Methods of deriving religious rulings


As explained in the previous lesson, there are four broad means by which one can arrive at religious decrees and injunctions (ahkaam). These are i) The Holy Quran, ii) Sunnah iii) Consensus (among scholars) and iv) Intellect.


The foremost source of deriving and comprehending Islamic practical laws is the Quran. All Muslims are unanimous on this. Quran has discussed these laws and injunctions in over five hundred verses. These are termed as ‘Laws of Jurisprudence’ (ahkaam-e-fiqhi). Quran being Allah’s Word, holds an edge over all other sources in terms of reliability and authenticity. Thus, laws and decrees issued by the Almighty Allah, command absolute and unconditional obedience. That is why the unequivocal laws of jurisprudence should either be taken (directly) from the Quran or should at least be in conformity with it. In other words, these laws should not contravene the Quran.


According to Arabic literature ‘Sunnah’ means custom or manner. Here it means the Prophet’s mode (of life) and manners that have been incorporated in religious injunctions and laws. Although all these laws have been broadly explained in the Quran, those that need to be considered minutely, and some of the other finer points, can be studied from the life of the Prophet (s.a.w.s.). The Prophet (s.a.w.s.) has always conformed with the Quran in letter and spirit. For example, Quran had broadly outlined the decrees regarding salaat, fasting, hajj, zakaat, punishment for theft, etc. However, the same has been explained in detail, from various aspects by the Prophet (s.a.w.s.). The Prophet’s (s.a.w.s.) injunction and judgement in this regard is in reality Allah’s judgement and injunction. And the Quran testifies to this as follows:

‘And he (the Prophet) does not speak out of desire. It is naught but revelation that is revealed.’

(Najm : 3)

‘And whatever the Messenger gives to you, accept it. And whatever he prohibits, refrain from it.’

(Hashr: 59)

Whatever the Prophet (s.a.w.s.) has decreed relating to laws of the religion, are termed as ‘assertions’ (qaul) and his actions in this regard are termed as ‘performance’ (fe’l).

When some action was performed in front of the Prophet (s.a.w.s.) or alternatively, he received some news of a deed and gave his consent and approval for its performance, then this was called as, ‘consent’ (taqreer).
Thus, when it is apparent that the Prophet (s.a.w.s.) has recommended a particular method of performance (of some action), out of say three possible methods, then we should follow the Prophet’s recommended method. Thus ‘Sunnah’ implies conforming to the ‘assertion’, ‘performance’ and ‘consent’ of an infallible (masoom).


The Shias refer to the twelve infallible Imams (a.s.) as their leaders after the Prophet (s.a.w.s.). These infallibles have inherited the Prophet’s knowledge and wisdom. Enemies as well as friends of the Imams (a.s.) , acknowledge this fact. Every Imam was the most learned and pious person of his age. Their actions and proclamations were a source of guidance for the people. As Imam Sadiq (a.s.) declares,

‘My tradition is from my father, and his from his father, and this chain terminates with my grandfather, Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.s.).’

(al-Kafi, v. 1, p. 53, H. 14)

According to the Shias, the twelve Imams are infallible and free from all blemishes. Thus, they are also the means of guidance, and conformity to their Sunnah is equally important.

We were not present at the time of the Prophet (s.a.w.s.), nor at the time of any Imam (a.s.), and so we could not listen to their assertions nor witness their performance or perceive their consent. In this regard, we are forced to rely on their narrations that have been chronicled by the scholars in their books. All those actions that are advocated by their Sunnah are termed as ‘Hadith’ (tradition). In other words, ‘Hadith (tradition) means an assertion made by an infallible that has reached us (through books).’ Ahadith (sing. Hadith) are such statements from an infallible (Prophet or Imam), that were deemed as reliable, and transmitted to others based on their authenticity and reliability.


As explained earlier, all injunctions and laws are drawn from the Quran and one may refer to the traditions (ahadith) for further elucidation. Hence if any tradition is in contravention of the Quran, then it should be rejected outright. The Prophet (s.a.w.s.) had warned the Muslims at the very outset about the possibility of some mischievous elements attributing false and fabricated statements to him. That is why the Prophet (s.a.w.s.) used to reiterate

‘All those traditions that are in conformity with the Quran are from me, while all traditions that are in conflict with the Quran are not from me (but are attributed to me).

(Behaarul Anwaar, v. 2, p. 242, H. 40)

‘Accept (only those) traditions that are in accordance with the Book of Allah, and those traditions that are inconsistent with the Book of Allah should be rejected and cast away.’

(Behaarul Anwaar, v. 2, p. 165, H. 25)


  1. Hadith-e-Sahih (Correct tradition)
    Those traditions wherein the chain of narrators are known and each transmitter in that chain is a Shia Ithna Ashari, and is also just (aadil), are termed as ‘Hadithe Sahih’. A just person is one who does not commit sins, big or small, openly. Where the chain of narrators can be considered as just, with a fair degree of certainty, then such traditions are termed as ‘Sahihe A’laa’ee (exalted tradition).
  2. Hadith-e-Hasan (Good tradition)
    These traditions are transmitted by a chain of narrators, wherein every narrator is a Shia and was renowned for his virtue.
  3. Hadithe Muaththaq (Reliable Tradition)
    These traditions are transmitted via a chain of narrators, wherein every narrator is not a Shia. However, the non-Shia transmitters should necessarily be reliable and truthful.
  4. Hadithe Zaeef (Weak Tradition)
    These are traditions wherein one or more narrators in a chain is not mentioned, or it can not be ascertained as to whether he/they were just or it is known that the narrator has not memorized the tradition correctly or has not transmitted it accurately. Traditions, wherein the original narrator and/or the subsequent transmitters were known for their transgression and corruption or were partial towards a king in their narration, are considered unreliable and weak. Such traditions are rejected outright.

During the Prophet’s time, as well as the era after that, all those who heard traditions used to narrate the same at an opportune moment. Certain traditions of a critical nature like laws on manslaughter and modes of punishment were recorded by the narrators. Among those who had put these traditions on paper were, Ali (a.s.), Salmane Farsi (r.a.), Abu Zar (r.a.) and Abu Raaf’e (the scribe of the Prophet (s.a.w.s.)).

During the reign of Bani Umayyah, especially Muawiyah, all laws and injunctions of Islam were altered to suit the incumbent government’s political designs. Greedy sycophants of the government and power brokers, connived to narrate fabrications and lies that gained currency later as ‘traditions’. These so-called traditions were by and large skewed in favour of the government, and portrayed the latter in very good light. An illustration will drive home this point. One ‘tradition’ says, ‘One who rules over an Islamic Government for a period of forty days will be included among the residents of Paradise.’

Other falsehoods were related to the daily lives of the people like the importance of some foodstuff, or something related to the activities of the Muslims, advocating involvement in some insignificant aspect of religion, ridiculous ways of biding time, etc. All these were aimed at distancing the Muslims from the true Islam. So that a few ‘Muslims’ could extend their reign over the Islamic nation.

They started debating on the Quran and argued that the Book of Allah had outlived its utility. Heated debates were initiated in controversial topics like the freedom of man in action. This and such other contentious discussions spread among Muslims, shifting their focus from more urgent matters. These discussions surfaced again during the regime of Bani Abbas and were in fact the root cause of so many sects springing up. Today Muslims have only two statements in common. i.e.

“There is no god but Allah and Muhammad (s.a.w.a) is the messenger of Allah”.

All other beliefs and tenets have undergone a sea change and now these sects are at complete variance with each other.

In this age of turbulence and commotion, only a handful of Muslims have remained steadfast and sincere in their beliefs. They are always striving to preserve and uphold the laws and tenets of Islam. Their constant endeavour is to spread these doctrines among the people. The Prophet’s progeny (a.s.) and the present Imam (a.s.) of the Shias have always struggled and exerted themselves in protecting the real Islam. They have given their everything in preserving the values inculcated by the Prophet (s.a.w.s.) from corruption and depravity. Their sole objective was to ensure the actualization of the divine purpose of religion.


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