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The Principles of Jurisprudence (Usul al-Fiqh)

The Principles of Jurisprudence (Usul al-Fiqh)
The subject under consideration here is the 'ilm, or knowledge of the principles of jurisprudence, usul ul fiqh. The two studies of jurisprudence and its principles are interconnected. They are interconnected in the same way, as will become clear, as the two studies of logic and philosophy are interconnected. The study of the principles is tantamount to a preparation to the study of jurisprudence, and it is for this reason that it has been named the principles of jurisprudence, for the word usul means roots or principles.

Firstly, a short definition of these two studies must be given.

The Arabic word, fiqh essentially means understanding, profound understanding. Our information about the affairs and proceedings of this world can be of two types. Sometimes it is shallow, surface information, and sometimes it is profound. An example from economic affairs will help us. We are continually experiencing the fact that products which years ago did not exist are now finding their way onto the market place, while at the-same time a chain of products that were previously abundant cannot now be found. Likewise, the prices of certain products regularly increase, while the prices of other goods, let us suppose, is fixed.

This type of information is universally available and is shallow, surface information. The information of some people on these matters is profound, however, and they have journeyed from the mere experiencing of the events to a profound understanding of the causes, meaning that they are aware of the reason for a certain article becoming available and another article becoming unavailable, and of the reasons for a certain product being expensive and a different one being inexpensive. They know what causes prices to regularly increase, and they know to what extent these causes are essential, definite and unavoidable, and to what extent they can be checked.

When the information of a person in economic affairs is such that it passes the level of simple experiencing and arrives at the level of discerning the deep-rooted causes and profound currents, he can be said to be a person having deep understanding (mutafaqqeh) in economics.

In the Holy Quran and in Traditions from the Holy Prophet and the Imams, we have been repeatedly commanded towards profound understanding (tafaqqah) in the religion, and from the collective content of these sources it is to be discerned that the view of Islam is that Muslims understand Islam, in all its aspects, profoundly and with thorough insight. Of course profound understanding in religion, consisting of all the Islamic aspects, is a great blessing from God. It is common to what relates to the principles of Islamic beliefs and the Islamic world-view or sense of values, to Islamic morals, ethics and upbringing, to all the aspects of Islamic society, to Islamic worship, to the civil ordinances of Islam, to the particular Islamic customs of the individual and of the society, and more. However, since the second century of the Hejra, the word jurisprudence has become a term for a special area of understanding amongst Muslims that can be said to be jurisprudence in the commands of religion or jurisprudence in the deducing of the commands of religion. In other words "precise and profound deducing of the Islamic regulations of actions from the relevant sources".

The commands or regulations of Islam have not been explained by the Quran or by the Prophet and the Imams in such a way that each and every particularity has been expressly dealt with. Nor is such a thing possible, for events and situations occur in endlessly different forms. Instead, generalities and precepts have been laid before us in the form of a chain of principles.

A person who wants to explain the law of a certain matter to himself or others, must refer to the resources and authentic documents-and later we will clarify the nature of these-and must explain his viewpoint while bearing in mind all the different aspects of those authentic documents. And it is this that is meant by jurisprudence being joined to precise and profound understanding of all aspects.

The masters of jurisprudence (fuqaha) when defining jurisprudence, use the following sentence: Jurisprudence is the study of the secondary commands (i.e. not the principle matters of beliefs and moral perfection, but the commands regulating actions) of the Shari'ah of Islam gained from the detailed resources and proofs.
Needing for Jurisprudence
For the study of jurisprudence, mastery of many other branches of learning are necessary as a preparation, and these consist of the following:

1. Arabic: syntax, conjugation, vocabulary, semantics, oratory as the Quran and Traditions are in Arabic, without knowing at least the usual standard of the Arabic language and literature it is not possible to benefit from the Quran and the Traditions.
2. Commentary upon the Holy Quran (tafsir). Taking into consideration the fact that the jurisprudents must use the Quran as a point of reference, some knowledge in the study of the commentaries upon the Quran is absolutely essential.
3. Logic, called mantiq in Islam. Every branch of learning in which reasoning is used stands in need of logic.
4. The study of the Traditions. The jurisprudent must have a sound knowledge of the Traditions and must be able to distinguish the different types of Traditions and they become acquainted with the language of the Traditions as a result of their frequent application.
5. The study of the Transmitters (rijal). The study of the Transmitters means knowing the identities and natures of those who have transmitted the Traditions. Later it will be explained how the Traditions existing in the sanctuary of books of Traditions cannot be accepted without examination. The study of the Transmitters is the examining and scrutiny of the men who make up the chains (isnad) of reporters of the Traditions.
6. The study of the Principles of Jurisprudence. The most important branch of learning in preparation for jurisprudence is the principles of jurisprudence, a delightful subject and one originated by Muslims.

The Principles of Jurisprudence is, in reality, the "study of the rules to be used in deducing the Islamic laws" and it teaches us the correct and valid way of deducing from the relevant sources in jurisprudence. In this way, Principles, like logic, is a study of instructions, and is more a skill than a branch of knowledge, meaning that in jurisprudence, that which is discussed is a chain of things that must be, rather than a chain of things which are.

Bearing in mind the fact that it is possible to refer in particular ways to the documents or sources of jurisprudence and to be led to erroneous deductions opposed to the real view of the Islamic Shari'ah, it is necessary for there to be a special field of study that enables one to clearly discern the correct and valid method of using the sources of jurisprudence as a reference to deduce and extract from them the laws of Islam by means of the proofs of reasoning and the proofs provided by God through the Prophet and the Imams. The Principles of Jurisprudence is the field of study that fulfils this purpose.

From the early days of Islam, another word that is more or less synonymous with the word fiqh (jurisprudence) and which has been in common use amongst Muslims is the word ijtihad. In the Muslim world today, especially the Shi'ite world, the words faqih (jurisprudent) and mujtahid are synonymous with each other.

The word ijtihad is from the root juhd which means utter striving. For this reason, a faqih is also called a mujtahid, since he must use all his efforts in deducing Islamic laws (ahkam).

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