Islamic Sharia

What is Sharia really?

The application of Islamic laws and doctrines in Islamic societies, involves realizing the definition of the term sharia and its different implications in Islam’s two major sects: Sunni and Shia sects. Sharia, in general and in Islamic jurisprudence means Islamic laws and regulations that are resulted from Quran and tradition. Tradition is the ambiguous term in different sects that has had different interpretations. Sunnis believe it to be the Sunnah of Prophet Mohammad and hadiths ascribed to him; while Shias include also the traditions and hadiths of the succeeding imams. Therefore, sharia in the Shia sect are the Islamic laws as originated in Quran and defined by God, and as interpreted and explained by the Prophet and the succeeding 12 imams, who had been his progeny.

This seemingly small difference creates a huge gap between the laws of the two sects, making the Shia jurisprudence encompassing more diversity and more flexibility over time, because it included all the advises and principles that the Shia imams propagated in the next three centuries after Prophet Mohammad’s death.

Shias believe that since Islam has been declared by God and previous prophets’ prophecies to be the final religion; therefore, its doctrines and concepts are much more encompassing and broader than the realms of a specific territory or time in history. As a result, Islamic doctrines, being this exterritorial, need to be interpreted, explained and reminded over a timespan, exceeding Prophet Mohammad’s short lifetime. Since Prophet Mohammad’s prophethood duration lasted only 30 years, 20 of which spending in exiles, plots and battles with the intention of killing him, he did not possess enough time to interpret and teach all the Islamic rules for the actual and potential Muslims (while not all of them were well educated in the very beginning) that were living or would be. As a result, by God’s order and consent he was obliged to introduce his successors who would continue his guidance even after his death, and who would prevent people from going astray.

However, since the majority of Muslim population, from the time of Prophet’s death had been the Sunni population, the ruling doctrine and sharia came to be accepted as the one preached by the Sunni scholars. In addition, many of the genuine works written by and taught by the Shia imams had such a feeble voice (due to the censorship of their times and the internal wars) that could not be heard by the mass population of the world. As a result, a great deal of scientific works and traditions said and taught from the time of the first imam of Shiites were and are unheard of in the world.

The matter was even more complicated with Iran being the largest Shia country, with the largest Shia population in the world, having a turbulent history of colonization and decolonization and conquest battles. Therefore, Iranian kings and leader in order to fight the imperialism of their colonizers or the territorial claims of their neighbors, used language as a cold war means and in order to bar the influences of the intruders on their country, banned or prohibited the official learning of their languages and traditions. Therefore, a great deal of Shia knowledge and sources remained only published in Persian and Arabic (which was quite prevailing especially in the time of the spread of Islam and its conquest of Iran), and remained unknown in international levels.

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