclopedia of world
Named after its leader (imam) Muhammad ibn Idris
al-Shafi'i (d. 204 AH / 820 CE), the Shafi'i school today is dominant in
Egypt, Syria, Southeast Asia, and East Africa, as well as a few other
al-Shafi'i and His Method of Jurisprudence, written by the
contemporary Muslim scholar Taha Jabir al-'Alwani as part of his book on
Islamic Jurisprudence Usul al-fiqh
al-islami, discusses al-Shafi'i's life and his method of reaching
legal decisions based on Islamic priniciples.
Treatise on the Foundations of Islamic Jurisprudence Imam Muhammad ibn
Idris al-Shafi'i (d. 204/820) was the founder of the Shafi'i school of law
and one of the most important figures in the entire history of Islamic
jurisprudence. Here are two links to Shafi'i's Risalah (translated
by Prof. Majid Khadduri). In both of them Shafi'i justifies the necessity
for taking the Sunna as an essential supplement to the Qur'an for
the formulation of Islamic law. The first link, al-Bayan IV (The Fourth
Declaration), is from the Risalah, ch. 2 (pp. 75-76). The
second link to theRisalah comprises four sections of ch. 5, titled
Obligation of Man to Accept the Authority of the Prophet (pp. 109-122)
In addition to their respect for his establishing much of the foundation
of Islamic law, many Muslims revere Shafi'i as a saint and may also make a
pilgrimage to the shrine of Imam
Shafi'i in Cairo, seen here.
of the Traveller (Umdat al-salik) by Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri, English
translation, commentary, and appendices by Nuh Ha Mim Keller. This is a
web-based edition of the carefully translated manual of the proper
practice of Islam (shari'a) according to the Shafi'i
madh'hab. It has been an essential book in the library of any
serious English speaking Muslim or scholar of Islam since its publication
Imam al-Nawawi is a concise book of the essentials of Islam according
to the Shafi'i madh'hab. The author, Yahya ibn Sharaf al-Nawawi (d.
676/1277), was one of the most prominent Sunni scholars of the Middle
Ages. This on-line English translation of his work includes the first
three chapters, but unfortunately excludes four other chapters, one of
which is on the practice of Sufism--which for al-Nawawi was an important
component of Islam.
This is a brief article on the Hanbali school, written by Bulend Shanay of
This school of Islamic jurisprudence was named
after Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Hanbal, or as he is often known, Ahmad ibn
Hanbal (d. 241 AH/ 855 CE). A biography of his that also contains a
discussion of the conflict he had with Muslim theologians can be found in
the article Ahmad
ibn Muhammad ibn Hanbal, written by the scholars of the al-Sunnah
Fiqh, an excerpt from a work of the Hanbali Sufi shaykh 'Abd al-Qadir
al-Jilani, briefly discusses the Hanbali perspective on what is required
of someone who wishes to enter the religion of Islam and then states the
Hanbali perspective on the components of the ritual prayer
Taymiyya (d. 728 AH/ 1328 CE) is undoubtedly the medieval Hanbali
scholar who is most well-known, since many of his ideas are at the basis
of the Salafi/ Wahabi movement that has been so influential among Muslims
today, especially in the West. This favorable biography, written by the
Muslim scholar Assad Nimer Busool, is part of an introduction to Prof.
Busool's on-line translation of Ibn Taymiyah's Principles
of Islamic Faith (al-'Aqidah al-wasitiyah).
Taymiyya: a brief biographical sketch and critique by the American
Muslim scholar Nuh Keller points out Ibn Taymiyah's deficiencies in the
realm of the "tenets of faith" ('aqida).
sometimes called the Salafi school, is an early modern, 18th century
offshoot of the Hanbali madh'hab. Although defeated and deprived of
influence in 1818, new life was breathed into the Wahhabi movement in the
early 20th century by the ascendancy to power in the Arabian peninsula on
the part of the Sa'udi dynasty. See the brief but useful summary of the Wahhabiyyah
by Bulend Shanay of Lancaster University.
Regarded by non-Wahhabis as
an extreme fundamentalist version of Islam, the Wahhabi school--which is
anti-Sufi and anti-Shi'i-- is dominant in Saudi Arabia and very
influential throughout the rest of the world. While a small minority of
Wahhabis are militant, the Wahhabi school as a whole should not be
characterized as militant, even though historically it was militant.
Certainly, for example, most Saudis are not militant today. Hence readers
should be careful to distinguish fundamentalist extremist Islam from
militant Islam. The confusion is compounded in Central Asia, particularly
in Uzbekistan and Afghanistan, where fundamentalist extremist Muslims are
generally militant. Today, in Uzbekistan, the term "Wahhabi" is in fact
synonymous with a fundamentalist extremist Muslim militant.
Ibadi Islam: An
Introduction by Valerie J. Hoffman, professor of Islamic Studies at
the University of Illinois (Urbana). The Ibadis, today most known for
their presence in Oman, have their origin in the Kharijites, a seventh
century (AD) sect of Islam.
Islamic Law: Miscellaneous Articles and
as-Sunnah (Fiqh al-Sunnah) by Sayyid Sabiq is a very popular 20th
century manual of fiqh dealing, for the most part, with the acts of
worship and the conduct of daily life. While it sometimes gives the
positions of the madh'habs on the issues discussed, often only a
ruling without reference to madh'hab is given. Hence even though
this manual is very useful for obtaining answers to questions about the
practice of Islam, in no way can this be considered the final word on
Law: Myths and Realities is an excellent basic article from the
on-line journal Criminal Justice International and does not
presuppose prior knowledge of Islam.
The article entitled Shari'a
and Fiqhis a brief discussion of these two essential terms in the
field of Islamic law.
Muslims One practice that is common in the West but that is prohibited
in Islamic law is the drinking of alcoholic beverages. This article
explains the prohibition in clear terms. (Link fixed, 3 December 2000.)
Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence is an on-line book written by a
Muslim scholar of Islamic law.
Development of Ijtihad and Islamic Reform, 1750-1850 This
recent article, by Knut Vikor of the University of Bergen, discusses the
capacity of Muslim scholars to develop and make changes in Islamic
article, "Law and Justice" is an overview of Islamic law written by
the chief non-Muslim scholar of Islamic law among the past generation of
Islamic Law, by Professor John Strawson of the University of East
London, critiques orientalist and neo-orientalist approaches to Islamic
Law and Human Rights. (Link fixed October 24, 2002.)
Islamic Law Bibliography, consisting of secondary sources in English
on Islamic law, has been compiled by scholars at CIMEL (Center for Islamic
and Middle Eastern Law), which is a division of SOAS (School of Oriental
and African Studies) of the University of London. (Fixed, Nov. 27, 2000
and October 31, 2001)
Spirit of Islamic Law published in 1998 by Professor Bernard G. Weiss
of the University of Utah, covers the principles of Islamic jurisprudence,
which are at the foundation of the Islamic legal system and Islamic life
in general. A substantial description and table of contents of the work
are on online, and the book itself can be purchased from the University of
Georgia press, which is the publisher.
Links for Islamic Law Scholars at CIMEL have organized at this site
links in areas such as pre-Islamic Middle Eastern law, Islamic primary
sources, classical legal rulings and commentary, miscellaneous on-line
articles from scholarly journals and books, human rights, Constitutional
Law of various Muslim countries, International Law with reference to
Muslim countries, Business Law (from various commercial sites), and legal
texts from the official sites of various countries, such as Israel,
Jordan, Malaysia, Turkey, and the U.S. (Link fixed, Nov. 27, 2000 and
October 31, 2001)
Family Law: Social/Cultural Information by Region Part of the Islamic Family Law website --one
of the many components of the Islamic Family Law Project directed by
Professor Abdullahi A. An-Na'im of Emory University and sponsored by a
grant from the Ford Foundation--
this website, although not yet entirely complete, is a well-done and
comprehensive survey of the history and current practices of Muslim family
law throughout the Muslim world.
Norms and Values
in Islam an address by by Prof. Dr. Ahmet Akgunduz, Rector of the
Islamic University of Rotterdam (Netherlands). Prof. Akgunduz discusses
this topic in a clear and organized fashion from the perspective of the
Islamic science of usul al-fiqh (principles of jurisprudence).
Fatwa fatwa, which is a ruling on an aspect of practice, law,
or doctrine, can be attained here from the Egyptian Fatwa Council.