Islamic Law Lexicon :: Qurʾān: the primary Islamic religious text

By Alicia Daniel

Citation: Sherman A. Jackson, Kramer versus Kramer in a Tenth/Sixteenth Century Egyptian Court: Post-Formative Jurisprudence between Exigency and Law, Islamic Law and Society 8, no. 1 (2001): 27-51.

Sherman A. Jackson, King Faisal Chair in Islamic Thought and Culture and Professor of Religion and American Studies and Ethnicity, University of Southern California Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

Short definition:

Qurʾān = Islamic scripture, the primary source for Islamic law, the first of two foundational texts in Islamic law


The Qurʾān is the central religious text of Islam. Its name literally means “the recitation.” Muslims believe that the angel Gabriel revealed the scripture to the Prophet Muhammad over the course of twenty-three years. This narrative is in contrast with most adherents of the other Abrahamic faiths, who believe that they received their religious texts through divinely inspired authorship, rather than direct revelation. Muslims believe that the Qurʾān is the Prophet Muhammad’s greatest miracle and proof of his status as a divine messenger. In Islam, the Qurʾān is considered the final divine revelation to humanity, the culmination of a process that began with divine messages given to Adam, the first man.

Although it is the primary textual source for Islamic law, there is very little law in the Qurʾān itself. The Qurʾān is divided into 114 chapters, or sūra, which are subdivided into verses, or āyāt. Of some 6000 verses, only about 500 related to law, and within that only a little more than 100 have verses with specific rulings. Most of the Qurʾānic content is about parables of prophets, ethical principles, and moral exhortations.

That said, the Qurʾān is the foundation of not only Islam, but also the Islamic legal system. Along with Sunna, the Qurʾān is a primary source of Islamic law. Some majority-Muslim countries name the Qurʾān as a source of legislation. The doctrine of Muslim scholars is that all Islamic law is ultimately derived from the Qurʾān. But in practice, social, political-economic, and personal preferences all play a role.

There are different ways of using the Qurʾān in Islamic legal scholarship. During Islam’s founding period, scholars relied solely on a legal interpretation, called ijtihād, by which they sought to interpret scriptural texts directly instead of through the lens of intermediate sources. After the founding period ended in the tenth century, they shifted to another type of legal interpretation, taqlīd, is the dominant method of studying the Qurʾān in Islamic legal scholarship. Taqlīd involves using previous legal scholarship to interpret scripture and give weight to one’s own legal opinions.

Leave a Reply