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Islamic legal practice.

Fiqh may be defined as the interpretation of Islamic jurisprudence. Though it may appear to be similar to Shari'ah, the two terms are quite different. Whereas the latter refers to the general unchanging framework of human behaviour according to Divine revelation, the former is the continually adaptable interpretation of what Shari'ah might mean in any given circumstance, and therefore incorporates the practical application of Islamic law. Schools of Islamic law are known as schools of fiqh rather than schools of Shari'ah, for instance; and people who engage in legal interpretation are known as fuqaha, the people who practice fiqh. The term is most commonly translated, therefore, as 'jurisprudence,' although the literal translation would be 'understanding.'

The reason this point is significant is because often the two terms are muddled together in Western discussions of Islamic legal theory, giving the misleading impression that 'Islamic law' is a code available in set form to which jurists and believers may or may not relate.[1] As a result, specific fiqh justifications or Islamic laws can be misunderstood as their original contexts and purposes are ignored or forgotten.

A more accurate and realistic description of the term is provided by Mustafa Ceric, Grand Mufti of Bosnia-Herzegovina: "The fiqh (understanding) of the Shari‘ah of a particular person or group is not perpetual; it is negotiable and it is terminable. The Shari‘ah is the perpetual principle on the basis of which each and every generation of Muslims has the right and the duty to make judgments about good and evil, right and wrong, in the context of its time and space in accordance with its own experience."[2]

[1] See Fred Halliday, 'Islam, law and finance: the elusive divine,' Open Democracy, 2008. Available on-line.

[2] Mustafa Ceric, 'The challenge of a single Muslim authority in Europe,' European View, 2007, 6, p. 41-48. Available on-line.

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