Islam’s legal lexicon
Telling the fard from the fatwa
Those were the days, m’learned friend
LITERALLY the “path” or “path to water”, sharia is a catch-all term for Islamic codes covering everything from social mores to crime. Based on the Koran and the sayings attributed to Muhammad, as well as the work of ulema (Muslim scholars), it is clear and strict in some matters (such as family law) and fluid and evolutionary in others (such as commerce). It comprises five main schools of interpretation (four Sunni and one Shia). In Muslim lands sharia courts are overseen by a kadi (judge) who will have studied both fiqh (legal interpretation) and how to apply qiyas (analogy).
Fiqh classifies behaviour into one of five categories: fard (mandatory), mustahabb (advisable), mubah (neutral), makruh (inadvisable), and haraam (prohibited). Huddud refers to the corporal and capital punishments that are laid down in traditional Islamic law for certain offences, including death by stoning for adultery. However, fatwa (ruling or opinion), contrary to popular opinion in the West, refers to theological, not legal, pronouncements in which one or more scholars opine on some pressing issue (the subjects of recent fatwas have ranged from questions of personal hygiene to the ethics of suicide-bombing).
Nikah (an Islamic marriage) usually requires an imam to officiate and must involve a mahr (marriage settlement) conferred on the bride. It may end in a Talaq: this usually means a unilateral invocation of divorce by the husband. Khula is a divorce granted by a judge at the wife’s request.
Baffling? Perhaps. In a well-worn English legal anecdote a judge asks a lawyer acting for a thief from Yorkshire: “Is your client familiar with the principle of Nemo dat quod non habet (nobody gives away what he does not possess)?” The apocryphal answer is: “Indeed, m’lud, in Barnsley they speak of little else.” Fewer lawyers know Latin now, but in Yorkshire towns the relationship between, say, mahr and talaq is increasingly well understood.
Full article and photo: http://www.economist.com/node/17249624