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Methods of Religious Jurisprudence

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Usul al Fiqh

Usul al Fiqh is the collection of principles pertaining to the methodology for the extraction of Fiqh. The concept of Usul al Fiqh is comparable to adhering to a methodology when conducting a scientific experiment. Similarly, adhering to a methodology in deriving Fiqh (rulings) is referred to as Usul al Fiqh. This methodology provides a way for a person to derive Islamic rulings from the legislative sources in Islam. The collection of principles related to Usul al Fiqh are many. A few examples of these rules are discussed in the following section.


A. Legislative Sources

Adopting specific sources to derive laws is a major subject in Usul al Fiqh. The Quran, Sunnah, Ijma as Sahabah (consensus of the companions), and Qiyas (analogical deduction) are four sources in Islam, which are accepted by almost all of the scholars. However, there are other additional sources such as Maslaha al Mursalah (benefit) or Ijma al Ummah (consensus of the Ummah), which are not widely accepted.


B. Arabic Language

Within the Arabic language, there are rules for understanding the structure of an Ayah or Hadith. The rules of grammar in the Arabic language define the meaning of the Ayah or Hadith. Therefore, understanding the rules of grammar and their application is one use of the Arabic language in Usul al Fiqh.


C. Interpreting the text of Quran and Sunnah

Unless the text of the Quran and Sunnah is correctly understood, no ruling can be deduced from it. The linguistic structure of the text in Quran and Sunnah varies from one style to another. Some examples of these linguistic styles are: Thanniy (speculative text), Qatai (definitive text), Amm (general text), Khass (specific text), Haqiqi (literal text), and Majaazi (metaphorical text). The rules to distinguish and difl’erentiate between these styles is an important subject in Usul al Fiqh. Another essential aspect involved in interpreting the text of the Quran and Sunnah are issues surrounding abrogation of rulings from the Quran and Sunnah. The study of abrogation involves issues such as, what constitutes abrogation, how to understand it in relation to other Ayahs or Ahadith, and how to reconcile these differences. Some Muslims claim there is no need for Usul al Fiqh, thinking one can directly go to the text of the Quran and Sunnah and derive laws. Such a claim really illustrates the ignorance in understanding Islam. It is impossible to derive laws without being equipped with the necessary tools. These tools enable us to understand the text of the Quran and Sunnah, and without understanding the text, one would not be able to extract laws. As an example, without being aware of the rules of Arabic grammar for interpreting the text of Quran and Sunnah, one would not be able to differentiate whether the command in the Ayah(verse) or Hadith(prohetic saying) for a certain action is Haram (forbidden) or Makruh (undesirable).


Therefore, Usul al Fiqh is a definite prerequisite to derive rulings. Since rulings are derived based on Usul al Fiqh, a variation in Usul al Fiqh may result in different rulings. This is one of the reasons that there might exist more than one ruling on some issues.

The end product of Usul al Fiqh is Shariah (or Fiqh). The difference between Usul al Fiqh and Shariah is that the latter is concerned with the rulings related to our actions, and Usul al Fiqh is concerned with the methodology applied to deduce such rulings.

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