Also spelled Mohamed or Mohammed but the English spelling adopted by most authorities, including that of the present government of his birthplace (Saudia Arabia), is Muhammad.

There is uncertainty as to his year of birth, 570 or 571.

An Islamic prophet, Muhammad preached a new, single-God religion to the mostly pagan or polytheistic Arabs.

Throughout his life and, indeed, before much of his fame was attained throughout the Arab tribes and vast territories, he was a prophet and a judge (arbitrator).

In 7th Century Arab society, disputants chose a local prophet to act as judge or arbitrator (called hakam which means wise man). By Muhammad's era, the function of a hakam had evolved to also be that of a law-maker, as hakam rulings were generally followed where fact patterns were similar or identical (similar to stare decisis). As a prophet, Muhamad was a sought-after hakam.

Partly because of his promise as a hakam, (he claimed to have received divine revelations, direct from Allah), and partly to secure out a safe home for his new religion based on revelations he said were given to him by God (Allah), Muhammad move to Medina in 622. There, in between his religious duties, he also held court to arbitrate tribal disputes based on the customary law of the Arabs. The Koran and Islamic law which is based on it, is "inclusive of much of the customary law of the Arabs" (Pearl, p. 1).

Upon his arrival, he negotiated a constitution with the leaders of other religions so that they could co-exist, the Medina Charter of 622 "the first ever written constitution for a pluralistic society" (Medieval Islamic Civilization).

In the Charter, his standing as chief judge was unequivocably set out:

"Whenever you differ about a matter it must be referred to God and to Muhammad.

"If any dispute or controversy likely to cause trouble should arise it must be referred to God and to Muhammad the apostle of God."

He set about applying his beliefs into the word of law. In Medieval Islamic Civilization, Volume 2:

"In Medina, Muhammad placed the different areas of social life under law and moral norms, from family to commerce, inheritance to warfare. His Mosque served not only as a place of worship but also as a .... court and parliament."

In the Koran, a subsequent consolidation of his revelations and edicts, Muhammad devised a system of family law dispute resolution: a panel of two hakams, one chosen from the wife's family and another from the husband's family.

Koran 1091Essentially a little-known hakam of Mecca when, at the age of 40 he began to go on spiritual retreats in the mountains where he believed God spoke to him, even receiving a list of commandments, much like the Ten Commandments. He shared his revelations with his political followers, which soon attracted legions of religious followers.

He died on June 8, 632, of a fever and in the arms of one of his wives (one of which was a slave, Mariya). He left without naming a successor which sparked legal and political controversy that continues to divide Muslims today.

But in his wake, Islamic law sprang and held fast throughout Arab countries. In the The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World:

"For the scholars of Islamic law, the Prophet (Muhammad) was the legislator-jurist...."

After his death, his disciples waged a war of conquest that soon spanned from Spain, Northern Africa and far east.

Within twenty years of his death, a first edition of the Koran (or Qur'an) was published, purporting to represent a comprehensive collection of revelations made to Muhammad by God.  As the earliest Muslim jihads swept over Arabia, Northern Africa and Eastern Europe, they led with, and left behind, the Koran.

Thus the conquests of his spiritual descendants installed Islamic law, as it was interpreted from the Koran, as the law of hundreds of million of people, even to this day. Although challenging to quantify because of hybrid systems, Muslim or Islamic law is the legal system of about 15-20% of the world's population.

Islamic law is probably best known for deterrent punishment, or Sharia law, which is the basis of the Islamic criminal system and the fact that there is no separation of church and state (theocracy).

In Islam political organization, religion and government are inseparable. Islamic law is controlled, ruled and regulated by the Islamic religion. Islamic law purports to regulate all public and private behavior including personal hygiene, diet, sexual conduct, and child rearing.

This was what Muhammad wanted. He did not direct that a code of law be set out in the contemporary traditions of the common law or civil law.

Schacht writes:

"His aim as a prophet was not to create a new system of law. It was to teach men how to act, what to do and what to avoid in order to ... enter Paradise. This is why ... Islamic law is a system of duties, comprising ritual, legal and moral obligations on the same footing, and bringing them all under the authority of the same religious command."

But his influence on the law is substantial and continuing. By way of example, only, the formal Saudi Arabia government's law and justice policy is:

"The Courts (and) Judiciary in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia ... issues its rulings, judgments (and) decisions on the basis of what is stated in the Holy Qur’an and on the .... practices (and) mode of life of the Prophet...."

His influence goes beyond the borders of Islamic states, as Muslims are required to adhere to Muslim law even while residents of non-Muslim countries.

REFERENCES:

  • Bosworth, C. and others, Editors, The Encyclopedia of Islam - New Edition (The Netherlands: EJ Brill, 1993), Volume VII, pages 360-387.
  • Duhaime, Lloyd, Muslim Law Dictionary
  • Duhaime, Lloyd, The Law's Hall of Fame
  • Duhaime, Lloyd, Timetable of Legal History
  • Esposito, John, The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World (Oxford: The Oxford University Press, 1995), pages 152-168.
  • Image is of a 1091 edition of the Koran.
  • Khan, Muhammad Zafrulla, Muhamad: Seal of the Prophet (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980).
  • Lings, Martin, Muhammad- His Life Based on the Earliest Sources (London: Islamic Texts Society, 1983), pages 125-126.
  • Medina Charter of 622, published at www.constitution.org/cons/medina/con_medina.htm
  • Meri, Joseph, Medieval Islamic Civilization: An Encyclopedia (London: Routledge, 2006).
  • Pearl, David, A Textbook on Muslim Law (London: Croom Helm Ltd., 1979).
  • Schacht, Joseph, An Introduction to Islamic Law (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964).
  • Saudi Arabia, Official Government Website at www.saudinf.com