The article ‘Introduction to Muslim Law’ seeks to introduce the reader to the specific aspects of Muslim Law as practised in India.

The article ‘Introduction to Muslim Law’ seeks to introduce the reader to the specific aspects of Muslim Law as practiced in India. It discusses in detail the source of the Muslim law, and its application and briefly mentions areas that require reform. The Article also tries to situate the topic in relation to the current socio-political scenarios that exist in the country.

Introduction to Muslim Law

In India, there are two important personal laws namely Hindu law and Muslim law. Muslim personal law is a religious law.

Religious law can be of two types:

  • Divine law
  • Man-Made law.

Divine law It is that law where god directly imparts its guidelines for example Bhagavad Gita is a divine law for Hindus as in it lord Krishna imparted his lessons of life to Arjun.

Similarly, for Muslims, the holy Quran is the divine law as Allah through Gabriel(angel) has given certain guidelines to the Prophet which should be followed by every Muslim. Therefore Muslims consider the prophet as the messenger of God.

Man-made law – It is that law which is made by parliament for example Dissolution of Muslim Marriage Act 1939, Protection of Muslim Women from Divorce Act, 2019, etc.

History of Islam

The period before Islam was known as the period of ignorance also known as “Ayyam e Jahiliyya” because of the prevailing conditions at that time like gambling, suppression of women, female infanticide etc.

Then came the birth period of Prophet Mohamad. He was born during that time only in 570 AD.

He started preaching Islam to the people of Saudi Arabia and that is how Islam came into existence. It is believed that Gabriel (the angel of God, Allah) enumerated the guidelines which a person should follow in his life and the holy Quaran is a recitation of those guidelines.

Who is a Muslim?

The following are the two categories:

  1. Muslims by Birth or Origin: A child whose both parents are Muslim is a Muslim and even if one of the parents is a Muslim the child will be Muslim.
  2. By Religion or Conversion: A convert is a person who renounces his faith and adopts another religion but the conversion should be bonafide and not with any ulterior motive or intention.

In the case of Sarla Mudgal v. Union of India (1995 AIR 1531) The husband was already married under Hindu law and he embraced Islam and solemnized a second marriage under Muslim Law. The court held that the second marriage of a Hindu husband after conversion to Islam without having his first marriage dissolved under Hindu law would be invalid.

In Lily Thomas v. Union of India (AIR 2000 SC 1650) the Supreme Court held that one personal law cannot be used to defeat the spirit or purpose of another personal law. The Supreme Court held that the husband is guilty of the offence of bigamy under section 494 of IPC.

This endemic judicial system is popularly known as the Sharia law which is the governing legislation in most of those countries who has made Islam their state religion such as Afghanistan Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

Sources of Muslim Law

Though Islam is considered a monolithic religion divisions exist on the basis of several sub-sectarian practices. The most widely known of such division is between the Schools of Shia and Sunni. Correspondingly, the Islamic law as practiced in these communities exhibits subtle variations.

  • Sunni School

There are four authorities for Islamic law according to the Sunni School of thought which are

  1. The Quran
  2. Haadis or Sunnat
  3. Ijma
  4. Qiyas

The Quran: The Quran is the Holy book of the Islamic population and is imposed to be of divine origin. Therefore the provisions and verses of the scripture are of an inviolable and sacred nature. Of the total of about 6000 verses, only about 200 of them dispenses with legal matters of which 80 are dealing with matters of civil nature such as marriage, inheritance, divorce, etc.

Sunna or Haadis: The next most important source of Muslim law is Sunna or Haadis which is the collection of the words and deeds of Prophet Muhammad, the founder of the Islamic religion. These were codified in different compositions or compilations each adhered to by different sects. Among the Sunnis, the accepted compilations are those of Bukhari, Muslim, Ibn-e-Majh, Abu Dawood, and Nasi.

Ijma: It is the third authority on Islamic law which crudely translates to consensus of jurists which means that if highly qualified Islamic scholars agree on a matter which is not in contravention with the fundamental values propounded by the preceding two sources, that particular consensus so reached becomes the law binding on the entire community.

Such consensus is usually applied in emerging and evolving social realities which may not have a base or precedent in the existing sources of defined authority such as the Quran and Haadis. These are responses to Societal realities as demanded by time and context. Such application of discretion is done as per the doctrine of ‘ijtihad’.

It emphasizes the individual’s obligation to use his logical faculties to arrive at a conclusion where the principle is silent. However, such an exercise should be open only to people who are well-versed in the substance of the Quran and Hadith.

Qiyas: After ijma, the next important source of Islamic law source is the ‘Qiyas ‘ which is the application of some texts if the case can be demonstrated to be governed. They are analogical deductions from the existing sources. Qiyas can only explain or interpret the law but cannot change the law.

Qiyas is resorted to in respect of problems about which there is no specific provision in the Quran or Sunnah.

  • Shia School

In the Shia school, the authorities of law are the Quran, Hadith, and the dictums of Imams. They did not accept the Sunni view of considering Quiyas as an acceptable source of law. Besides, the Shias do not support those Haadis compilations which emanate from households not related by blood to the prophet himself. Thus they follow only compilations such as AL-Kafi, and Tahdhib-UL-Abraham as the most authentic of all collections.

Muslim Personal Laws

  • Wakf Acts; Concerning Property

The corpus of laws that can be labelled as Muslim laws has an antiquity that begins during the time of British rule. Important legislation which was thus passed was the ‘Mussalman Wakf Act’ enforcing a large number of rules and regulations relating to the management of Wakf properties which mandated that the proper accounts and audits should be maintained to track the transactions concerning the properties. Several complimentary Provincial Acts were passed subsequently. Currently, the local Acts is applicable along with the Central Wakf Act.

  • Shari-at Act 1937

It is the Shariat Act that consists of only six sections that regulate the application of Muslim personal law in India. Section 2 lists those matters which among Indian Muslims shall be invariably governed by the Muslim Personal Law. These include intestate succession, special property females, gifts, marriage, various forms of dissolution of marriage, dower, guardianship, maintenance, trusts, trysts properties, and Wakfs.

However, matters concerning agricultural land, charities charitable institutions and charitable organizations, and religious endowments are excluded from its purview. They were excluded as they overlap with the existing state legislation.

According to section 3 of the Act, the following is also covered in its purview; adoption, wills, and legacies provided the concerned individual consent to be governed by the statutes of the Act.

  • The Wakf Act, 1954

The Wakf Act was one of the important legislation that was passed by the parliament of independent India in the year 1954 concerning Muslims. The Act was aimed at improving administrative practices with regard to Wakf boards. Accordingly, the law provides for the constitution of a Wakf board in every state.

  • Muslim Marriage Dissolution Act

The Act’s objective is to ” consolidate and clarify the provisions of Muslim relating to suits for dissolution of marriage by women married under the Muslim law and to remove doubts as to the effect to the renunciation by the married Muslim woman on her marriage tie”.

Section 2 of the Act provides women married under Muslim law to obtain a decree of dissolution on various grounds on the side of the husband such as cruelty, lack of correspondence, neglect, imprisonment for a period of 7 years or more, failure to perform marital obligations for more than 3 years, insanity for a period exceeding 2 years or in case marriage solemnized when she was minor(below 15).

Special Cases

Lately, there have been demands for the codification of these individuals’ Acts into one coherent whole. However, the attempts were met with strong opposition out of fear that such efforts would inevitably lead to innovations and additions which are not appreciated by a large section of the community.

Nonetheless, experts are of the opinion that codification may result in better uniformity in legal matters across the Indian Muslim community by overriding the customary laws which are often against the spirit of Islamic law.

In addition to the Shariath Act, there are some special laws applicable to specific subsections of the group. As is the case with the ‘Mappila’ Muslims of Malabar relating to the maintenance of the joint family property. The lack of codification leads to ambiguity and misinterpretation which has even come to affect court judgments.

Marriage under Islamic law

Marriage is not an optional life vacation in Islam but is the only choice as it strictly prohibits celibacy. Unlike in most other religions, marriage is not accorded the status of the sacrament but simply a contract; an Ibadat or Muamalat, however as per some experts the nature of the marital contract is different from that of a civil contract as it cannot be concluded on the basis of future happenings. Neither can it be done for a fixed period. Muta marriage is an exception to this case.

According to Islamic law, the essentials of marriage are;

  1. There should be a proposal made by or on behalf of one party to the marriage and acceptance of the proposal by on or on behalf of the other party.
  2. The proposal and acceptance must both be expressed at one meeting.
  3. The parties must be competent
  4. There must be two male or one male and two female witnesses, who must be sane and be present there at the time of marriage proposal and acceptance.
  5. Neither writing nor any religious ceremony is necessary.

Polyandry is strictly prohibited but polygyny is allowed under special circumstances.

Divorce Under Muslim Law

Under Muslim law, divorce may take place by the Act of the parties themselves or by a decree of the court of law. Accordingly, the valid reason for which parties may opt for divorce is the inability to live together. A divorce can be initiated either by a man or a woman.

A husband may divorce his wife by repudiating the marriage without citing any reason and such acts of divorce are broadly labelled as ‘Talaq’.

Thus pronouncement of such a word implying the husband’s intent is enough in this case. The Wife cannot divorce her husband on her own but can do so if the husband delegates her the right to do so. Such woman-initiated divorces are called ‘Khula’ or ‘Mubarat’.

Prior to the enactment of the Dissolution of Muslim Marriage Act, the woman had no right to seek divorce except on grounds of false accusations of adultery, insanity or impotency of the husband. The Act resulted in making divorce possible for several other causes through a court order.

Inheritance under Muslim law

According to the Islamic law, the son get double the share of the sister whenever the two jointly inherit.

The wife is eligible to receive one-eighth of the share where there are children and one-fourth in case of no children. In the case of more than one wife, the one-eighth is divided equally among them. The husband succeeds in one-fourth of the wife’s property in case of children and half the property if there are no children on the death of his wife.

In the case of a daughter, the only household all the daughters are to get equal shares of two-thirds of the property. If the household has only a single girl child she inherits half of the property. One-sixth of the dead child’s property goes to the mother if there are grandchildren one-third of the property in the absence of any grandchildren.

Special property; ‘Mahr’

Mahr is the total money or property that is to be given to the wife by the husband at the time of ‘Nikah’.It can be given on the very date of the marriage or after a pre-fixed period.

Hiba; Gift under Muslim Law;

Any property can be transferred as a gift. For this purpose, the giver has to make a declaration expressing his wish to make one such and it should be accepted by the receiver.


Muslim law is governed by the teachings of the Quran and the Prophet Mohammad. There have been many different schools that follow their own interpretations of these teachings on points on which the Quran is silent. While the major schools of Muslims can be divided into the two sects of Shia schools and Sunni schools, even the schools under these sects have been further divided into various schools.


  1. History of Muslim Personal Law by K Abdul Rahman
  2. Shariat Application Act,1935 (text)

  1. Schools of Muslim Law(Opens in a new browser tab)
  2. Muslim Law – Case Laws, Notes And Study Material(Opens in a new browser tab)
Updated On 20 Nov 2023 12:13 AM GMT
Arsha Sabu

Arsha Sabu

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