Introduction to Muslim Law in India: Understanding Its Origins and Sources

Introduction to Muslim Law in India: Understanding Its Origins and Sources

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Muslim law, also known as Islamic law, is a unique legal system that has its origins in divine principles rather than man-made legislation. It is deeply rooted in the religion of Islam, which emphasizes submission to the will of God and promotes peace, purity, salvation, and obedience. Muslims believe in the existence of one God, Allah, and consider the Quran, the holy book of Islam, to be a divine revelation.

Islamic law, commonly referred to as Sharia, is derived from the Quran, the teachings of Prophet Mohammed, and the consensus of Islamic scholars. It encompasses a wide range of legal principles and regulations that govern various aspects of human conduct, including marriage, inheritance, property rights, and more. In this article, we will delve deeper into the origins and sources of Muslim law, exploring its primary and secondary sources, as well as its application in different areas of life.

The Origins of Muslim Law

Muslim law traces its roots back to the lifetime of Prophet Mohammed, who received divine revelations from Allah through the angel Gabriel. These revelations were compiled into the Quran, which Muslims consider to be the word of God. The Quran contains 114 chapters, known as suras, and provides guidance on various aspects of human life, including legal principles related to marriage, maintenance, inheritance, and more.

It is important to note that the Quran was revealed in stages over a period of 23 years, during the Prophet's life in Mecca and Medina. The Quran was initially recorded on palm leaves, skin, or parchment, and later compiled into a complete book. While the Quran contains numerous verses on legal matters, it primarily serves as a spiritual and moral guide for Muslims.

Primary Sources of Muslim Law

The primary sources of Muslim law are the Quran, the Sunnat (the way of the Prophet), the Ijma (consensus of Islamic scholars), and the Qiyas (reasoning by analogy). These sources form the foundation of Islamic jurisprudence and guide Muslims in their understanding and interpretation of the law.

The Quran

The Quran is the primary and most important source of Muslim law. It is considered the literal word of God, communicated to Prophet Mohammed for the benefit of mankind. The Quran covers a wide range of topics, including legal principles related to marriage, divorce, inheritance, and more. It consists of 114 suras, containing a total of 6666 verses, known as Ayats. Approximately 200 verses deal with legal principles.

The Quran was revealed in two periods: the Meccan period, which focused on spiritual and moral teachings, and the Medinan period, which included more specific legal instructions for the growing Muslim community. The language of the Quran is Arabic, and it has been translated into various languages to make it accessible to Muslims around the world.

"And we have not sent you but as a mercy to all the worlds." - Quran

The Sunnat

The Sunnat, also known as Hadis or Sunna, refers to the traditions and practices of Prophet Mohammed. It includes his actions, sayings, approvals, and disapprovals, which serve as a guide for Muslims in understanding how to live according to the teachings of Islam. The Sunnat is divided into three categories:

  1. Sunnat-ul-Fail: Actions performed by the Prophet himself.
  2. Sunnat-ul-Tuqrir: Acts that the Prophet allowed without explicitly expressing his consent through words.
  3. Sunnat-ul-Qaul: The sayings and teachings of the Prophet.

The Sunnat provides practical examples of how to apply the principles outlined in the Quran and serves as a complementary source of guidance for Muslims.


Ijma refers to the consensus of Islamic scholars on a particular legal issue when the Quran and the Sunnat do not provide a clear answer. It is the collective agreement of knowledgeable scholars, known as Mujtahids, who have studied and interpreted the Quran and the Sunnat. Ijma derives its authority from both the Quran and the Sunnat and is considered binding on the Muslim community.

There are two types of Ijma: Ijma-al-ummah, which refers to the consensus of the Muslim community as a whole, and Ijma-al-aimmah, which refers to the consensus of religious authorities.


Qiyas, also known as analogical reasoning, is the process of deriving legal rulings by comparing similar situations to those for which the Quran and the Sunnat have provided guidance. It involves using logical reasoning to deduce the legal implications of a particular case based on established principles. While Qiyas is not explicitly mentioned in the Quran, it has been recognized and utilized by Muslim jurists, particularly those belonging to the Hanafi school of thought.

Secondary Sources of Muslim Law

In addition to the primary sources, Muslim law also incorporates secondary sources such as judicial decisions, customs, and legislation.

Judicial Decisions

Judicial decisions play a significant role in the development and interpretation of Muslim law. Courts, including the Supreme Court and High Courts, have the authority to interpret and apply the principles of Muslim law in various cases. These decisions become precedents and serve as a guide for future cases, ensuring consistency and predictability in the legal system.


Customs, known as Urf in Islamic law, are the practices and traditions followed by the Muslim community over a long period of time. While Islam discourages harmful customs, it recognizes and incorporates certain pre-Islamic customs that are considered beneficial and in line with Islamic principles. Customary practices can influence the interpretation and application of Muslim law in specific regions or communities.


Although Muslim law is not codified in India, the Parliament has enacted laws to regulate Islamic practices. The Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1939, is one such legislation that governs matters related to marriage, succession, inheritance, and charities among Muslims. These laws are based on the principles derived from the Quran, the Sunnat, and the Ijma, and provide a framework for the application of Muslim law in the country.


Muslim law, also known as Islamic law or Sharia, is a unique legal system that governs the lives of Muslims based on divine principles. It draws its origins from the Quran, the teachings of Prophet Mohammed, and the consensus of Islamic scholars. The Quran serves as the primary source of guidance, providing moral and legal principles for Muslims to follow. The Sunnat, Ijma, and Qiyas complement the Quran by providing practical examples, consensus opinions, and analogical reasoning, respectively. Secondary sources such as judicial decisions, customs, and legislation further contribute to the development and application of Muslim law.

Understanding the origins and sources of Muslim law is crucial for anyone seeking a comprehensive understanding of Islamic legal principles. It provides insights into the rich history and intricate framework of a legal system that has influenced the lives of millions of people around the world.

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