Deen and Sharee‘ah

Islam is the only Deen (the system and the way of life) acceptable to and approved by Allaah SWT for human beings since the time of Adam until the day of Judgment and that a Muslim must dedicate Deen exclusively and purely to Allaah SWT by living in an Islamic way in every aspect of one’s life. That was true for all prophets and their followers.
Certainly, the only Deen acceptable to Allaah is Islam. Those who (formerly) received the Scripture differed only after knowledge came unto them, transgressing among themselves. 'Aali Imraan 3:19
Whoever seeks a Deen other than Islam, it will never be accepted from him and he will be a loser in the hereafter. 'Aali Imraan 3:85

Deen is usually translated as “Religion”. Then, when it is said that the “religion” of the earlier prophets was Islam, the same as that of Prophet Muhammad, many people ask, why has there been a difference in rules and regulations at the time of different prophets. This confusion arises because of the word ‘religion’ which is used both for the religious principles and concepts as well as the rules and regulations. This confusion can be avoided by using two Islamic terms and clearly understanding the difference between the two: The Deen (the religious paradigm, principles or philosophy on the basis of which life must be lived and the goals that should focused upon) and the Sharee‘ah (the religious code, rules and regulations that enable a Muslim to live according to the Deen.).


Deen is the paradigm, the principle, the outlook and the approach that sets the attitude, the goals, the direction and destination for the life and activities of Muslims. The essence of Deen of Islam is the belief in Allaah SWT as the only one and unique Creator, Lord and Master who must be obeyed, submitted to and surrendered to in every aspect of one’s life throughout one’s life. It is like a constitution under which an Islamic society is formed and it requires:
  • Making a personal commitment of exclusive, complete submission and unconditional obedience without any reservations to Allaah and His messenger (Qur-aan and Sunnah) in all aspect of life throughout one’s life.
  • Fulfilling all pillars of Islam and living by the guiding values of Deen: A lifestyle that bears witness to all articles of faith, Salaah, Zakaah, Sowm and Hajj and is compliant with the values and principles enunciated by the Qur-aan.
  • Dedicating one’s life for a life-long struggle for Allaah’s sake to implement, establish and maintain Deen as a complete and dominant system of life.

Whoever subscribes to this Deen, in principle, belongs to the Islamic society. This Deen of Islam has been the only Deen acceptable to Allaah and has been exactly the same throughout the history of all the prophets and messengers from Adam to Muhammad. No difference of opinion or deviation in matters of Deen is, or has been ever acceptable. Whoever denies, disbelieves or deviates from this Deen, does not belong to the Muslim community. Any disagreement or deviation from Deen is unacceptable to Allaah SWT, angers Him and invites His punishment. This is the message conveyed in the following verse:
He has ordained the same Deen for you (O Muslims) as that was enjoined on Nooh, and that has been revealed to you (O Muhammad) and that was enjoined on Ibraaheem, Moosa, and Eesa: Namely, implement (establish and maintain) the Deen and do not be divided therein. Ash-Shooraa 42:13

The examples of those who disbelieve in the essence of Deen, hence divide themselves away from Islam, are the people such as those who:
  • Do not accept, as a matter of principle, the rule of Allaah on every aspect of their life;
  • Do not witness the truth of the faith as prescribed by the Qur-aan; for example: Practise Shirk; regard Qur-aanic injunction as outdated or inappropriate for our times;
  • Do not accept Muhammad as the last prophet; deny Sunnah as a source of Islamic law; or,
  • Doubt the existence of Hell and Jannah.

These are examples of the violation of the first pillar of Islam – Shahaadah, some other examples are:
  • Deny any of the pillars of Islam as an obligation;
  • Propagate an opinion or theory that is clearly in contrast with the fundamentals of Deen.

These types of disbeliefs, if left unchecked, destroy the very fibre that knits our Islamic society together. Cooperating with the bearer of these ideas or tolerating them is like demolishing our own foundations. That is what corrupted the Deen after the death of previous prophets. Thus, any differences in the matters of Deen among Islam, Judaism and Christianity are only there because those people who claim to follow Moses and Jesus changed the original teachings: corrupting beliefs, abandoning some core practices and inventing others. Let us just take, as an example, some practices that have been abandoned. There are enough indications in the Bible that Moses and Jesus used to perform ritual washing, worship and fasting as Muslims currently do; but the Jews and Christians have abandoned these practices.


Sharee‘ah is the body of the rules and regulations that a believer in the Deen of Islam has to follow. It is similar to the statutes and the regulations stipulated by a political entity within the jurisdiction allowed by its constitution. It comprises the rules revealed by Allaah and/or instituted by His prophets and messengers relating to the obligations under the Deen. Unlike Deen, some rules of Sharee‘ah can be different from messenger to messenger. Thus after mentioning the Towraat (Torah), the Injeel (Gospel) and the Qur-aan, Allaah SWT says:
For each of you (messengers), we have prescribed a Sharee‘ah (law) and a method. Al-Maaidah 5:48

There has been an evolution in the Sharee‘ah of various messengers in keeping with the evolution of human society. For example, at the time of Adam, there was a need to allow marrying brothers and sisters. When the human society was grown big enough and the exceptional need was not there, Allaah SWT disallowed it through a subsequent messenger. This process of reform and update continued until the human society was mature enough that a final edition of Sharee‘ah could be given. The Sharee‘ah given to the Prophet Muhammad is the final and most complete Sharee‘ah representing the perfect model for humanity until the end of the world.

Similarly, some strict rules were imposed on Banee Israaeel to punish them for their intransigence and to check their ongoing transgression. Those burdens were removed through ‘Eesa ‘alayhissalaam and Muhammad sall-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. The Sharee‘ah given to the Prophet Muhammad is the final and most complete Sharee‘ah that represents the perfect model for humanity until the end of the world.

Even within our Ummah, while there can be no difference of opinion in the principles of Deen, different people may have honest, genuine difference of opinion in the matters of Sharee‘ah . The differences may arise in extrapolating rules from a certain set of verses of the Qur-aan and/or Sunnah of the prophet. Or when it comes to the matters of detail, the difference may have arisen because the Prophet demonstrated flexibility by doing something differently at different times.

The differences in Sharee‘ah of Islam are what we find among various schools of Fiqh or among Fiqh schools and Salafis / Ahlul-Hadeeth.

For differences of opinion in matters of Sharee‘ah , as long as each person is earnestly trying to implement the intent of the Qur-aan and Sunnah and has valid pertinent evidence to form the opinion, difference of the opinion is not only acceptable but also desirable. This kind of difference of opinion indicates independent thinking among Muslims, encourages reflection instead of blind following and self-corrects the wrong ideas that may have crept in the practices of the Islamic community over time. It makes Islamic teachings dynamic, and keeps them pure and relevant to believers’ life. That is why the prophet called such differences as Rahmah (mercy). This kind of difference of opinion or practices must be respected and celebrated.

Why the Distinction?

Although Sharee‘ah is the natural corollary and the day-to-day practical side of the Deen, the distinction is necessary to adopt a moderate, balanced and correct attitude and understanding towards matters of Deen and Sharee‘ah. It explains clearly that while Deen was always Islam, why some laws were different for the previous Ummahs.

Properly understanding this distinction also helps us avoid extremist, unbalanced tendencies towards differences of opinion in Islamic matters. For example, one kind of extremists are they who create sects on the basis of just minor differences in matters of Sharee‘ah . They are intolerant of even a slightly different opinion or practice. They are responsible for the majority of infighting, discord and friction among Muslims. Then there are the extremists who do not even care about the violations of the essence of Deen. They harbour, support, applaud and honour even those who attack the very basic tenets of Islam. In essence, they aid in the demolishing of the Deen.

The moderate, balanced approach is that we must not compromise on the matters of Deen, while we must respect and happily accept the differences of opinion and practices in Sharee‘ah.


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