DAVID S. POWERS: When Muhammad died in the year 632, the young Muslim community was faced with a kind of constitutional crisis. According to the Quran, Muhammad was the last of the prophets-- the seal of prophecy. And after him, there shall be no more prophets. Thus, whoever took over from Mohammad as the leader of the Muslim community would have to do so in some capacity other than that of a prophet.
One of Muhammad's companions, a man named Abu Bakr, took control of the Muslim community and assumed the title of Khalifa, or caliph. In Arabic, he was called either the [NON-ENGLISH] the caliph of the messenger of God, or [NON-ENGLISH] the caliph of God.
Abu Bakr ruled for only two years. And during that short period, many of the tribes that had sworn allegiance to Muhammad during his lifetime backed off from their commitment to the Muslim community. Much of Abu Bakr's caliphate was devoted to the pacification of these tribes, and then bringing them back into the fold of Islam.
Abu Bakr was succeeded in the year 634 by another companion of the prophet. A man named Omar ibn Al-Khattab. It was during the 10 years of Omar's caliphate that the Arab conquests began. In the year 638, the Muslims took control of the city of Jerusalem, and in subsequent years, they conquered Damascus, and moved through Syria, all the way up to the north of the country, Antioch. During the same period, Muslim armies moved into Iraq in the east, and they crossed over the Nile into Egypt in the west. And they defeated the two great superpowers of the day. The Byzantine Empire on the one hand, and the Susanian Empire on the other.
A second wave of conquests would take Muslim armies across North Africa, across the Straits of Gibraltar, and into the Iberian Peninsula, where they were only stopped in the year 732 in southern France by Charles Martel. At the same time, Muslim armies moved in an easterly direction, through Iraq, and into the Iranian Plateau. And they continued across Iran, entered into Central Asia, reaching cities like Bukhara and [? Somerkhan. ?]
By the year 732, the Muslims were in control of the entire region, from the Iberian Peninsula in the west to the Indus River on the border of India in the east. This was an incredible historical accomplishment. Not only did they bring this large territory under political control, but over the course of the next 100 years or so, from 732 until 832, many of the inhabitants of this region adopted Arabic as their native language, and or became Muslims themselves. By the middle of the ninth century, perhaps 50% of the people living in this region were Muslims. They identified first and foremost as adherence of the religion of Islam, and they spoke Arabic. Thus, in addition to the political unification of this region, the Muslims also contributed to the cultural unification of this area.
The conditions facing the caliphs, who were the leaders of the Islamic State in the 8th and 9th centuries, were dramatically different from the conditions that faced Muhammad during his lifetime. As conditions change, the law must change. It was during this period of the Arab conquests that Muslim men dedicated their lives to the development of what we know as Islamic law. Some of these men were Arabs, some of them were converts to Islam. The latter brought with them legal institutions and concepts that were familiar to them from their native cultures, which might have been Byzantine Christianity, or Zoroastrian Iran.
It's important to emphasize that Islamic law was developed by private individuals. The state played little or no role in the development of the law. The state was interested in expanding the borders of the Islamic world and collecting taxes. But it left the development of the law to these private individuals. And so Islamic law is commonly referred to as a jurist's law.
During this early period, judges and jurists relied on [NON-ENGLISH] or personal reasoning to resolve disputes and to deal with new issues that came up. As a result, different solutions might be given to the same problem in different cities of the expanding Muslim Empire. When these differences became more pronounced, a certain group of jurists began to insist that all rules of Islamic law must be based upon either a statement in the Quran or upon the [NON-ENGLISH] or tradition of the prophet.
This group came to be known as the proponents of Hadith. This idea that all [INAUDIBLE] rules must be based on either the Quran or the Hadith became widespread and predominant at the beginning of the 9th century. From this point on, there was an incentive for different groups within the Muslim state to fabricate or invent traditions attributed to the prophet. And this is why in the middle of the 9th century, during the period of the compilation of the Hadith, Muslim scholars had to come up with methods of distinguishing between sound and unsound traditions.
During this early period, schools developed around individuals in cities like Kufa or Basra in Iraq, Medina in Mecca, or Fustat, which will become Cairo in Egypt. But there was considerable mobility and movement, and young scholars would travel from one city to the other in search of knowledge. The prophet himself is reported to have said, seek knowledge, even if you have to travel to China. And a very high value was placed upon the acquisition of religious knowledge during this early period of the formation of Islamic civilization.
These personal schools of law soon developed into more official schools of law called [NON-ENGLISH] We use the term school as the English equivalent of the word [NON-ENGLISH] but this is misleading. A [NON-ENGLISH] is not a building. It is a doctrine that is attributed to the founder of this particular [NON-ENGLISH]
Among the Sunnis, four men gave their names to four different law schools, or [NON-ENGLISH]. These were Abu Hanifa, Ahmed ibn Hanbal, Al-Shafi'i, and Malik ibn Anas. Abu Hanifa gave his name to what would become known as the Hanafi law school. Shafi'i gave his name to the Shafi'i law school. Ahmed ibn Hanbal gave his name to the Hanbali law school. And Malik ibn Anas gave his to the Maliki law school.
By the 9th century, four different [NON-ENGLISH] or law schools had developed. All of them recognized as legitimate by the members of the Muslim community. Each [NON-ENGLISH] had its own distinctive doctrine, and its own distinctive methods for deriving new law. These methods are known as [NON-ENGLISH]. The sources of the law. And there are four of them.
The first source of the law is the Quran. The second is the Hadith, or the [NON-ENGLISH] of the Prophet. The third is Reasoning by Analogy. And the fourth is the Consensus of the Great Jurists of the Past. Thus, by the year 900, approximately, all four of the essential elements of the Islamic legal system had come into existence. We have one, positive legal doctrine, two, a system of courts and judges, three, the [NON-ENGLISH] or law schools, and four, a legal methodology for deriving new law.
Let me give an example of how the jurists confronted new situations and derived new law. In the 15th century, coffee was introduced for the first time in Saudi Arabia. It was brought over to Saudi Arabia from Ethiopia. Muslim jurists asked themselves, is this substance licit or illicit? Some jurists argued that coffee is analogous to wine, and should be prohibited. After all, if you drink enough coffee, you lose the use of your mental faculties in the same way that if you drink enough wine, you lose use of your mental faculties. Luckily for Muslims, the anti-coffee jurists failed to persuade their colleagues, and coffee came to be categorized as a licit substance, and is commonly consumed by Muslims around the world down to the present.
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What is Islamic law? Explore the history as David S. Powers explains the origins, concepts, and misconceptions of Islamic law.
This video is part 4 of 7 in the What is Islamic Law? series.