Definitions

Religious law

Religious law

In some religions, law can be thought of as the ordering principle of reality; knowledge as revealed by God defining and governing all human affairs. Law, in the religious sense, also includes codes of ethics and morality which are upheld and required by God. Examples include customary Halakha (Jewish law) and Hindu law, and to an extent, Sharia (Islamic law) and Canon law (Christian law).

Sharia and Canon law differ from other religious laws in that Canon law is the codes of law of the Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox churches (like in a civil law tradition), while Sharia law derives many of its laws from juristic precedent and reasoning by analogy (like in a common law tradition).

Established religions and religious institutions

A state religion (or established church) is religious body or creed officially endorsed by the state. In some jurisdictions, this means that they operate legal systems of their own or play a part in the legal system of those governments. Canon law is one such sort of legal system; it was administered in ecclesiastical courts. A theocracy is a form of government in which a God or a deity is recognized as the supreme civil ruler.

The opposite are secular states, in which there is a separation of church and state.

Hinduism

Hindu law is largely based on the Manu Smriti (smriti of Manu). It was recognized by the British after their rule of India but its influenced largely waned after the establishment of the Republic of India, which is secular.

Judaism

The Torah (also the Five Books of Moses or the Pentateuch) is the basis of God's covenant law, not oral tradition. According to rabbinic tradition there are 613 mitzvot in the Torah; mitzvot (singular mitzvah) means "commandment" or good deed. The mitzvot in the Torah (also called the Mosaic law after Moses) pertain to nearly every aspect of human life; some of these laws are directed only to men or to women, some only to the ancient priestly groups (the Kohanim and Leviyim, members of the tribe of Levi, some only to farmers within the Land of Israel. Many laws were only applicable when the Temple in Jerusalem existed; after the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in the year 70 during the Great Jewish Revolt, Jewish oral law was developed through intensive and expansive interpretation of the written Torah.

Halakha (הלכה; literally "walking"), the rabbinic Jewish way of life is based on a combined reading of the Torah, and the oral tradition, including the Mishnah, the halakhic Midrash, the Talmud, and its commentaries. The Halakhah has developed gradually through a variety of legal and quasi-legal mechanisms, including judicial decisions, legislative enactments, and customary law. The literature of questions to rabbis, and their considered answers, are referred to as responsa. Over time, as practices develop, codes of Jewish law were written based on Talmudic literature and responsa. The most important code, the Shulchan Aruch, guides the religious practice of most Orthodox and some Conservative Jews.

Christianity

Within the framework of Christianity, there are at least three possible definitions for law. One is the Torah/Mosaic Law (from what Christians consider to be the Old Testament) also called Divine Law. Another is the instructions of Jesus of Nazareth in the Gospel (sometimes referred to as the Law of Christ). A third is canon law in the Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox churches; canon law is the organized system of bylaws for the regulation of the affairs of those churches.

In Christianity, law is often contrasted with grace (see also Law and Gospel): the contrast here speaks to attempts to gain salvation by obedience to a code of laws as opposed to seeking salvation through faith in the atonement made by Jesus on the cross. Compare legalism and antinomianism.

Islam

Muslims in Islamic societies have traditionally viewed Islamic law as essential. Islamic law is called Sharia (Arabic: شريعة, "the street/way") and Islamic jurisprudence is called Fiqh. Islamic law is now the most widely used religious law, and one of the three most common legal systems of the world alongside common law and civil law.

In contrast to other religious laws, Islamic Sharia law (and Fiqh jurisprudence) is based on legal precedent and reasoning by analogy (Qiyas), and is thus considered a precursor to common law. During the Islamic Golden Age, classical Islamic law had a fairly significant influence on the development of common law, and also influenced the development of several civil law institutions.

In Sunni Islam, the work of the imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal (780-855 CE) has been very influential. Ibn Hanbal developed his "Five Basic Juristic Principles," a sort of hierarchy of authoritative sources of Islamic law:

  • According to ibn Hanbal, the Qur'an (القرآن, "recitation") should be the foremost source of all fiqh (فقه; Islamic jurisprudence). The Qur'an is the Islamic holy book. It is regarded by Muslims as the divine guidance and direction and the final revelation to humanity from God (الله), as revealed to the prophet Muhammad by Gabriel over a period of 23 years.
  • The Sunnah (سنة, "trodden path" or "the way of the Prophet") is the second-most authoritative source. It is the practices of the Muhammad as narrated in reports of his life, extracted by analysis of the hadith (الحديث), which contain narrations of the Muhammad's sayings, deeds, and the actions of his companions.
  • Verdicts issued by Sahaba (الصحابة, "companions") are to be resorted to when no textual evidence was found in the Qur'an or the Sunnah. The Sahaba were the companions of Muhammad. The Sahaba are less important than the Qur'an and the Sunnah, but ibn Hanbal believed that in cases of doubt the Sahaba—who witnessed the revelation of the Qur'an and its implementation by Muhammad—would have a better understanding than latter generations.
  • In instances where neither Qur'an nor the Sunnah or the Sahaba were applicable, Ahmad would resort to the mursal hadith ("hurried"), which are hadith with a weak or missing link between the Tabi'in (التابعين, "followers/successors," those who were born after the death of Muhammad but who were contemporary of the Sahaba) and Muhammad.
  • According to ibn Hanbal only after having exhausted all of these sources should scholars employ qiyas (قياس), or analogical deduction. Even when this is undertaken, it must be done with utmost care.

The Hanbali madh'hab (school) alone maintained its own theological view, unlike the Hanafi (which adopted the Maturidi doctrine) or the Shafi`i and Maliki (which adopted the Ash'ari doctrine). The copious volume of narrations from Imam Ahmad dealing with specific issues of doctrine made it extremely difficult for his followers to adhere to any other, yet still remain faithful followers.

In recent times, among the liberal movements within Islam, some have questioned the political use of Sharia law, while others have interpreted Sharia and Fiqh as a common law system.

Bahá'í Faith

The laws of the Bahá'í Faith primarily come from the Kitáb-i-Aqdas (The Most Holy Book). In Bahá'í scripture the laws are not seen as a constricting code, or a ritual, but are described by Bahá'u'lláh as the "choice wine," and a means to happiness. The laws are seen as the foundation of a just society and facilitate the spiritual development of the planet for the next thousand years. They are not considered as binding to anyone until they become a Bahá'í, and becoming a Bahá'í is not conditional on a person's level of adherence. An individual is expected to gradually apply laws on a personal basis.

Here are a few examples of laws and basic religious observances of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas which are considered obligatory for Bahá'ís:

* Recite an obligatory prayer each day. There are three such prayers among which one can be chosen each day.
*Observe a Nineteen Day Fast from sunrise to sunset from March 2 through March 20. During this time Bahá'ís in good health between the ages of 15 and 70 abstain from eating and drinking.
*Gossip and backbiting are prohibited and viewed as particularly damaging to the individual and their relationships.

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