15 July 2013 Written by  Abdulmalik Abubaker

The Historical Development of Islamic Law

The Pre-Islamic Period

The place where Islam was born is Arabian Peninsula. This country has a land of one million square miles (or 625,000 squares Kms) which is mainly dominated by desert and steppe areas. It was inhibited by Bedawin tribes who were nomads and pastoralists. They were moving from place to place looking water and pasture for their flocks of sheep and camels. The community was based on tribe that consisted of descendants of the same blood and was bound not only together through blood but also a strong almost unbreakable sense of fraternity.

The tribe had rules which held it together. These rules differ from tribe to tribe so we may say there were no uniform set of laws. This task was left to be accomplished by Islam as we will discuss next.

The Period of the Prophet (PBUH)

To understand this period it is worthy to know about the life of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) very briefly. The Prophet was born in 570 A.D.  He lost his father and mother at his child hood. For that reason he was looked after by his grandfather who died when the Prophet was eight. In spite of all those lose the Prophet was strong hearted.

In 595 AD at the age of 25 he married a rich widow named Khadijah who was not simply a wife. Rather she was a disciple. Another woman who played an important role in Islam was Aisha. It seems why Attallah. N. wrote” Central to the Story of the birth of Islam are two remarkable women; Khadijah, the Prophet’s first wife and disciple, and Aisha, the girl who became his youngest wife and the source for much of hadith”

Prophet Mohammed received the first revelation through the Angel Jibril (Gabriel) in 610A.D. First he started teaching Islam to his friends and family. Then in 613 A.D he started teaching in public. This brought him opposition which led to the boy-cott of the Hashim, Muhammed’s clan. The purpose of that boy-cott was organized to isolate him and expose him for attack.

This led him to seek a suitable place to spread the message without obstacles. Therefore in 620 A.D, he began consultation with clans in Medina to facilitate his move there. Consequently he was visited by 12 men from Medina in 621 A.D. Again in 622 A.D he was visited by a group of 75 persons who declared their support for him and his message.  This resulted in his migration from Mecca to Medina in 622 A.D. This period of departure and emigration of Mohammed and his followers from Mecca to Medina is known as thehijirahto Muslims [PBUH], and is the starting point of Islamic history.

The Period of the Caliphs (Khalifs)

The prophet (PBUH) died in 632. The period of the caliphs followed. It was between 632-661 A.D. Four caliphs accessed the Prophet (PBUH). They were Abu baker (573-634 AD), Umar (584-644 AD), Uthman (577-656 AD) and Ali (600-661 AD). Now we will discuss each caliph at a time very briefly.

Abu baker

We are not going to discuss the life history Abu baker in detail. What we will do is we will discuss what were the measure things attributed by him to Islam which we will do, as well, for other caliphs. It is worth to raise one point related with the appointment of Abu baker. Some historians say that the Prophet (PBUH) had selected Abu-Baker to precede him after his death. For this argument they mention the fact that the Prophet (PBUH) shortly before his death selected Abu-Baker to lead the Muslims in one of the most important religious functionaries (Friday Prayer)

Others say this is against the very essence of democracy that exists in Islam. They argued that the prophet left this open. For “Abu baker’s designation as a leader was symbolized by the offering of  baya (Oath), a handclasp used by the Arabs to seal a contract, in this case an oath of obedience and allegiance The reason why the Sahaba (Companions of the Prophet) gave this baya was for the Sahaba Knew him to be the best among them.

He also demonstrated that by accomplishing the following;

He took up on himself the task of collecting the Quran. During the life time of the Prophet the text of the Quran was preserved.

In memories

Inscription on such material as stones wood and bone

He quenched the insurgency that had arisen immediately after the Prophet’s (PBUH) death

Islam expanded to lands of Syria, Iraq and Palestine.

 He ordered the codification and collection of the traditional sayings (Hadith) of the Prophet (PBUH) before they were forgotten with the sands of time.

Umar

He was the second caliph who stepped into the seat of leadership that was vacated when Abu baker died in Medina in 634 AD. Before we enumerate the task he accomplished it is worth to mention one point about Umar which describes how he was fearsome among his tribes. Al-Misri writes “(I) bn Masud later observed, “(W) e were not able to pray by the Kaaba until Umar became Muslim”

The following tasks were undertaken by him

Egypt and all Arabian Peninsula were added to the dominions of Islam.

12,000 Mosques were built

He related about 537 Hadith, from the Prophet (PBUH).

Dated Islamic events from the year of the Hijirah

Uthman

He was the third caliph who received the caliphate shortly after Omar’s death in AH 23. Some of the tasks accomplished by Uthman were

Much of the Balkans, Cyprus and much of the North Africa were added to the dominions of Islam.

The task of collection, verification and systematic compilation of the Holy Quran which was commenced with Abu baker was completed. Thus written copies were compiled in to one single volume. This copy was sent to all sectors of the Islamic world.

He had related 146 Hadith from the Prophet (PBUH)

Ali

He was the fourth and the last caliph. He was born in 600 AD in Mecca. He was the cousin of the Prophet (PBUH) who latter arranged a marriage between Ali and his daughter Fatima whom he cherished and adored

Ali transferred the capital city from Mecca to Kufa when he took office in AH.35. Some of his attributes were he:

He was among the learnt ones among the companions

He related hundreds of Hadith

He was a diplomat and states man of the highest echelon and showed familiarity of the highest order in the political administrate in social and legal duties a governing body owed to its people.

The Period of Umayyad

In the previous sections we have seen how Islam brought its domain into vast areas during the caliphate period. Thus, people within the Islamic Empire became aware of the importance, force and wielding that political power could bring. Among many factors, that was then one that led to the establishment of the Umayyad governance which was first established by Mu’a Wiyah. The Umayyad dynasty stayed on power from 661 AD to 750AD.

During this period significant progress was made in Islamic Law. The public law sphere was standardized, codified and established while the private law spheres remained diverse. The first Islamic Jurisprudence schools, whose main purposes were to spread and teach the message of Islam, were established

The Period of the Abbasids

The Abbasids, who are the Prophet’s (PBUH) cousins, came to the throne in 750 AD. They did that with the help of the Persians. They accused the Umayyad for distortion and dilution of the Islamic Law to suit the exigencies of the times without a proper consideration and due regard to the basic tenets of Islam. What are the achievements in Islam?

A scholarly theology evolved where in the articles and principles of Islamic faith and the Attributes of Allah were examined and conversed about, in order to ascertain the Unity of Allah the Most High.

The doctrine of constitutionalism was created. Thus every community was represented by a council of state.

Legal scholars were encouraged to respect, examine and deduce the mode of operation of the law within the Muslim Community,

Traditions of the Prophet (PBUH) were collected and the jurisprudence of the sources of Islamic Law were codified and written.

The Quran was analyzed.

This resulted in the birth of four notable Sunni schools of legal thoughts. These are:

The school of Abu Haifa (700-795 Ad)

The school of Malik ibn Anas (713-795AD)

The school of Mohammed ibn-Idris Ash Shafi (767-820Ad)

The school of Ahmad Ibn-Hanbli (780-855Ad)

In the next two consecutive chapters we will discuss the Sources of Islamic Law and then the school of legal thoughts.

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